Is Tiger Woods’ sexuality news?

In Essay on December 2, 2009 by Dave Winer

Mathew Ingram posted a provocative tweet: “Everyone says Tiger isn’t news, but our stories get hundreds of thousands of views and our live discussion got 1,350 participants in an hour.” Permalink to this paragraph

He raises a good question, and one that obviously doesn’t have a unique answer. It may or may not be news, but his readers clearly want to read about and discuss Tiger Woods and his sexuality. Permalink to this paragraph

By implication Mathew is saying that because his readers are discussing it and reading the story, that means it’s worth covering. I’m not going to argue with that. I think you have to pay attention to what your users like, and try to give it to them. That’s one of the basic principles in my area of expertise, software development, and it seems reasonable it should be part of news as well. Permalink to this paragraph

But it’s also okay to set goals and learn, and see if you can’t achieve more than one goal at a time. I do that in software as well. I have goals and the users do too. I try to make them coincide. Permalink to this paragraph

In a recent RBTN podcast Jay talked about a project to dig into the rebuilding of the Bay Bridge. In the process, the reporter will certainly look into how power and money flow in two City Halls (San Francisco and Oakland) and in the state capital in Sacramento. Investigative journalism like that usually doesn’t attract the kind of following that a Tiger Woods sex scandal might, except for the fact that the Bay Bridge is such a Bay Area bottleneck, and so important in everyone’s lives that a scandal concerning the bridge likely would find an interested audience. Permalink to this paragraph

So the idea is to learn what people want and then find a way to fortify it with the information they need. Give the readers both the chocolate milk and the vitamins. Permalink to this paragraph

This idea came up in the last RBTN. I was talking about the excellent Frontline report on how credit and debit cards work. Most people will never see the report, but there’s a few key bits of info that, it seems, somehow everyone should understand because it’s about money coming out of their accounts, a subject almost everyone would be interested in, I suppose, if they knew it was available to them. Permalink to this paragraph

4 Responses to “Is Tiger Woods’ sexuality news?”

  1. I haven’t read the comments on the news story referenced by Matthew. However, I don’t seem to think the criteria here should be what news is and what readers want. Or thats its only a story about sex and celebrity. After all, Tiger Woods is not just Tiger Woods. He is a symbol of excellence, of wholesomeness, or of whatever you want. He might be a celebrity, but he is no Kobe Bryant. I am sure his story and charisma had inspired many and to see him crash and burn like that, can be very disheartening. I am not talking about some journalists that will go after the juicy tidbits because they think they are going to help sell copy. I am talking about the fact that the interest in the Tiger Woods story (in the beginning because if the coverage continues for too long, it will become weird and perverse), might be legitimate and should not be categorized immediately as not news.

    I believe that news, fundamentally, is about change. Not any or every possible change, meaningful change in our (social) environment. Changes can occur in different domains. Policy and personal. If we see this story as the fall of a role model rather than celebrity gossip, then the readers concerns very legitimate and can be sane. The questions addressed can start good discussions on society, on marriage, on fidelity, on wether we should care or we should consider his personal life out of bounds, on a variety of legitimate topics. In other words, when something occurs in our social environment and that people deeply care about what has changed (or affected), it’s news. Regardless of what it is, if it can alter the way we see the world, it’s news…

  2. Here’s a link to the Frontline report on credit and debit cards.

    Highly recommended. It’ll probably save you money, maybe hundreds of dollars.

  3. I don’t think Tiger’s sexuality is news. I could care less. I think our culture is obsessed with the prurient details of individuals at the expense of caring about things that matter. Do I sound like a snob? Fine, I’m a snob then. But here’s a great example of what’s wrong with the news and our culture… sure, let’s investigate WikiLeaks over those 9/11 pages, but don’t bother about Sprint feeding customer GPS data to cops over 8 million times… that would be silly. Let’s talk about Tiger’s wayward schlong because that’s more important than talking about more and more people having to use food stamps. I’m happy to see broadcast and print media under strain, and I hope they collapse and something new comes about that actually covers news.

  4. “his readers clearly want to read about and discuss Tiger Woods and his sexuality”

    Prurience is one part of the equation, but it’s more complicated than that. The interests invested in Woods colluded with the media to manufacture a cultural demigod, representative of not just excellence in golf but excellence in everything. So it’s no surprise that when the polarity flips from positive to negative, it’s going to generate a lot of heat. It’s not just the sex; it’s the schadenfreude.

    In other words, the inflation of the Woods bubble is just as important to the phenomenon as popping the bubble. “We” wouldn’t be interested in Woods’ fall if the media hadn’t lifted him so high.

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