Past The Press Box

In covering Tiger, newspapers should do as bloggers do, break 'fourth wall'

This Tiger Woods saga serves as an anecdote for the striking polarity between mainstream print media and less 'upright' online outlets. As days go on, this coverage becomes more and more ridiculous but, at least in the early stages, this is a story the populace wanted to know about.

As the story moved from "Tiger was in an accident and it may have been caused by a domestic dispute" to "Let's count the mistresses," newspapers obviously wanted out. There comes the separation between some online outlets and newspapers: covering what people want to hear about vs covering what they believe should be covered.

As long as the publication isn't going too far in either direction, neither is wrong, but if you're choosing to hold back on coverage, it should be communicated why.

Robert Niles of the Online Journalism Review says that newspapers should break down that 'fourth wall' and communicate with their readers.

At that point, a news organization that wants out of the story - and I commend those which do - ought to be honest with their readers and admit that. In theater, there's a phrase called "breaking the fourth wall" - which refers to a character breaking from others on stage to address the audience directly. (The "fourth wall" surrounding the scene is the imaginary one that separates the stage from the audience.)

Bloggers do that all the time. Newspapers and broadcasters need to do that more often - to drop the "character" of a disconnected voice and instead talk directly to readers about coverage of a particular story. If a story you're following is slipping into tabloid territory, fully report the circumstances, then get an editor into the story to explain why the publication is bailing out. If you don't want to report allegations about affairs, say so.

That's a far more honest report than excluding those details from the story, especially when millions of readers are already talking about them. Breaking the fourth wall allows journalists to show that they trust their readers with all the information that they have, that they won't hold out on readers, and that they are willing to be honest with their readers about why and when they choose not to pursue a story.

This is a great approach and something that should be done much more frequently in the world of mainstream media. I won't go as far as to say that newspapers are complete disconnected from their readers but there are certainly times when one feels like they're telling us "Hey, we know what's best for your and this is why we're the journalists and you're not." Sometimes, 500 words from the editorial team can go a long way.

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The American Sportswriter_