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Mediaite Year One: Tiger Woods Story Shows How Much Media Has Changed

On the occasion of Mediaite’s year anniversary earlier this week, some of our staff members and contributors look back on what kind of crazy, weirdo year it was.

There are two versions of the story about the last months of the life and times of Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. There’s the sports story, of course, but in the grand scheme of his career, it was not his best season on the PGA Tour. Going back to last August’s PGA Championship, when he choked away a Sunday lead to an unknown Korean golfer named Y.E. Yang, Woods has faltered on the course plenty.

In a normal season, there would be weekly columns from golf pundits trying not to revel too much in the fact that Woods was human. But this isn’t a normal season of golf. Because last November, many of us were shocked just to find out how human Tiger Woods actually was. That’s the second story of Tiger: a media narrative about infidelity, expectations, fallen role models and more, so potent that it was almost impossible at one point to tell the difference between ESPN and TMZ.

The story first broke late in the day on the Friday after Thanksgiving: Tiger had been involved in some sort of accident in his SUV outside his Florida home. Even though it was a holiday that often is devoid of any major news not related to football and annoying Black Friday trend pieces, the media engine started churning double time as the details leaked out little-by-little. The story completely hijacked any other news of the holiday weekend, and while the moment didn’t have the “Where Were You When…” level of importance, it wasn’t far off from that. Then, we started to learn more about why the accident happened, and that’s when it became the second most notable event in media history involving an athlete and an SUV.

I’ve recently relived June 17, 1994 thanks to the brilliant 30 for 30 documentary (that would absolutely be worth your time to watch). Nothing will ever match the level of intrigue around a non-sports story involving a sports figure like O.J. Simpson’s story did. But what can be surpassed is the way we got the news. The Simpson saga was generally media-controlled; the Tiger Woods story changed media in a few ways that never would have been possible in 1994 as it became a participatory story that involved the whole audience both receiving and adding to the developments.

First, the early reports did not come from press conferences or official statements. They were Internet reported, spreading across online outlets and Twitter. Ignore the obvious part of the comparison to 16 years ago (the technology), because there is just as much a shift in the journalism. Not only has the media pundit universe gotten bigger in the last decades, it’s also now completely acceptable for regular people to report – and be considered credible – when it comes to news stories of relative import. How else would TMZ have gotten the first photos? Because our sharing, social-based channels have forced us as consumers to rethink our role in media. We sat back in 1994 and merely watched the White Bronco chase, the trials, the leather glove, Judge Ito, and more. In 2009 and 2010, we were just as involved as the reporters on television.

Second, and this is where it gets fun, the audience didn’t let the story die. Every new sordid detail became a fun game for folks like the Huffington Post, who kept a running mistress count for all of the readers. When the dirty voicemail from Tiger surfaced online? It wasn’t enough to make sure it was available in countless, Google results. The Internet denizens made sure to bring it back up in April when they reinvented that solemn Nike ad in dozens of different ways. It was designed-for-Deadspin type story, and anyone who’s spent some time in the comment section over there knows just how ruthless they can be. The schadenfreude, combined with the level of access and technology the sports audience now has, developed into something in and of itself as the audience was trying to determine what they could possibly come up with next.

There were so many other stories that came out of the prolonged, drawn out saga that once was Tiger’s personal life. Anything that gets Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons in a little bit of a tiff, I’m all for, just out of sheer entertainment value. The driving force and interest of the participating audience probably elevated the story well beyond its merit, but that same power is what led to such ridiculous comparisons as Tiger made his way back into the world of golf after a self-imposed hiatus.

Since coming back to golf earlier this spring, save for a shining third round at the US Open in June, Woods hasn’t come close to playing like he used to. Over on Sports Grid, we’ve been looking forward to that day when we get to post about Tiger’s next triumph – something that is safe to say will happen again on the golf course. But that’s the first story I alluded to as I opened this column. The second story is just about concluding, too, but it will follow Tiger around for the rest of his life, much like the galleries of fans will do on the next Sunday he sports his trademarked, red shirt.

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Dave Levy spends most of his day working on Edelman’s Digital Public Affairs team in Washington, DC. A media researcher on the side and a self-proclaimed geek, he blogs often about how traditional media adapts – or tries to adapt – to the growing social media world at State of the Fourth Estate. You can follow Dave on Twitter for various updates about everything from sports from his previous home in Boston to eccentric and obscure pop culture references.