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The media: To blab or not to blab -- and at what cost?

I caught a bit of Bob McCown's show yesterday, and there was a discussion regarding the media coverage of Tiger Woods' alleged indiscretions.

You'll notice that all of these "breaking news stories" and "exclusives" have fallen under two unbrellas: Magazine tabloids and the Internet. Traditional media was a non-factor, and largely served as an regurgitator.

McCown stated that the decision to shy away from these stories -- be it marital issues, drug problems or anything else that would be considered a secondary issue beyond the sport -- was not due to journalistic morals or ethics.

Apparently journalists don't fear appearing unseemly (and yes, that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek). But they do quake at the idea of being sued for libel.

Potentially understandable, right? Well, let's crack this open a little further.

How do tabloids and sites like TMZ get away with it?
Having a crack team of expensive lawyers on retainer surely doesn't hurt. We hear of gossip magazines being sued all the time. Sure, the plaintiff in question wins on occasion, but more often than not, we never hear any more about it. If suits are being settled, obviously cash isn't an issue. Have you seen what's going on in the journalism industry lately? Newsrooms barely have the funds to heat their offices, let alone something as large as a lawsuit. And that brings us to question No. 2...

How are tabloids and Internet sites getting to the sources, making the likelihood of libel a lesser issue? Two words: Chequebook Journalism. 24-year-old Jaimee Grubbs was reportedly paid $150,000 for her interview with US Weekly (Grubbs was the one to receive the now-infamous voicemail from Tiger Woods, asking her to remove her name from her greeting message, in case his wife tried to call).

The idea of paying a source for information is, again, a financial hardship that a newspaper would be unable to cope with. More importantly, it's one of the last big taboos still standing in traditional media. Enough of these scandals have come to pass that expectant players in the drama already know the score: If someone wants their story, they're going to have to pay for it. Why would they give their information to a newspaper for free? Tabloids ensure a payday and 15 minutes of fame. It's a win-win for them in their eyes.

Is libel the only thing that the media fears in these situations? Come on now.
Yeah, I didn't completely buy that either, and it comes from personal experience. For example, if you're dealing with a story that involves something like drug use, there could be others involved who would make life generally frightening and dangerous for you. And let's just say if an off-duty cop is warning you about this, because the police themselves are extremely wary of said persons, it does make you think twice. You could have all the proof you needed -- up to and including incriminating photographs, but people like this don't really give a damn. They just want to cause trouble. Generally, I don't scare easily, but it made me reconsider. Furthermore, based on the way the industry was headed, I didn't see it doing much for me in the long run. A lot of grief, with little purpose, I suppose. Oh, and I probably would have lost my press pass. The horrah (tongue-in-cheek reprise).

Many people continue to have problems seeing these stories mixed with traditional sports reporting, but the fact of the matter is, it sells. Big time. And anyone who thinks that isn't an issue for traditional media outlets -- they need to check themselves. It may not be right, but it pays. That's the bottom line these days.

More later.

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