The Inquirer Breaking News Is News

Also, a harbinger of doom.

The Eagles shocked the world last week by announcing that team president Joe Banner was stepping down, the result of either a gradual transition to Banner putting together a group to buy another team (the official story) or of a calamitous power struggle with Andy Reid (the most popular fan conspiracy theory.)

But one of the more surprising aspects of Banner’s departure was how the story broke. The Inquirer, and Eagles beat reporter Jeff McLane, broke the news—calling it “a seismic shift in the Eagles organization”—and their scoop was on the front page of the paper Thursday morning.

You read that right: The story didn’t break on Twitter or on TV. It didn’t go live on the night before. A great many people heard about it for the first time when they picked up the paper and saw the front page, or heard it from someone else who had. I got the news from my wife, who doesn’t check news headlines every five minutes and isn’t on Twitter, but does arrive at work at 6 a.m. and gets the newspaper there.

For a story to actually be broken in the print edition of the Inquirer, or any other newspaper for that matter, is such a rare occurrence in 2012 that I can’t even remember the last time it happened. Sure, newspapers break stories all the time. But usually, by the time the news sees print in the morning, the reporter has tweeted the news, it’s gone up on the newspaper’s website and even been updated three or four times.

Was the Banner scoop some sort of harbinger of changing times? Probably not. It was pretty clearly a planned leak, distributed from the team to the paper exclusively, with the intent of it appearing in the morning print edition. Not exactly the sort of circumstances that are applicable to the average scoop.

(The other curious aspect of the timing? Banner’s departure was announced on the very same morning that WIP morning show host Angelo Cataldi, the executive’s most vicious critic in town and a man who has spent the past decade depicting Banner as a scheming, Machiavellian monster, was scheduled to undergo surgery for diverticulitis. But I’m sure that was just a coincidence.)

In the end, I don’t see the Inquirer‘s Banner scoop as a reason to see salvation in newspapers, but rather, I view the very rarity of such an event as an indication of the medium’s doom.

No, it’s not because of political bias or any marked decline in the quality of the journalism. It’s because if you’re a news junkie and you’re younger than 60, chances are, you already know a great deal of what’s in the paper hours before it hits your doorstep.

If the only way to get news were by buying the paper in the morning, the newspaper business would be thriving, and the Inquirer/Daily News would have had one owner in the last seven years instead of five, with the sort of continuity at the top that the Eagles long enjoyed under Joe Banner. But those days, sadly, are over and not coming back.