Howl! Big News From the Eagles? Nah. But Read This!

Ladies and gentlemen of Philadelphia, I have news. Big news.  

Donovan McNabb has not yet been traded to the St. Louis Rams.

Let that soak in for a moment. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Ok, ok, but the deal is going down, right? I mean, at this point, they’re just ironing out the details, right?

Well, actually, um – how should I put this? – not quite. According to Jeff McLane, author of the Eagles’ blog Birds’ Eye View, “Whether that deal or any deal is imminent is unclear.” Eagletarian, another Eagles’ blog appearing on Philly.com, notes that the Rams’ front office has vehemently denied that the proposed deal – Donovan McNabb to the Rams for their second round pick (33rd overall) and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe – is on the table.

Ok, fair enough, Donovan McNabb is a celebrity in this city, and any trade rumors are going to jump to the front of the sports section. 

But why in the hell was this the highlighted, front-page story for all of Philly.com on Wednesday evening? 

Nothing happened. The story was nothing more than rumors propagated by an army of “league sources”. The quotations aren’t meant to be sarcastic or imply any plot fabrications from McLane – I believe he likely has sources close to the situation who prefer to remain anonymous because they could be fired for revealing information pertaining to personnel decisions. But they were probably sources with the Eagles’ organization who used him to create a trade market for Donovan McNabb.

All that to say, putting it front and center on Philly.com reeks of click-worthiness trumping newsworthiness. As the journalism community continues to figure out this Internet thing, consideration will have to be paid to the effect of a story’s placement on a Web site, where the reader makes a firm decision – to click or not to click – about a story’s intrigue based on the headline. How should the Internet model for story prominence be organized – by newsworthiness, timeliness (the Internet is king of the update, after all), or click-worthiness?

The first mirrors the traditional newspaper layout, the second best utilizes the strength of the medium, and the third is often a cheap parlor trick. Thus, I HOWL at Philly.com for click mongering by running a non-story on Donovan McNabb. After all, if I wanted a story about something that didn’t happen, I could have read about the flash mob that was supposedly going to gather on Wednesday afternoon at 40th and Market streets but never materialized.  

– Timothy Rapp

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