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How WCCO got the Favre scoop

Sometimes in this business, it's who you know.

That was the essence of WCCO's big scoop today: that Brett Favre had changed his mind (again) and would sign with the Vikings. Reporter Mark Rosen, preparing for a Hawaiian vacation set to begin Wednesday, got a call around 8:30 a.m. from a team poohbah. Fifty minutes later, the tweet heard round the world — well, at least the sports world — went out via @wccobreaking:

"A high-level source with the Minnesota Vikings tells WCCO's Mark Rosen that QB Brett Favre is expected to sign with the team Tuesday."

Mark Rosen
Mark Rosen

The station's willingness to sit on a story that would quadruple its web traffic — producing a spike only exceeded by the 35W bridge collapse — reflects oft-derided mainstream newsroom values.

News director Scott Libin won't say exactly how Rosen's original tip was confirmed, but additional facts and/or sources were found. The result: roughly an hour of ESPN crediting 'CCO for a story that the sports network had been all over. For a time, "WCCO" was among the top three trending terms on Twitter.

"You're nervous to be so far out in front of a major network, but it also gets you excited," assistant news director Mike Caputa says. "It was a lonely feeling, but there's a validation Rosey felt when AP confirmed his report" after the wire service later got head coach Brad Childress to became the first named source on the record.

"Honestly, the information was rock-solid," says Libin. "We could've gone sooner, but I'd rather be right than first. Your reputation is on the line, especially with something this big."

[Update: On WCCO's website, Rosen says the source spoke in "cryptic language" but ended the call by saying, "I think it's going to be a pretty big day for you."

[The source had told Rosen in June that Favre would be on the team barring "some unforeseen major physical setback." Apparently that happened — ankle and knee pain that "might never subside and could continue to worsen." The development did not undo Rosen's trust in the source.]

WCCO director of new media John Daenzer says the web traffic shot over 100,000 page views in the first hour; traffic is normally in the 30,000 range between 9 and 10 a.m. Why did Channel 4 decide to break the story on Twitter rather than on-air?

"It was faster to get it up online, but it was almost simultaneous," he notes. (Seconds later, WCCO added a breaking-news screen-crawl for TV viewers.) Several employees retweeted on their own accounts, Facebook was simultaneously fed, and an email alert went out.

Such new-age broadcasting stood in stark contrast to how the story was handled internally before it broke. Libin, Caputa, Daenzer and Rosen more or less kept it to themselves as they and a few other employees worked for corroboration. Such are the dangers of hasty tweets and Facebook leaks in this modern world.

While the story was initially spoon-fed rather than dug out, Libin says Rosen still earned his sourcing. “Getting this story started in 1969 — a little bit before Twitter. Mark's been here 40 years; he started when he was 17. He's built a reputation for trustworthiness."

To be sure, you don't get such calls when you're consistently a major pain in management's posterior, and I've seen Rosen do his share of "rah-rah" over the years.  There will always be gripes about favoritism when big scoops leak this way, but Rosen is no Sid (who memorably got the scoop when Bud Grant returned to coaching).

In the end, WCCO handled the news like pros, making their own calls and getting the story right. Says Libin, “It’s the story about new technology and how stories spread, but it’s also about an old-fashioned, well-connected beat reporter.”

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Comments (8)

Hi David--I'm blanking out on Bud's return to coaching, but I remember the scoop Sid had on Bud quitting the first time was HUGE...the story came from completely out of left field, Bud was in Hawaii at the time he let Sid break it, nobody saw that coming at all. I was in radio at the time and I was working the Saturday morning the Strib (or was it still the Trib in '83?) ran Sid's story (and no, the outstate readers didn't see it until Sunday). I spent much of the morning calling various assistant coaches, all of whom, as I recall, were listed in the phone book. I honestly can't remember if I talked to Steckel or not...maybe I decided he was too far down the pecking order to get anything useful out of? But I still remember the way Jerry Burns sounded when I got a hold of him. I believe it came out later that by the time I talked to Jerry, Bud had told him the job was going to Steckel, but that news hadn't yet been made public. Jerry sounded absolutely devastated.

"While the story was initially spoon-fed rather than dug out, Libin says Rosen still earned his sourcing."

What services did Mark render over the years to justify being rewarded by the Vikings with this "scoop"?

I think Rosen does a good job. So, my comment is directed to the idea of this kind of 'scoop'. To me the "I got it first" value of the scoop drops to zero once the facts of it are in plain sight. Favre was on the ground in Minnesota two hours after the first tweet. I guess it's cool that he got the call today from the Viking insider but it seems that for this type of story, 'will he or won't he', I'd be willing to accept less robustly sourced speculation like the comments this source gave Rosen in June (maybe Rosen did report those at the time).

I like Mark. He is a very nice guy. But for me at least, this is the kind of scoop people should be embarrassed about. It's obviously a tradeoff for past services rendered, at there is always the suspicion that those services came at the expense of WCCO for whom he works, and his viewers whom he is supposed to serve. Just report the thing and move on.

Oh c'mon, people. It would have been just as easy for the Vikings' person to not give Rosen the tip. I tend to question the overall value of the "we got it first" notion of scooping when the gap betwene "first" and "everyone else" is a matter of minutes or hours rather than a full or even a half day (old newspaper cycle). Since all this media is free, it's not like the scooper builds much brand loyalty over the scoopees that actually pays off in dollars. Still, Mark's scoop was a good one and huge by local TV sports standards.

It would have been just as easy for the Vikings' person to not give Rosen the tip.

Sure. That's what makes me wonder why some people get these little gifts and not others. What did Mark give in exchange?

Am I puking at the sports news yet? No but I will.
An has-been football player is signed by the Vikings in order to get publicity so the public will buy them a new stadium to play their mediocre football in and that's a big deal?
Our young people are being killed in two wars, our dollar is worth four cents, our economy is in the toilet, asthma is at epidemic proportions, roads and bridges are falling apart, there is no plan to get Minnesota moving forward, and a has-been football player and bar owner make big news.
I get it. Rosen gets the story by promising all the Vikings and their families free burgers for life at his joint downtown and he's a star.
Barfing now.
Leslie Davis
www.LeslieDavis.org

Favre scoop

It might have been similarly as simple for the Vikings' individual to not give Rosen the tip.

Indeed. That is the thing that makes me ask why some individuals get these small endowments and not others. What did Mark give in return? http://www.buyinginternettraffic.com/