Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Another questionable day for anonymous single-source sports stories

Let’s go right to the Twitter feed, shall we:

The Strib’s Michael Rand gets the ball rolling, announcing Cretin-Derham Hall lineman Seantrel Henderson is headed Florida way. Rand — who wrote a fine rumination on sportswriters’ itchy trigger fingers the other day — does make it clear this is likely, but not a sure thing.

The Strib’s John Millea and the paper’s main sports feed retweet, with more certainty:

Somewhere along the line, the Pioneer Press sips from the same source pool, though with that classic Shooter wiggle room. But look who else picks up the news … the guy already in hot water for an anonymous single-source story!

A competitor, armed with contradictory information, smells a rat:

And Henderson signs with … USC. The Strib acknowledges its folly. As for Mr. Scoop:

Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 02/03/2010 - 05:51 pm.

    What a twit!! First Rosen announces his “scoop.” When it proves to be baloney, he blames it on someone else. He’s a real “class” act.

  2. Submitted by John Connelly on 02/03/2010 - 05:57 pm.

    Anonymous sourcing is completely out of hand all over the place, and the accountability-free world of “sports “journalism” is probably the last place to seek reform. Still, let me ask the question that was asked (and quickly deleted) from the Strib comments about the Millea/Rand goof. Q: Why do reporters grant anonymity to lousy sources? Wouldn’t you get better information if you said to the source: “If I run this, I will preserve your anonymity if proves to have some basis in fact. But if this is total garbage, then no guarantees.”?

  3. Submitted by William Souder on 02/03/2010 - 08:07 pm.

    Geez…chill everybody. Breathe normal. The destination of a high school football player scarcely qualifies as a “story,” and I don’t think the inadequate sourcing of idle speculation on it is going to erode journalism. It’s a post-print world, kids. Anything you say is here one second, gone the next, and can’t be used against you. I say Tweet on…your info is as good as the paper it’s not written on. As for Rosen’s possibly premature report that Mauer is all but signed…brilliant! If Rosen is wrong, nobody will notice because everyone will be mad at the Twins. If he’s right, he’s the coolest cat on the beat.

  4. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 02/03/2010 - 08:17 pm.

    Honest question: Do people hold the Twitter feed of journalists to the same standards of fully reported stories on our web sites? There’s been a lot of analysis and nit picking (in this space as well as others) about Tweets.

    Seems to me, part of the charm of Twitter was getting the stories as they come together. That means, the incomplete picture. The hot tip before it all is hashed out. Some of the sausage-making of journalism.

    In journalism, we often get things wrong before we get them right. Twitter has given a nice glimpse into that process. But if the critics (and the public) doesn’t want that… I suppose we can go back to just tweeting links to finished stories and use it like a promotional machine instead of as a glimpse behind the curtain.

    To me, who cares if a reporter clearly indicates something is a tip, a source, and says- we’ll see in 15 minutes? I think it’s great. And if the source is wrong – as this one was – all the better. Glad I saw that process, instead of seeing it splashed on the front page of the paper. (of course, I think the Strib’s website had the miami source on their site)

    In my view, there’s a sliding scale. I expect typical, traditional journalism on a website of legacy media and on the air. I expect a little more looseness in a blog on a legacy media site. And even more looseness on Twitter.

    But if critics and the public wants the same standard applied across the board – then I guess we can go there too.

  5. Submitted by David Brauer on 02/03/2010 - 08:33 pm.

    Jason – I hear you. I like the loosey-goosey nature of Twitter, and I don’t *really* want to spoil the party, even though I might be.

    I probably wouldn’t have written about this had the Strib not blogged it. (Funny how blogs have moved up on the legitimacy hierarchy, at least in my world.)

    I do think it’s probably wise, though, for even loose-limbed tweeters to squeeze a little humility/caveat/uncertainty into their 140 characters. People do look to them for authority. As you saw with the Rosen story, there was a pretty important nuance (framework of a deal, less than what most people assumed) that would’ve made that whole thing seem more responsible (assuming the 10-year term is accurate).

    I think people look to us (evidenced by how fast even our garbage spreads) and we owe it to them to, as they say in the sports world, “play within ourselves.” They may only be tweets, but too many wolf cries, even at a micro-level, can damage your brand.

  6. Submitted by John Connelly on 02/03/2010 - 08:43 pm.

    My question is different: How seriously can anyone possibly take the naked words “a source says . . . ” with nothing else behind it?. Without more, such as either more detail or a reporter’s following the practice I suggested or something else, it means nothing more than “I’m gonna take a no-accountability shot at some bragging rights by sayng that . . . . ” I can get that in the anonymous comment section anywhere — I don’t need a branded “journalist” (whether in a Tweet, a blog, a published story, or a hardcover book) to do that for me.

  7. Submitted by T J Simplot on 02/03/2010 - 08:57 pm.

    Lets not forget too that it was Rosen who broke the story earlier in the week that Joe Mauer had signed a 10 year deal with the Twins, only to be refuted by Joe Mauer himself.

  8. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 02/03/2010 - 09:36 pm.

    Jason I disagree with your assessment of Twitter and journalism. The proper tweet would be “Star Tribune is reporting that Henderson to choose Miami”. Rosen tried to make it sound like he had a scoop and then ended up looking stupid (again).

    Or another would be “Hearing rumors on Henderson school choice, will retweet if I confirm”. There are Strib reporters that I follow that do just that.

    You can’t have it both ways. If you want your work to be taken seriously, then it must remain consistent. Rosen is acting like TMZ, not WCCO.

    Yes, the Henderson signing isn’t a big deal at all. But that doesn’t excuse passing on rumors through rumors without having consistent and reliable sources. The “product” of WCCO and other organizations is getting damaged by the rush to put any information out there.

  9. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 02/03/2010 - 10:25 pm.

    Stan, I understand what you’re saying, but people have to understand that Mark’s been tweeting for like two weeks. I’ve been doing it for two years. I know how this playground works. Cut Mark a little slack.

    TJ: Mauer didn’t refute Rosen’s report, at least not in the video I saw from MLB network. Mauer said there wasn’t a deal. Rosen never said there was a deal.

  10. Submitted by John Olson on 02/04/2010 - 06:50 am.

    Another possibility that may have been overlooked is that these “sources” may have been feeding misinformation–or did not actually know anything to begin with. Absent knowing WHO the source(s) were, Twitter, Facebook, etc. can provide valuable information. Or worthless misinformation.

    A generation ago, none of this would be out in the public arena. The reporters would collect their information during the course of the day, wait for the actual event to occur, and then get their stories in on or before deadline. Now, a lot of this gets aired “out here” before the story is even written.

    The other dynamic that has changed is the newsmaker having the ability to tweet or post as events unfold, essentially providing raw information to the media who follow–and everyone else.

  11. Submitted by Ken Paulman on 02/04/2010 - 08:03 am.

    All of this may have been avoided had Rand written something like: “Checking on a tip that Seantrel Henderson might be going to Miami.” That’s factual, and makes the sourcing a little more clear for the reader.

    I don’t have a problem with opening up the reporting process, but I have to wonder what the point of Twitter is if you can’t believe anything you read unless it’s verified elsewhere.

    Check the polls again on journalists’ credibility with the public (still declining, last I heard). When we start saying “oh, it’s just Twitter,” and then trot out whatever specious, phony crap we want, what does that accomplish?

  12. Submitted by David Hanners on 02/04/2010 - 08:11 am.

    So Twitter is a scratch pad for journalists to practice on before committing the facts to their published or broadcast form? That’s a lousy idea. In journalism, there really is no slack to be cut. You are either accurate or you’re not. Reporting rumor is not journalism. It seems that anymore, when someone screws up, it taints all of us in the profession.

  13. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 02/04/2010 - 08:35 am.

    I don’t think you’d report a rumor about the mayor or the governor on Twitter, as a reporter. A rumor about what school a high school kid may be committing to? I have no problem with that, as long as it’s done like Ken suggests.

    Reporters need to be clear, and to the point. “UNVERIFIED” “UNCONFIRMED” “RUMOR” “SOURCE TIP” would be good words to put on the front of a tweet if reporters want to share this work process.

    David Hanners seems to be saying that the full-on, edited standards of journalism should apply to the social sphere. That’s a defensible position. But that makes Twitter just another form of broadcast. It takes away some of the collaborative nature of the medium.

    Like I said earlier, if that’s where the critical and public opinion moves, then that’s what Twitter will become.

  14. Submitted by Matt Tompkins on 02/04/2010 - 08:46 am.

    First, nothing Mark Rosen has said has been inaccurate. Yes, he’s playing around the edges by saying a “framework” is in place for Mauer and that “latest reports” have Henderson going to Miami. But neither is wrong. Do we doubt that the Twins & Mauer don’t have many pieces to a new contract in place? That’s a framework. And I don’t take “latest reports” to mean Rosen is going with his own source. I think we’re trying too hard to pin these guys for being wrong, when in fact, they are not. They’re trying to be part of the story before it’s truth, but that’s not bad journalism.

    Second, anytime someone gets paid to write or report news, be it in newspapers, magazines, or blogs, they have to use the same journalistic integrity across all mediums. Twitter is not an sounding board for trusted people in the news to just throw out ideas. Anyone who might be in the know, whether it’s Rosen, Rand, DeRusha, Brauer, ESPN guys or SI guys, needs to be careful they’re not being too loose with what news they have, as it will bite them in the rear just as if they put it in the paper or said it on the air.

  15. Submitted by Eric Hanson on 02/04/2010 - 09:39 am.

    Rosen’s initial tweet used the Strib and made it seem like his own reporting (a common and shameless practice in Twin Cities journalism) — then he throws the Strib under the bus when the rumor turns out to be incorrect. What an embarrassment.

  16. Submitted by Alan Bumbry on 02/04/2010 - 11:10 am.

    It’s pretty tiring to hear Rosen and you and WCCO hide behind the curtain of “he just said the framework was done.”

    First, the main headline on that day was “Mauer, Twins AGREE to 10-Year Contract”. And it stayed that was as he took more heat… in fact… it’s still there.

    Second, Mauer straight-up refuted there was not a “framework” in place on all 3 other TV stations. So yes, everyone who is saying Rosen hasn’t been wrong… he has been wrong… even behind his “framwork” semantics. WCCO refused to play the soundbite from Mauer, while 5, 9, 11 all did. Can you please explain that? What about both sides of the story, Jason?

    As for Rosen’s tweet on Seantrel… I agree with Eric. Spineless. Not a good week for WCCO reporting.

  17. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 02/04/2010 - 11:25 am.

    Alan, I’m just a lowly reporter and can’t speak for Mark or the station. I saw an interview that Mauer gave on MLB network that didn’t refute the framework. He said there was no deal.

    You can argue that the headline writer oversold the story, but I’m a little surprised by all the nit-picking over a headline and a tweet. If you tweet with a link to a full story, judge the full story. Not just the headline.

  18. Submitted by Alan Bumbry on 02/04/2010 - 11:43 am.

    I’d like to see the MLB interview where he didn’t refute it, because Joe has refuted everything.

    The right question wasn’t asked on MLB then, because if he didn’t refute it, he discussed it and he has said for weeks he will not discuss contract negotiations.

    I’d like to see the quote from MLB. Either way… all other stations ran sound bites from Mauer saying NOTHING was in place.

    It’d be nice to see Rosen say he was off for once, like the Strib did today.

  19. Submitted by Steve Aschburner on 02/04/2010 - 12:26 pm.

    Funny how, at a point in news journalism when it is harder and more fleeting than ever to be “first” with a scoop, supposed professionals are tripping all over themselves to be just that.

    It used to be, a legit and clear scoop could allow the reporter to bask for a full 24-hour newsprint cycle. Or 12 in an AM/PM town. Then a few hours vs. TV, a little less vs. radio. Now it generally is minutes or seconds.

    So the only way to make that paper-thin advantage mean something to be get … the story … right! But then, so many reporters have the fear of God in them re: job security that being accurate is way down the list compared to just doing something, ASAP, with some sort of technology, even if it doesn’t bring in a penny. Even when they’ve been around long enough to know better. And their media outlets — who otherwise would require serious sourcing — turn blind eyes to it because they’re panicked about the financials and their survival too.

    Being “first” comes right behind “doing something.”

    Being right? In danger of dropping off the list entirely. Even though it is the one way the pros can flex their skills, sources and standards over the “citizen journalists.”

    I liked Stan Daniels’ suggestion:

    “… The proper tweet would be “Star Tribune is reporting that Henderson to choose Miami”. …”

    Even then, it seems like something the paper’s marketing dept. staffers should be sending out throughout the day to tout their product, not how real journalists should be spending their time.

  20. Submitted by Carrie Swiggum on 02/04/2010 - 12:30 pm.

    Jason, although your argument is persuasive and I can see advantages to both sides of this issue (how high do we hold twitter to scrutiny, etc), it would be helpful to know that you are a reporter for WCCO.

  21. Submitted by David Hanners on 02/04/2010 - 01:00 pm.

    Frankly, a journalist qualifying a Tweet by saying it is “unverified” or “unconfirmed” is an idea that is horrible, scary and amusing all at the same time. If a journalist Tweeting unverified information isn’t the very definition of “wreckless disregard” — hell, you didn’t even bother to check out the information before publishing it — then I don’t know what is.

    I am waiting for the first time a journalist gets sued for libel over something he or she Tweeted. (Provided it hasn’t already happened, mind you.) I wonder if the reporter would even be covered by the newspaper or broadcast station’s libel insurance.

  22. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 02/04/2010 - 01:00 pm.

    Carrie, if you click on my name, it directs you to my WCCO blog… but I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  23. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 02/04/2010 - 02:09 pm.

    Jason: “Clear?” You never mentioned it. However, I am not familiar with you since I have never seen nor read your blog. And in the spirit of transparency, I worked in the Star/Star-Tribune newsroom for 32 years. Back in the day, the paper had definitive rules on when anonymous sources were allowed. Assuming those policies are still in play, I do question why the same rules don’t apply to tweets. After all, the tweeter is representing his/her employer when he/she tweets. (Oh, how I hate that term.

  24. Submitted by John O'Sullivan on 02/04/2010 - 03:29 pm.

    I’m a little late to the party, but here are my thoughts:

    Hal/Carrie: Jason comes up quite a bit in the BrauBlog and is one of WCCO’s more prominent on-air personalities. Commenters on this blog seem to generally come from the TC media industry. I really don’t think any deception was intended or perpetrated here. But, in the interest of living up to your standards, I worked at the Strib last year as a web analytics and social media guy.

    David: I find your verbiage interesting. “If a journalist Tweeting unverified information…” You refer to it as “tweeting,” not “reporting,” which is how it should be. I follow the media folks I follow because of the informality Twitter provides. I want to see Brauer and DeRusha giving each other grief for their latest stories. I want to hear folks at The AV Club complain about the crappy, desperate press releases the receive. I want to hear the legwork Michael Rand is doing on his story tomorrow. I’m not following them to get links to their stories, I’m following them to find out more about their personalities and how they do their day-to-day jobs.

    Hal: Your assertion that a reporter is representing his/her employer when they tweet isn’t as set in stone as you say it is. The representation may be implied, but look at people like James Lileks (@lileks). He purposefully does not display the Strib logo or any reference to his employer in the profile. Unless a reporter has the name of their employer referenced in their username, you can bet they’ll take that screen name with them to their next job. The distinction is important because it places one’s twitter account a marked distance away from their published stories.

  25. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 02/04/2010 - 04:32 pm.

    WCCO no longer has the presence whereby their “prominent” on-air personnel are widely known. The days of Boone, Erickson, etc., are long gone. Also your assertion about a tweeter maybe not representing his/her employer is balderdash. The tweeter, blogger, whatever would not even have access to the info he/she reports if not for his employment.

  26. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 02/04/2010 - 05:44 pm.

    Props to Jason for continuing to participate in this discussion as WCCO is his employer.

    I am surprised that WCCO does not have a formal Twitter/social media policy for it’s employees. Many companies now do, since their brand is on the line whenever their employees tweet.

    Of course it is much tougher for someone like Jason or Rosen since everyone knows who they are, and their tweets immediately get tied to their jobs as reporters.

    Mr Brauer, does MinnPost have a Twitter policy for it’s contributors?

  27. Submitted by Alan Bumbry on 02/04/2010 - 05:55 pm.

    As the good reporter that you are (I enjoy your work) and with “in touch” as you are with new media, social media, Twitter, etc. I’m surprised to hear you say it’s nit-picking.

    Headlines are arguably the most important part of a paper, now websites as well. It’s what gets people to read more. That’s why newspapers have people employed just to write headlines. Those need to be accurate too!

    Are you leads to you stories and your teases not accurate? “Well, the intro is just part of my story.” Not buying it. Wrong is wrong. I’ll judge this book by it’s headline.

    Twitter is now just as important because it’s where people look for news. Being wrong there is as bad as being wrong on-air, in a blog or in an article. It’s your name, your credibility.

    WCCO has tarnished both.

  28. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 02/04/2010 - 06:31 pm.

    Alan, Upon reflection, you are right. I didn’t mean to suggest that this discussion wasn’t important. All discussions about quality and accuracy are important.

    The headline is critical and it needs to be accurate. I do think that this one story is getting about 1000% more analysis than it warrants. We could “nit-pick” headlines to death and find inaccuracies and distortions, as a result of the headline’s goal of drawing in readers. And technical character limitations, the same thing that’s a reality in Twitter.

    Also, people blaming Rosen for it have no idea how a media organization works. The reporter does not write the headline.

    (I really hope I’m not expected to end every comment here with a note about how I’m a WCCO reporter and my comments are my own, not my employer’s. Hal- I work at WCCO-TV, Boone and Erickson never were there. You’re supposed to make a Dave Moore reference when talking about how we’re not as big of a deal as we used to be. Kidding!)

  29. Submitted by David Brauer on 02/04/2010 - 06:39 pm.

    Stan, if we do, I’m unaware of it. Thankfully. I’m pretty much working under the full-disclosure principle, which my bosses seem to respect. Make a mistake, fess up right away, I say.

  30. Submitted by Alan Bumbry on 02/04/2010 - 07:21 pm.

    Thanks for the discussion Jason! It’s been fun.

    Let’s also remember, Mauer said a “framework” is not done. From the horses mouth that Rosen was wrong.

    I agree about headlines, but were more eyes on website or news? Rosen should have asked for that to be changed.

    As for Twitter. Character limitations are not an excuse because you can post five 140 character messages back-to-back-to-back if you want. That’s better than being misunderstood!

  31. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 02/04/2010 - 08:18 pm.

    Alan, I agree with that. I added more details to Rosen’s initial tweet less than 30 minutes after the breaking news:

    He’s new to this, and I trust this will be a learning experience for him and for all of our reporters. Each new situation brings up new things to think about going forward.

    WCCO’s risk of making an “error” in the social world is much higher than any other TV station, because we’re much more active there. It’s a blessing and a curse. Time to sleep: I have to anchor our morning news tomorrow.

Leave a Reply