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Rush to ‘agreement’: Mark Rosen’s anonymous, single-source Mauer story

Monday at 2:48 p.m., blared this headline: “Sources: Mauer, Twins Agree to 10-year contract.” Seconds later, station sports director Mark Rosen tweeted:

“looks like joe mauer is staying with the #twins. Sources tell me 10-year deal — watch @WCCO.”

You could hardly blame thousands of twittering Twins fans for erupting with joy. But soon, sportswriters were shooting at Rosey’s scoop, and everyone used anonymous sources as bullets.

ESPN’s Buster Olney called WCCO’s story “not accurate,” initially citing a “source close to the Twins” and later, “multiple sources.” The Strib’s Joe Christensen was not so absolute, but referenced “two people close to the negotiations” denying the report.

Meanwhile, Rosen’s “sources” — also anonymous — were shrinking. The web story was revised downward, to a single “source.”

By 6 p.m., the “10-year-contract” had become, in anchor Amelia Santaniello’s words, “the framework of a deal.” Co-anchor Dennis Douda blamed the victims for jumping to conclusions, saying, “People didn’t hear the part about it being tentative.”

A visibly defensive Rosen replied, “We could be sitting here two weeks from now saying, ‘I thought you said Joe Mauer was going to sign.’ There’s still a lot of details to be worked out when you’re talking about a legacy contract like this.”

He continued, “When you get a source like this… it’s a disservice not to report it. That’s why you trust sources, and you go, ‘This looks good and it’s going to happen.’ But it’s not a done deal. The bottom line is, can you imagine Joe Mauer and the Twins not coming to a long-term agreement?”

Well, yeah, Mark — we can. That’s why we were hanging on your every word. But that’s not the bottom line. The bottom line is whether you were right, and WCCO oversold the story.

WCCO director of new media John Daenzer notes that the initial web piece, and all subsequent revisions, refer to a “preliminary agreement for a 10-year contract extension.”

Says Daenzer, “You can play semantics with the story: preliminary; framework. We’re still comfortable with the story as it stands.”

I think fans have a right to feel played. While it’s clear now that the preliminary agreement refers to just the 10-year term, WCCO’s headline, Rosen’s tweet, and another from the station’s Breaking News feed made it seem far more encompassing, and definitive, than that.

Daenzer and his crew do get some points for quickly adding critics’ views to WCCO’s web story. Sure there’s a CYA element, and in a new-media environment, the denials would’ve been hard to ignore. But web stories do evolve, and I’m no sinless stone-thrower when it comes to corrections and clarifications. As Daenzer says, “We worked for adding more reporting and context, something users and viewers respect.”

Similarly, this web paragraph showed up before the 5 p.m. newscast: “WCCO’s Rosen Monday afternoon reaffirmed that the framework of a 10-year agreement had been reached. He also noted that deals like this can fall apart late in the process and that the two sides were still working out final details on incentives.”

As for the switch of “source” for “sources,” Daenzer terms this a “clarification.” Rosen initially called a manager with his info, which was translated into the first web story. Assistant news director Michael Caputa says bosses later went back to Rosen and “felt more comfortable quoting ‘a source.’”

Asked if perhaps someone misheard Rosen, Caputa says, “No.”

Caputa says WCCO guidelines discourage single-source anonymous stories, but notes, “It’s a judgment call by me and [news director] Scott Libin. Mark Rosen has been here 40 years, we trust him implicitly, and it’s good enough for us to go with.”

Trust only goes so far; as in many newsrooms, WCCO requires reporters to disclose unnamed sources to a senior manager, which Rosen did. Caputa would not say which senior manager received the information, but green-lighting the story “depends on who the source is and how veteran the reporter is.”

Despite the Mauer mania, the scoop itself didn’t threaten to overwhelm CBS servers. Daenzer says page views were in the tens of thousands, with no Favre-like “blockbuster spike.”

Still, I wouldn’t be shocked if WCCO’s 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. numbers ticked up. However, by 10 p.m. the story no longer led the news, relegated to the back of pre-weather “A-block.” During that newscast, WCCO made an awful decision to interview celebrating fans — just hours after Rosen told 6 p.m. viewers they could still be broken-hearted.

Caputa says viewer criticism has been pretty minimal, and my casual survey of Twitter shows far more griping among the press than the public.

Part of that is that Rosen has a long history and a good reputation; he’s still basking in the afterglow of being the first local to report Brett Favre’s 2009 contract deal and flight to Minneapolis.

But did Rosey get this story wrong? Subsequent denials are piling up, with names attached. For example, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted this morning that, “Joe Mauer laughed at reports that he agreed to a 10 year contract with the Twins. No truth, he says.”

However, we don’t know Rosen’s source and it wouldn’t be the first time a tipster changed tunes once their name was attached. We’ll probably have to wait for the press conference — if there is one — to know for sure if Rosey was right, and perhaps not even then.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 02/02/2010 - 03:01 pm.

    I was wondering when you would get around to writting this. As I tweeted earlier, kudos for WCCO-TV for sticking by Rossie on this one. If this turns out to be true (and I think it will) everyone should remember that they heard it from Jason’s Station first.

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