Like it or not, SwimSwam is the juggernaut of swimming “media”. I hear from plenty of people who don’t like it. These are the same people who, like me, visit the site pretty much everyday, sometimes twice a day. Who complain about how awful SwimSwam comments are, and then go and read the SwimSwam comments.
But I digress, this blog post is not about all that. I was speaking with someone (vague stories are all the rage now) who was curious about why a certain international team was essentially getting their PR done for them by a certain Swimswam “reporter”. I’ll explain all the scare quotes later, I promise.
Now, I don’t know everything about SwimSwam. My involvement in the site was as a lowly writer for a relatively short period 2015-2016. I do not know when Braden Keith sleeps (no longer a question posed by his bio). I do know where Garrett McCaffrey is, but I will not disclose that information.
I did have a normal, cordial relationship with “Gold Medal” Mel Stewart until about 18 months ago. I had invited him on the podcast and set a time. A few minutes after we were set to record, I got an e-mail from Mel pulling out. I haven’t heard from him since.
To understand why the content you love, or the content you love to hate, appears on the site, I’m going to do my best to explain how things worked from the perspective of the real live people who constantly churn the front page of the site, ensuring that even if something you like makes it to SwimSwam it may be gone within hours.
The Hose Technique
As far as I can tell, the basic strategy for SwimSwam to get a lot of clicks is to fire up a lot of content, every day. They love some content. Now, they don’t love all content (more on that later. shoot I’m really promising to explain a lot more later). But generally anyone who visits the site can tell they like to put up a lot of stuff 365/24/7.
Now, if you have to put up a lot of content, it means that you’re looking for a few things. First off, you want content you can count on existing and that is easily replicable. Enter the college recruiting commitment announcement.
There are literally hundreds of college swimming programs, and thousands of college swimmers that “commit” to them every year. If you read the posts on SwimSwam about college recruiting commitments, to which I might ask why, but if you read them you will see there’s a pretty simple formula to putting them together.
This means that this is low hanging fruit for the worker bees of SwimSwam, who when I worked there were paid by article. If you could harness the formula of writing these posts, there was perhaps no faster way to produce more “articles” per month.
Swimming Media Doesn’t Exist
Remember when I called Craig Lord the only journalist in swimming? Neither do I, especially now that he’s at Swimming World (yuck). But in any case, one more thing you have to understand about SwimSwam and how they operate is that there is no swimming media.
Just look across the world and the state of journalism writ large. Our journalistic institutions have perhaps never been weaker, crippled by increasing pressure for them to prove some sort of business model for what they are doing. The more they chase clicks, or tv ratings, the worse the “journalism” gets.
If there’s no money in legacy journalism, well then there’s negative money in producing actual journalism about an Olympic sport that mostly manages to capture popular attention for a week every four years.
That is to say, I think it’s pretty important to call the people who product content at SwimSwam writers and not reporters. There is little, if any, reporting going on. They are looking for content and taking it where it is readily available, and I don’t blame them for it.
Which brings me full circle to why they might seem like they are replicating PR for someone else.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
The problem with content like recruiting announcements is despite the facility of posting it, the information is also of very low interest to most people.
There are topics that are of quite a bit more interest, and similarly easy to produce. They are farther and fewer between. Announcements by NGBs about one project or meet roster, or the latest youtube series featuring Shane (yuckkkk) Tusup’s coaching comeback.
When you can package content on your end in such a way that it makes it very easy for them to put something up, they will for sure do it! Preferably it will be in English, but to credit SwimSwam they also have writers fluent in major non-English languages and can cover a pretty wide swath of this type of content that way.
This is not true for all content though. SwimSwam has always been more cautious about any kind of editorial content, particularly where it might upset the more powerful people in swimming. I can already see Braden Keith (if he’s actually reading this) preparing to tell me how what I wrote above is totally not true.
For them I believe this is pragmatic. I learned firsthand as a reporter at the 2008 Olympic Trials that you can easily find yourself denied access if you aren’t careful about protecting the fragile egos at the top. They are somewhat beholden to the cooperation.
They also want to appear “fair” which on certain topics is akin to throwing a heavyweight boxer in with a five year old. I better cut myself off now before I go off on another tangent.