Sunday, March 9, 2008

USA Swimming Needs a Wakeup Call


In recent years Web 2.0 websites delivering new media content such as Blogger, My Space and You Tube have shaken up the status quo. Many traditional media outlets and corporations have been unsure how to react. Some have resisted change by shunning and criticizing new media sources, one example being NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. Others have been quick to realize the monetary benefits and have thus acquired popular new sites, incorporating them into their existing methods, like AOL/Time Warner’s acquisition of Weblogs Inc.

More and more institutions are attempting to ride the Web 2.0 wave. However, the potentials of new media are still difficult to grasp for most. For that reason companies hoping to develop their own media presence are relying on consultants or other outside entities. The problem is that most deals are made simply for the money. The consulting companies might know a bit about marketing and media delivery, but they don’t necessarily know the inner-workings of the industry with which they are getting involved. They apply similar templates to each client without the core knowledge of what features their audience really wants. The most credible and successful new media sites have risen through the ranks because they are run by industry insiders. They are not journalists required to write about a wide array of topics, they are passionate individuals working at the heart of the topics they cover.

Recently there has been a deal made between USA Swimming and Wasserman Media Group. This union falls into the previously mentioned category of the miss guided institution teaming with the media consultant. Wasserman has a range of sports experience, but by no means are they swimming experts. Normally this sort of contract would not illicit much attention from the industry insiders, but the devil is in the details. As put forth in an interview with USA Swimming Executive Director, Chuck Wielgus, and SwimNews.com , the contract between USA Swimming and Wasserman gives the organization 50% of the revenue, but it also gives Wasserman 100% control. Traditionally communications groups, such as Wasserman, act as a middle man between the organization and the media. They package news items and deliver them to the right media outlets. This particular deal however, sees Wasserman become the one and only media outlet.

Resulting from the deal, Wasserman intends to produce a website where all swimming media content will be published. The site, SwimNetwork.com, has yet to be launched, but is currently available for viewing in alpha release. In the meantime USA Swimming is already receiving great flack for the handling of the union. Independent swimming media sources are feeling left out in the cold by the organization. Long existing news reporting entities such as Swimming World Magazine and SwimNews.com see a huge conflict of interest potential. New media entities such as bloggers like Tony Austin of the SCAQ Swim Club Blog and Garrett McCaffery of Floswimming.org, are even being sufficiently hindered in their reporting abilities due to shady tactics in the restriction of fair use laws.

During a the recent Missouri Grand Prix swim meet Mr. McCaffery received media credentials from USA Swimming to gather interview content. The issuance of the media credentials also came with severe restrictions. One of those restrictions was the taping of any swimming footage. It just so happened that while filming a poolside interview Natalie Coughlin chose that moment to break a world record in the 100 m backstroke during the preliminary heats. Part of the race was captured in the background of the interview. After the footage was uploaded to FloSwimming.org USA Swimming issued McCaffery a letter of cease and desist. They also revoked any future privilege of media credentials. The actual discourse is available for reading on the Floswimming.org blog .

Without a doubt USA Swimming believes their actions to be for the betterment of the sport. However, it seems that they are merely naive about new media technologies. Sports become mainstream successes because of their potential for many individuals to make money. The USA Swimming and Wasserman deal leaves potential for only two entities to generate significant revenue. There is no information provided as to whether any finances float down to the swimmers or national team members as well. A system that strong arms the competition and expects the team members to work for peanuts does not work, just ask the Soviet Union.

9 comments:

Scott said...

An excellently written article on a very hot topic right now in swimming. Alas, I think your comment, "A system that strong arms the competition and expects the team members to work for peanuts does not work, just ask the Soviet Union", is not grounded in reality - especially from someone who works in the American auto industry. The wholesale arbitrage of American jobs overseas shows what Wasserman Media Group and USA Swimming are doing is now standard practice in American industry. But what a pleasant surprise to read such commentary coming from a source other than the established heavyweights.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, impressively well written... You almost sound like a journalist. Which, of course, defines the inherent problem in "Web 2.0" media. It provides a lovely forum for eloquent voices - without the need for pesky editors or actual fact-checking.
In this case, the facts you left out discredits your entire post. To quote: "The most credible and successful new media sites have risen through the ranks because they are run by industry insiders."
Amazingly, both USA Swimming and Wasserman Media Group realized this astute observation - which is why they purchased Timed Finals, a site not mentioned anywhere in your "article." Timed Finals was founded by two-time American Olympic swimmer named Scott Goldblatt, an insider's insider, if you will. After Wasserman purchased his site, he was placed in charge of the launch of the Swim Network. While that launch hasn't been as smooth as all would hope (few site launches are), it seems impossible (and comically ignorant) to accuse the Swim Network of being a misinformed money-hungry venture. Its very core is defined by the sport's top voices.
You are right to point out the unfortunate circumstances with Floswimming and the Missouri Grand Prix. Like uninformed bloggers, the rights to web footage seems to be a work-in-progress in this developing medium.

Merritt Johnson said...

While blogging does allow one to sound off without supplying sources or facts to backup their information, just as easily those people can be ignored. Believe it or not, I am actually considered to be a journalist. I contribute blog posts to the website Autoblog.com, where I am considered a freelance writer for AOL/Time Warner. The automotive world has welcomed bloggers and has made great moves to treat blog contributors as valuable members of the media. Bloggers get press passes to all the auto shows around the world. Many popular sites are even frequently quoted in automotive manufacturer propaganda.

As for how I see Timed Finals, I have already covered that in a previous blog post. Aside from the aforementioned issue, I do think highly of Dave Cromwell and Nathan Jendrick. They are certainly industry insiders with great knowledge to contribute to the sport.

Tony Austin said...

Anonymous wrote: "You almost sound like a journalist. ... It provides a lovely forum for eloquent voices - without the need for pesky editors or actual fact-checking."

First off Merrit is a journalist, read her bio, or "fact check" as one might say.

Next, I think I know who you are. In fact I think it is obvious who you are and if they took out the words I, Me, and Myself out of the English language, you would have nothing to talk about. That is hint as to your identity.

So let's talk about fact checking at Timed Finals and other WMG properties:

From July 24th 2007

This quote from Lane 9 News: "...Colleen Schweitzer of Ohio State knocked off Sheila Carson of Club Wolverine ..." [Link]

This quote from Timed Finals: "...Colleen Schweitzer of Ohio State knocked off Sheila Carson of Club Wolverine ..." [Link]

Coincidence? Well, I think not! read on:

The meet they both covered was held in Oxford, Ohio, not Dayton, Ohio, but both publications called it the Dayton Sections thereby making the same error on the same day. I don't believe it was a sectional either but Timed Finals made the error in the headline and Lane 9 News in the body.

Fact checking at Timed Finals apparently is an oxymoron so there goes half your argument all ready.

As to WMG's "astute investment" in buying Timed Finals: If it is so astute then why does it appear that Timed Finals is going to evaporate and be replaced by Swim Network as you mentioned? It will have the same writers but Scott is no longer top dog. He may get a swanky title but a more qualified journalist has been selected to run the show or so say the rumors.

if a company buys a website and it plans not to use the engineering technology behind the site nor use it's brand name or allow it's founder to guide it? What exactly did they buy?

That says bad investment to me.

It's called cut and run and it's people like Merrit and the Canuckswimmer and even myself to some extent that made the folly of their investment known.

Stone Cold Button said...

i hope you don't mind that i linked to this post. i also went back and read your december post about timed finals. in both pieces, you're right on target.

maybe we bloggers aren't privy to the inside info a media mogul like superstar scott goldblatt has, but i don't think anonymous should label us as uninformed.

keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

One

Two

Three

Four

Shall we continue? When was posting full text of an article fair use or not copyright infringement? This is just four instances on your blog... there are likely more. It really makes me laugh that "you" are all for the betterment of the sport of swimming, but are not giving USA Swimming an opportunity to have a learning process. I would think, like most, they are new to this "arena." I would suspect they will learn, but your attacks don't seem warranted. I, much like you, don't know the whole story, but I suspect if you took the time, you could likely understand and all work together for the betterment of the sport.

Merritt Johnson said...

Ok I don't see the point in trying to belittle the Texas Swimming Blog on my blog, but none the less... There is a large margin of interpretation of fair use laws when it comes to the written word. Generally educational, non-commercial, use intended for discussion and commenting wins out through court rulings.

Tony Austin said...

Anonymous coward: You are the pot calling the kettle black - perhaps you prefer the way Timed Finals does it? Instead of pasting the whole article, you reword it and say you wrote it?

Should I post stuff that was ripped from Swimming World and an Australian journalist named Nicole Jeffrey?

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