Mark Swanson ’92

By

Mark Swanson ’92
May 29, 2013

At the Merrill College nearly 20 years ago Mark Swanson thought he wanted a career in public relations. That changed when a professor suggested he needed experience at the campus newspaper, radio station or television station.

Swanson chose the newspaper — “The Diamondback” – that led him into a career in the news business and his current position as Managing Editor of CBSSports.com

Winding up on “The Diamondback” played a critical role in the launching of his career and was an experience he’ll always remember.

“I’ll never forget [the long nights], from the work that we did to the people we were spending the time with there… Those are things I’m glad I got to witness and be a part of. Doing what I did with the Diamondback, but also just being a student and enjoying that. It gave me a lot of appreciation in how they got there when I was in Atlanta for that championship game,” Swanson said.

The experiences learned at the paper were valuable, but so were the lessons he learned in the classroom. He related a story about a professor whose message really hit home for him.

“If we had any assignment, if we had any error, in our PR assignment, you got an F on that assignment. That kind of got me at an early age back then and obviously accuracy still being very important to journalist, that really kicked me in the rear end back then in terms of the importance of accuracy,” Swanson said.

The lessons he learned from the classroom and at the newspaper translated into his work at CBSSports.com, where he has been since before CBS purchased the domain, formerly known as sportsline.com, in 1997.

Swanson believes that there is a market for solid journalism. He referred to it being a transitional time in the business, but an audience exists for what CBSSports.com does best.

“I’ve got a great management team and we’ve got superior writers, we’re very intentional about what we do and handling those kind of stories responsibly and not going for the cheap traffic. There is a way to do those responsibly and with class and I think for the most part we do that pretty well.”

At Swanson’s website, which generates 21 million visitors a month, he has to struggle avoiding the pitfalls of luring the “cheap traffic.” There are many stories that blow-up on the Internet and at the website they are referred to as “lead generators.”

“It’s a balance,” Swanson said. “You don’t want to ignore a story that has gone viral that viewers want and it happens to be sports, while it might not be news, we make sure we’ve got a place for it on the site.”

When interviewing candidates for his senior writer positions, he is not looking for someone who is known for the easy traffic. He is searching for not only a great journalist, but also, something that is important in the fast paced Internet world, someone who gets the story first.

“What we are looking for in a writer, someone who has a track record of, these last few hires, being a news breaker. That comes with having been around the block a few times and having a lot of experience.”

Swanson talked about how the website utilizes Twitter, redirecting viewers to their content and getting them to CBSSports.com.

“While it is important that they all have it, we don’t want any of writers or any of our talent to be a destination on Twitter. That helps Twitter, that doesn’t help us,” Swanson said. “We understand the power of it, we have a process for breaking news, they understand the power of getting that link, first having that information, second having that link back to the website.”

Beyond all of these changing mediums, he said one thing that will never change is the demand for hard work.

“If you have a job, do, I don’t care if your hired as a writer, wash the dishes, if that’s going to help you, obviously I’m exaggerating to make a point, do whatever you can do to be invaluable. I don’t care what it is.”

He also put an importance on learning the new medium. He said, “resumes are flat like newspaper” and he encourages students to do some thing that would stick out.

“Aspiring writers, if you don’t have a blog, fire one up, if you don’t have a Twitter account attached to that blog, fire one up. Be active, show that you get the space.”

Swanson and the website he runs are an example of where this “transitional” period in the business could be headed. He has around 12 senior writers, but he also has about 20 bloggers.

He understands how “lead generators” can help the website, but there is no doubt about it, he is still focused on good solid, accurate content as he learned more than 20 years ago at College Park.

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