Ben Swanson is associate editor at DenverBroncos.com, the official site of that NFL team. A 2013 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, he previously covered the Charlotte Bobcats basketball team. In this interview, conducted by email, Swanson talks about his work with the Broncos, how he got into sports journalism and how the two teams will fare in their respective seasons.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workweek like?
A. Right now the typical work week has a bit of a rhythm to it. Game days are the baseline, our center of the week. Stories lead up to them, and after they finish, we recap and break down the action and look forward to what’s next.
We have recurring features to keep our readers coming back from week to week, including film analysis, a rundown of how our divisional opponents fared that week, a podcast and plenty more. It’s a hectic schedule this time of year, as you might imagine.
Taking care of all the bases and media availability can stretch you thin some days, like Wednesday when Wes Welker made his return to practice and spoke at the podium while Seahawks PR had Richard Sherman available via conference call in the media workroom. Naturally, it also requires extremely good communication between departments since we’re also responsible not only for just stories, but also updating website information for other departments.
As creators of our written content, we also have the responsibility for what goes in our Gameday Magazine publication, which is handed out to fans at the stadium at home games. Our terrific graphics, marketing, community relations and public relations departments come together to contribute what goes in (statistics, coaches bios, community stories, magazine layout and design) and our digital media department adds in editorial content: the cover story and Q&As with a player and a coach. We also proofread and edit the magazine before it goes to print.
This all goes on during the season, by the way. Mismanaging your time can really put you in a tough spot, but sometimes you can do everything perfectly and still find yourself in a crunch to put things together.
All that said, a lot of things don’t necessarily work out in that rhythm. We spend bus rides from the stadium after an away game to a waiting red-eye flight transcribing post-game interviews and sharing them amongst ourselves via email, flash drive or Dropbox, and then we write our stories on the flight.
Also, we too can get caught off-guard by breaking news. You’ve got to be ready for anything sometimes.
It’s a very trying work schedule, but an extremely fun and rewarding one.
Q. You established yourself in sports journalism with a blog about the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) of the NBA. How did that experience help you get your job with the Broncos?
A. Covering the Bobcats, though small-time, allowed me to cut my teeth and find my voice and stand out in a smaller market. I started covering the team while I was a sophomore at UNC, which meant I was learning about covering the team, writing in a consistent style and carving a groove as a unique writer covering the Bobcats, who had an extremely small media spotlight already.
Before I was the managing editor of the SB Nation blog, I had written for the Bobcats’ team blog after being named one of their winners in a contest, and months later after I had landed the SBN editor spot, I was the Bobcats’ digital media intern, which gave me plenty of experience and insight into the workings of the franchise from the team side.
The other major component is that running the blog gave me important experience in a number of ways. I began hiring writers to contribute to the site a few years ago, which got me more comfortable with addressing writers’ stylistic or grammatical issues head on. Communication is so key when talking through concerns about writing or in regards to things that cross departments.
In regards to time management, managing the blog was a crash course. I mentioned earlier that I started running the site when I was a sophomore, and it wasn’t an easy transition because I was by myself at that point. When you cover NBA basketball from the East Coast and the team makes a West Coast road trip where they spend a couple of nights with 10:30 p.m. tipoff times, sleep becomes what you sacrifice. I would spend mornings in class and nights watching basketball, leaving myself to unintentionally fall asleep during classes.
As time went by, I realized I needed more help and reached out to a couple of fellow young writers. In the couple of years since, I learned to set a schedule on a weekly basis, assigning stories, game previews and recaps to our writers. Still, even with better preparation, I had to take some things on the fly, writing breaking news stories during some classes or getting game previews our writers might have forgotten written and pushed out in the morning of my 9 a.m. media theory class.
With over three years of experience cultivating my writing and voice as one of the most prominent covering the Bobcats, I’d learned a solid all-around skill set. I knew social media; I could write straight news, a feature story or a column with knowledge of multiple perspectives; and I knew how to communicate up or down the ladder and how to manage my time.
Q. Sports franchises and leagues are no longer reliant on outside media for coverage. They can cover themselves. Do you see a difference between writing and editing for the Broncos official site vs. doing that at the Denver Post?
A. The distinction is harder to make these days, and we’re no exception.
We’re present at the same locker room availability sessions, press conferences and everything. We have a columnist in Andrew Mason who can write independent editorials and we have people who write straight features like profiles or normal stories.
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not all rose-colored glasses, though we do focus on who plays well for the most part. The Post, of course, is on a different level as an independent outlet compared to us, but we’re not all that different.
Q. Which team will go further this season: the Broncos or the Hornets?
A. Honestly, I’d say the Broncos. I’m extremely excited to see how the Hornets’ offseason moves come to fruition, but the Broncos went to the Super Bowl last year and the Hornets (Bobcats) got bounced in a first-round sweep.
With Denver already proving they can get to the deepest parts of the postseason and the Hornets still relatively unproven, I’ve got to go with the Broncos. But I’d be absolutely tickled pink if the Hornets somehow got to the Finals. I’d be there with bells on.