COLUMBIA — When Garrett McCaffrey graduated from MU in 2007 with a degree in broadcast journalism, he began looking for a “local sports gig in small-town America all summer.” Although he saw positive aspects in job offers from local news stations in places like Jonesboro, Ark., and Grand Junction, Colo., none of the openings really jumped out at him.
“Even when I was at school, I wanted to do more in depth reporting than just local news,” McCaffrey said.
So when McCaffrey’s friend Ben Askren, the former Missouri wrestling star, put him in contact with Martin and Mark Floreani, brothers who had started the Flocasts online network, McCaffrey jumped at the chance to cover swimming, the sport he loves.
Martin Floreani, a former wrestler, and Mark Floreani, a former track star, had started the network to provide event coverage, video interviews and news about their former sports, which they felt were being neglected in media coverage. They were looking to expand into swimming and McCaffrey was hired to manage the content of the new Floswimming site.
After being hired, McCaffrey had two weeks to make it down to his new home in Austin, Texas. Along the way, he stopped at schools and programs along the coast, collecting content for the site’s start-up. He stayed in Austin for a week before heading out again to get the site ready for its Nov. 1, 2007, launch date.
“I think of video as a big piece of the site,” McCaffrey said. “The entire sports community is becoming more video-based, and that goes way outside swimming. We’re filling a need swimming has. It’s a video-thirsty community, so that’s definitely a big part of what we’re doing now.”
In the five months that McCaffrey has been running the site, he has collected video interviews with more than 200 swimmers, as well as video content spanning individual workouts to races. And perhaps more importantly, he has helped cultivate a thriving online swimming community by attending meets from high school state championships all the way through the elite level.
Cameron Sellers, a redshirt freshman on the Missouri swim team and a Floswimming site member, said he uses Floswimming primarily to watch races of himself, teammates and swimmers in other conferences, and interviews to “see others’ perspectives” on swimming.
“I read the swim news they put on the site; it keeps me updated on stuff not just nationally but internationally,” Sellers said, pointing to articles on the Canadian and South African Olympic trials. Sellers also has used the site to check out results and times at the conference meets taking place throughout the spring.
In addition to the video content, Floswimming also features photos, blogs and Floswimmr, a networking system for swimmers.
Floswimmr allows members to create profiles, stay in touch with friends, post their best events and times and keep a training log while staying in contact with a coach. But because of the site’s launch date, Floswimmr is still evolving.
“We didn’t have the right timing, since the season was already underway,” McCaffrey said. “Floswimmr has been kind of unexplored. It’s a great strategy, a great way to keep swimmers thinking about the sport and their training outside of the pool, but it has to be at the beginning of the season.
“It can be an equally powerful part of the site. Being able to see practices at different programs and talk to coaches and people from other programs is powerful, and that’s what Floswimming is about. But interacting with your own coach is just as powerful, and that’s more what Floswimmr is.”
Chris Peters, an assistant coach for the Missouri swim team and the team’s recruiting coordinator, said the team has not used the Floswimmr aspect of the site because it came out while the season was already going on. He said, however, that he would be exploring the “locker room area” of the site to look into implementing some coach communication with athletes during the summer season and into the fall season.
“We’d like to use it a little more, but we’re not sure how yet,” Peters said. “If it helps make us a better and more competitive team, we’re going to use it, as long as it’s within NCAA rules.”
Peters has also found the site has served a recruiting purpose. McCaffrey posted an “MTV Cribs”-style tour of the MU swim facilities in November, and the team now has a link to the video on its Web page to give others “an in-depth look at our facilities.”
Floswimmr currently has more than 4,000 members, nearly all via word-of-mouth and McCaffrey’s conversations with team coaches. McCaffrey is also determined to keep Floswimmr’s membership free, even as he resists flooding the site with banner ads.
“Our viewership is growing constantly with each event. We’re going to different events in different regions and introducing people to the site,” McCaffrey said. “I feel like the site is constantly moving forward, and it hasn’t really slowed down. We’re trying to get to as many regions at all different levels as we can to make everyone a part of the site.”
In managing and developing the site, McCaffrey has found his journalistic training invaluable.
“It’s had a huge impact,” McCaffrey said. “I’d say the site is a combination of two of my passions, and both have played into the success of the site. The video-editing skills, the interview skills, they’re all from Mizzou, and they’re a part of why we’ve been successful so far.”
Still, McCaffrey recognizes that his goals for the site – expanding the swimming community, first among swimmers and then into the mainstream – put his job outside the realm of traditional journalism.
“We’re trying to show a real side of swimming, the personalities, but at the same time not dumbing it down for the masses,” said McCaffrey, who has no plans to return to a local news career path. “I think everybody appreciates what the site’s doing for the sport. Some of the elite guys I’ve talked to have been really nice and complimented the site. I think they recognize that it’s the best thing for the sport, and they see that.
“I’m kind of walking the line of journalist and promoter. The idea behind the site is to promote the sport of swimming. I want to do that in a very honest, truthful way, but at the same time, I want to make sure I’m moving the sport forward ... It puts me on a fine line between being a journalist and a fan-slash-enthusiast of the sport.”