I write this blog post with lots of mixed emotions. Back in 1989, when I attended my first Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conference in Des Moines, Iowa, I was in awe. There must have been nearly 800 writers in attendance and the atmosphere was alive with excitement. Craft improvement sessions were held in big auditoriums with hundreds in attendance. Heck, there was even a company there from Colorado, I think, that sold audio recordings of all the sessions so a member could either replay favorite sessions or perhaps purchase part of a session they missed.
In the evenings there were dozens of hospitality suites hosted by supporting members where great food and networking could take place. On breakout day displays were galore by 80 to 100 supporting member companies—all there to garner the attention of the writers.–
Much of this is all gone now.
You see, until attending this recent conference, it had been 15+ years since I had last been at an OWAA event. I was remembering what once was…and unfortunately, things have evolved into something much different. I won’t rehash many of the details here regarding why this is the case. Most of them can be found in a blog post I made back in 2005 found here.
The point is outdoor writers do not have one big main organization these days. For the most part, it appears to be splintered between the OWAA and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), of which I am also a current member. And while I see POMA coming on strong and doing great things…I must say what I recently witnessed in Rochester with OWAA left me a bit depressed.
All of this came as a result of a squabble basically between the National Rifle Association and the Humane Society of the US. I know I’m simplifying things here a bit, but most will agree that is where the hard feelings developed. So, in a nutshell, this disagreement ended up splintering the NRA off along with many of the traditional hunting and shooting writers to form a new group (POMA).
Okay, so you can’t rewrite history…but something kept nagging at me during the entire OWAA conference. Where is HSUS now? I saw no presence at OWAA. HSUS either never became or, at least, is not now a current supporting member of OWAA. Did they just stir trouble within our ranks and now that they accomplished that…choose to disappear? Makes me wonder. Actually, make me sort of angry.
Indeed, having not attended a conference for nearly 15 years afforded me a unique perspective on things. When you fondly remember sitting in craft improvement sessions with hundreds of people and now you sit in one with as few as 7 peers, yeah…it’s noticeable. Several of the craft improvement sessions I attended had sparse attendance—ranging from a low of 7 writers to perhaps a high of 35 or 40.
Even the last day of OWAA (which I did not attend because it was largely filled with business meetings and I was commuting from home) showed signs of problems. On Twitter I even read a tweet that was pleading for members to come down to the business meeting from their hotel rooms so they could have a quorum and conduct business. According to the bylaws, it only takes 50 members to constitute a quorum. Believe me, in the old days this would not have been a problem.
Sure, I’m lamenting about an organization that has definitely seen ups and downs. Don’t get me wrong, OWAA is still filled with lots of great people who are excellent outdoor communicators. That being said, I sure noticed how most of the members in attendance were quite gray and closing in on the twilight of their writing careers. It could be these are the type of folks who now have the time and money to attend these sort of conferences. Or, it could be this is a sign how there just isn’t the kind of new blood entering the outdoors writing profession these days.
In closing, the OWAA was my inspiration during my early years as a communicator to develop as a professional. I scrimped and saved my money so I could attend conferences around the country. Truly, I felt it was that important that I take part in this annual event. It was the place to be and the thing to do as an outdoors writer. Not sure I can say that anymore. Had this event not been in my backyard (close enough for an easy commute)…well, I’m just not sure I would have been satisfied to have traveled across the country to take in this conference. Indeed, things have changed.
©2010 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.