Becoming An Outdoors Communicator (Part One) — OWAA Conference

The following blog post is notes taken from an Outdoor Writers Association of America conference geared toward beginning outdoor communicators.   The content is provided from the perspective of a number of outdoor speakers (as credited below).   If you want to become an outdoor communicator, hopefully some of these tips will help you.

Mark Freeman (Medford Mailtribune, newspaper columnist)

  • Newspapers are becoming very multi-media (adding video content, etc.)
  • Full-time newspaper writers are going away replaced largely by free-lancers.   This creates opportunity for newcomers.
  • At your local paper, find out who the people are.   Ask them how they might need assistance (hunting/fishing reports, etc.)
  • Consider writing little filler stories…newspapers love them.
  • Get good at the fillers, and soon you might be doing full feature stories.
  • The goal is to get your foot in the door.   Look for the non-conventional ways.
  • Be prepared, not all of these gigs are very lucrative.
  • You need a positive attitude and perseverance to succeed.
  • Get your name out there as a writer and things will happen.

Jack Bauer (photographer)

  • Millions of images purchased annually for books, magazines, calendars, greeting cards, organization publications and even the fine art markets.
  • Lots of room for new people to break in.
  • Develop an attitude as a professional.   This breaks you apart from those who carry around point and shoot cameras.
  • Be brutally critical of your own work.   Don’t shoot for average.   Remember, you’re only as good as your worst image.
  • Composition, lighting and subject matter are important.
  • Get a professional already in the field to critique your work.
  • Approaching buyers — query/letter for article photos.   Try to create a need for your photos.
  • Most magazine editors will submit a photo want list — get a hold of that list.   You might have to submit a portfolio first to prove to that editor you are worthy of getting the chance.
  • Photos with a strong regional or local theme tend to sell better.
  • Other opportunities include making personal contact with buyers, having a web presence, being in professional publications, and simply “finding the source.”
  • In terms of making an editorial submission — mail a CD, Email to the editor, upload the file to an ftp site.
  • Initial contributions should be low-res images that open easy.
  • What is a publication quality image?   It needs to be 11” x 14” at 300 dpi for a two page spread.
  • Don’t over process photos before you submit them.   Most photo purchasers want to do their own processing — color processing, etc.
  • Don’t send too many images.
  • Make sure you only send images that match the request.
  • Photo editors are extremely busy people — don’t waste their time with things they don’t want to see.
  • Expect to be paid upon publication of the photo…not when the photo is accepted.
  • Being a photographer today requires computer skills for editing and submitting.
  • A photographer must be organized cataloging the images, as well as tracking the submissions.
  • You have to market your work.   Even good photographs will not sell themselves.
  • Some photographers are specialists — becoming known for a specific subject matter (fly-fishing) or technique (macro photographer).
  • Most photographers, however, are generalists in their work.
  • Marketable images — scenics, wildlife, people, geography/landmarks, macro-flora, etc.
  • Know the market, study the publications.
  • Capture both traditional and unique perspectives.
  • Shoot with an eye to the future.  Anticipate seasonal needs/requests.   Most publications will think about a year ahead.
  • Attitudes matter — be patient, persistent, proud and optimistic.

Risa Weinreb-Wyatt (travel writer)

  • According to USA Today, travel writing is one of the top 3 dream jobs to be found.
  • What are the outlets for travel writing?  Broadcast (radio and TV), newspapers, magazines, guide books, foreign markets, blogs, iPhone apps.
  • Types of travel writing: Travel trade, business travel, Consumers.
  • So, how do you break in?   Remember, your backyard can be someone else’s dream vacation.
  • Pitch the story to editors in distant locations.
  • If you do travel, you can pitch a story to your local outlets.
  • Get experience — you might even have to start out by offering your work for little or no money.
  • Try to become an expert.   It’s better to be an economist who writes rather than a writer who talks about economics.
  • Join OWAA and other organizations for networking.
  • Tell the people what they need to know.   Where to go, where to stay, what to expect, etc.
  • Read others’ stories and determine what you like/dislike.
  • Go to the website for assistance.
  • Find new markets.   Go to Barnes and Nobles to see what people are writing.   What are their demographics.
  • Look at the advertising that publications are running.   For example, publications running lots of ads for a certain destination will likely run stories for these places, too.
  • Where can you break in?  That is the goal.
  • Keep in mind, it is very competitive in this field.
  • Media outlets are in crisis which creates fewer opportunities for the writer.
  • Travel writing is very professionally rewarding.  The presenter explains how she even had an opportunity to eat bat on one experience.

Tim Holschlag (angling book author, free-lancer)

  • You need to know the publication to get it right.   Read the publication so you know what you are doing.
  • Follow the writer guidelines…they have them for a purpose.
  • Find out who the person is to contact.   Personalize it…don’t just send something to “the editor.”
  • Be forceful, but not pushy to be a pest.   You need to follow up if you don’t hear something.
  • Persistence is an important factor to make it.
  • When you make your pitch, explain how you can offer some new information or insight on a topic.
  • Explain your expertise.
  • Narrow your focus to what you are good at before you try to offer too much.
  • Strive to be a good wordsmith.
  • Don’t take shortcuts on your research.
  • Be a good interviewer, but also be a good interviewee.
  • The goal is to earn the trust of the editors first, and then ultimately the readers.
  • Be a good business person — don’t give your work away.   This is particularly true if publications are late or no pay.

Rick Jordan (radio personality)

  • You have to find a sponsor…this is key.
  • Get to know somebody at the radio station.   Stations need talent.
  • Buy the program manager, sales manager or GM a cup of coffee and pick their brain.
  • Expect to start slow.   Polish your craft by gaining experience.
  • Use the local angle.
  • Sometimes it pays to be a BSer.
  • The outdoors can be a lucrative time-slot for stations in garnering advertising.  Remind the stations of that fact.
  • Bring the station ideas for sales contacts.
  • Once the listeners become familiar with you…then you know you’ve made it.
  • Make yourself valuable to the station.

Dan Small (television)

  • Started in the biz about 26 years ago.
  • Probably would not happen this way now, but Dan was asked to come in and interview for hosting a TV show when he had no previous experience.
  • Many opportunities exist today on hundreds of channels.
  • Do something local (3 to 5 minute drop ins for local news).
  • Dan does the 1/2 hour magazine format (including hunting, fishing and general outdoors).
  • In contrast, many shows are now niche market (all turkey hunting, etc.)
  • Theme shows (like Tiffany and Lee Lakosky)
  • Sponsor driven shows (Ducks Unlimited, Beretta, etc.)
  • Broadcast TV differs because it takes a lot of money.
  • Dan’s parting thoughts…don’t go into TV.   It’s too expensive (he’s being sarcastic).

 ©2010 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Regarding My Frequency Of Posting a Blog Entry

“Until you’ve got something worthwhile to say, don’t say nothing.” ~Yogi Berra (the legendary baseball player & manager)

You know lately some folks have been asking me why I don’t blog on a more regular basis.   Good question.   I’ve been giving them a very simple answer.   Lately, I just haven’t had much to say.   You see, unlike some bloggers who feel they must post content EVERY day or risk the wrath of the blog gods…well, I’m just not one of those people.

Quite honestly blogging is not only a way for me to express myself, but it’s also a way for me to connect with other people on a very important level.   Maybe I’m a bit old-school, but I was taught not to put your name on something unless you are damn proud of the effort.   I can honestly tell you I’ve written as many as 3 blog posts this year alone that will never see the light of day in print.   Instead of hitting the “publish” button, I chose to hit the “delete” button instead.

I’m very critical of how my blog posts get viewed by the public.   If my content is boring, silly or otherwise determined to be uninteresting…well, over the years I’ve learned to self-edit myself to the point I either start over or move on to some other subject.

I think part of this is due to the fact I want my blogging to maintain a certain level of professionalism.   After all, the longer a person does something the better they theoretically should become at their craft.   Considering the fact I’ve been blogging now for almost 6 years I’d like to think my efforts have matured in a certain manner to be reflective of this truth.

For that matter, reading some other outdoor blogs provides me the inspiration not to fall back to babbling simply for the sake of creating content.   In recent months I’ve read some bloggers who talk about the damnedest things.   Topics like: “What movie star is your hunting dog most like” or “Should I cut my hair during the hunting season?”   I’m like…what?   Are you serious?   Are these bloggers at such a loss for a legitimate outdoor topic that they must engage in this sort of off-the-wall discussion, albeit conducted in a cutesy manner?

Nope, not me.   I might do a lot of dumb things in my life yet I have more control over what sort of dumb things I say in public—especially on a blog.   I happen to believe you can put your best blog post and your worst blog post side by side…and the general public will more likely remember you for the worst post you write.   It’s just human nature, I suppose.

Okay, before I digress any further let me get back to my point.   I want this blog to be known for quality content, not just frequent and consistent posts.   Truth is having something worthwhile to say is only part of the formula.   The other critical factor, at least in my life, is a hectic lifestyle that just doesn’t always lend itself for blogging.   Watching a 2–year old toddler day in and day out will do that to you.

Still, I want people to understand that blogging has long been an important part of my life and will continue to be so into my future.   I don’t apologize for what might appear to be a lack of effort, at certain times.   Au contraire, I’d rather people accept the fact if I don’t have something important to say rattling around in my head…I won’t waste your time discussing other crap.   At least, I certainly hope not.

©2010 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

The Arizona Motorcycle; When You Need MORE Horsepower

In case you haven’t seen it, this picture has been making the rounds on the Internet the past few days.


As with most e-mailed images, I do not know the story or the photographer to give credit.   Nevertheless, I thought this was interesting enough to share with you.   Looks to be much more exciting to ride than a horse.

©2010 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.