I must admit it is with some mixed emotions I loaded up my truck and departed the recent Professional Outdoor Media Assn. (POMA) conference held in Minneapolis this past week. Even though I staunchly back the organization for its solid pro-hunting and conservation oriented goals and ideals within the realm of the outdoors communications world, I fear (or shall I say sense) a lingering divide within the writer ranks.
I first posted about the strife within the Outdoor Writers Assn. of America (OWAA) back in April of 2005. In a nutshell, many members who went on to create POMA felt the OWAA was being overtaken by members — both individual and corporate — who do not share our strong shooting sports beliefs. Of course, that matter remains up for good-natured debate, but the upshot is a big wedge continues to fester within the organizational ranks of brethren and sisters who communicate the outdoors experience.
So why should this bother me? Because disagreements are not a good thing whether they are in the workplace, a marriage, or anywhere in life. The OWAA which decades ago was a strong association of about 2,000 professional outdoors communicators has now seen those numbers drop by about 25% in recent years. Not a significant drop that would necessarily compromise the longevity of the organization, mind you, but certainly a negative sign that indicates trouble exists.
Nearly 20 years ago when I was fresh out of college and attended my first OWAA conference it was exciting, and to say the least, very beneficial toward my continued growth as a communicator. Back in those years the organization was solid and the membership seemed to be fairly united. Encouraging ethics, promoting conservation and improving communicating skills were some of the main goals. But more importantly, you would go to the conference as a young writer and soon become overwhelmed as you sat in the presence of all the big names of the industry. It was not only exciting, but very damn motivational, to say the least.
Those same feelings were missing from the recent POMA conference. Albeit, the organization is still in its infancy and has lots of growing pains yet to come. Oh, sure, there was still the dissemination of good information and helpful seminars on skill improvement…but something else was lacking. It was not the same as the past OWAA conferences I had attended. In fairness, I am older now and perhaps not so much in awe of all the great writers I once got to meet for the first time…but there was more to it than just that.
It’s like going to a family reunion knowing that many folks who should have been there choose to do something else on that day. So, naturally what do folks in attendance do…of course, they talk about those who are not there. Human nature, I suppose. But there is still a lingering feeling of regret like why couldn’t everyone just put aside the differences for one day and act like a family once again? It’s never that easy. Truth is, it can take decades and perhaps generations before some families forget what it was that once split them up to cause the feud.
Please understand I am not dissing POMA or its leadership for failing to make a difference. Quite the contrary. I am mourning the fact that, much like some insidious disease such as cancer, we have allowed the outdoors writing family to split up. Missing at the recent conference were many old friends who remain loyal to OWAA, and I can’t blame them for that. Still, there comes a time in life when we all must ask ourselves if what we are loyal to continues to represent our steadfast beliefs. At least for me, OWAA does not do it and POMA holds the best promise for the future.
The average hunter or fisherman might be asking themselves just who cares about this matter anyway. Well, what I have been lamenting should deeply concern all of us. And here’s why.
Does it concern you if a teacher in your child’s school system is so blatantly anti-hunting that on nearly a daily basis your child comes home and questions the need for your sporting traditions? Does it bother you that the movie your child is begging you to go see has a blatant and obvious anti-hunting theme? What if a counselor tells your child that guns are too dangerous and they shouldn’t be found in your home? Each of these situations would get your gander up, correct?
Well, then, what if this same mentality is pervasive within the ranks of the organization for which your favorite outdoors writer or broadcaster belongs. Not exactly the same thing, I understand, but it still creates confusion and disunity within a once proud and strong community. The point is there are organizations out there that will stoop to any tactic to conquer and divide us — at any level. Every inch of ground they gain is an inch of ground that we have lost…no matter how it occurs.
Indeed, the hour-long drive home from the POMA conference was somewhat cathartic as I reflected on what I had just experienced. On one hand I was quite sad as I yearned back for the days when all of us in this outdoors writing community were in one big group. Yet, on the other hand, I realized that life doesn’t always work out that way and a person must sometimes accept the inevitable changes. Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t hope that the day will soon come when we can all get together once again as one big happy family. In the meantime, I’m not holding my breath that will happen.
2007 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.