Bad Blood Occurs Within Outdoors Writer Ranks
If you’re the average sportsman who enjoys picking up an occasional hunting or fishing magazine you likely haven’t noticed it. If you have a favorite outdoors newspaper writer who has been a staple at the publication for years…maybe you haven’t noticed it here, either. Even if you tune in weekly to some outdoors radio or TV show you likely haven’t seen any big changes…but let me tell you…they’re slowly happening right before our eyes and ears!
What’s all the fuss? It seems outdoors writing as a profession is going through a metamorphosis and many in the business feel quite threatened by the prospect of a “greener” future. Like it or not, there seems to be a definite trend in the world of outdoors writing to focus on subject matters away from the traditional “hook and bullet” audience. To a large number of writers this realization is very disconcerting.
It was in the late 80s when I attended my first Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) Conference down in Des Moines, IA. I was fresh out of college and for me attending a conference of 800+ outdoors communicators was like a dream come true. Walking the halls were some of my longtime boyhood idols in the outdoors world…folks I not only admired but deeply respected. I used this new connection as further motivation to hone a new craft I was learning – to become an outdoors communicator.
I was an Active Member of the OWAA for about 8 years when I eventually dropped my connection with the group back in 1996. At the time, my life was changing and I no longer was actively writing for a living. You see, to be affiliated with this professional group you must earn the privilege to belong and you must maintain credentials as an active writer, photographer or broadcaster throughout the life of your membership. Since dropping my membership almost 9 years ago, I have lost touch with most happenings at the OWAA.
Today, however, if you do a simple Google search and use the term OWAA you will likely see reference after reference of a controversy that has unfortunately given this group a black eye. It seems many individuals feel this once well-respected organization is now on the verge of imploding…why you might ask? Quite simply…there’s a big wedge being driven between the traditional “hook and bullet” crowd and the folks who promote a kinder, gentler appreciation of the outdoor world.
So why should any of this matter to the average sportsman? Think of it this way. When you send your child off to school you don’t want them to come home with books and materials that educate on values that are contrary to what you believe and teach. It’s the school’s role to educate by stating the facts…and not insidiously promoting some garbage that will taint young, developing minds. Yet, this happens all the time and responsible parents need to be diligent. School book and materials publishers are able to influence developing minds even if it’s done in the most subtle manner.
Much the same is going on with OWAA. This organization is apparently being infiltrated by groups who intend to negatively influence the thought of the outdoors writing community and while some good can certainly come through free expression and thought, it seems to me this is like dancing with the enemy. On one hand maybe it is wise to have the opposition at arm’s length so you can keep tabs on what they are doing…on the other hand; when the dancing’s done will your cause be furthered by having been with a partner who’s at such great opposition to you?
As I recall these changes were first starting over 10 years ago with the OWAA when, if memory serves me correctly, the Humane Society of the US (or possibly PETA) wanted to become a paid Supporting Sponsor. At the time there was such outcry and upheaval within the ranks that essentially the welcome mat was quickly removed.
But oh, have the times changed. Today with the likes of the Sierra Club heavily involved within the ranks as Supporting Member of OWAA, this affiliation has apparently caused a mass exodus of many notable writer members. Much of this stems from a controversy last summer between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Sierra Club who got into a verbal confrontation over issues and stances on the environment and policy. (Remember, last summer we were also embroiled in the heated rhetoric of an election year.)
The upshot is that OWAA has now lost many of their fine writer members and dozens of strong supporting members over this flap. Once you get beyond all the finger pointing it’s hard to argue against the fact there’s been definite erosion within the Association’s ranks. In time, this degradation of the once strong OWAA will begin to show up pervading outdoor communication as a whole.
Just glancing at an old 1996 OWAA membership directory I see several supporting member companies/organizations missing from today’s roster. A few of the bigger names include: Federal Cartridge, Winchester, Remington, Birchwood Casey, Buckmasters, Browning, Colt, Daisy Manufacturing, Hunter’s Specialties, Leupold, Mossy Oak, National Wild Turkey Federation, Safari Club International, Ruger, Whitetails Unlimited, and Wildlife Forever/North Am. Hunting & Fishing Clubs, to name but a few.
Look at these big hitters most of whom are the names that many of us consider as representing the outdoors in our minds. Each of these members were supporters of the OWAA back in 1996. A decade later these, and many other recognized names, no longer publicly support the ideals of the OWAA through membership. Personally, I’m troubled by the trend and I think it’s time the OWAA works harder to gets its house in order to gain back some respect and involvement with its lost members.
Many folks much closer to this situation than me will blame it all on the spat last summer between the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club. I even hear many of these same individual members going so far as to blame the NRA for creating the whole mess. To do so only fails to recognize the deeper and more serious underlying problem confronting outdoors writing today. Change is definitely taking place for all of us and current trends are not necessarily looking good if your shtick is the shooting sports.
I’m trying very hard not to take sides against the OWAA as I have long believed it to be a very professional and quality organization. Still, now that its house seems to be divided, I hear members making excuses why it’s not such a bad thing or even “cathartic.” To this I shake my head in amazement.
When the companies and conservation groups I support with my money and kind words no longer feel welcome in an association, it seems this absence is perhaps making the biggest statement of all. How did the outdoors communication profession, as largely represented by the OWAA, become so splintered and diminished due to the likes of the groups who oppose hunting and the shooting sports?
It just goes to show you how certain groups who oppose hunting and guns are using creative means to promote their philosophy of conquering by dividing. Chalk up another victory for the “bad guys” who’ve found yet another way to influence policy and push their agenda by creating controversy within our ranks and thus weakening our important message.
© 2005 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.