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Building community on behalf of the outdoors

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BY BILL GRAHAM
Communicate and community: words that represent OWAA’s 86-year history and future. We need each other and the world needs what we do.
Many members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America in the 20th century laid cornerstones for the conservation and outdoor recreation movements that enrich our nation. Most of us arrived in this field thanks to inspiration from those who came before. The outdoors would exist without OWAA, but the quality, quantity and future possibilities would not be the same.
My father taught me how to twitch a Lucky 13 plug on top of the water to entice a largemouth bass into a splashy strike. He showed me a smooth swing with a shotgun as bobwhite quail flushed in front of a bird dog. But beyond our own personal mentors, many writers, photographers and television show hosts broadened our outdoor world over the decades. Most of them were OWAA members.
As a Depression-era farm boy, my father never saw a game warden and he hunted rabbits when he pleased. But his generation changed as communicators helped biologists promote outdoor ethics and scientifically-based wildlife and fisheries management. Missouri Conservationist and Outdoor Life magazines carrying those messages arrived in our mailbox. Outdoor writers also lured me to new adventures. My itch to hunt wild turkeys and catch rainbow trout came from reading the stories by OWAA legend Ray Heady on the outdoor page of The Kansas City Star newspaper.
Heady’s words in the 1960s and 1970s told me what, where, why and how I could do the same. He also made it clear that conservation progress is what made it possible to get a spine chill from a tom turkey gobbling at sunrise. Once almost extinct in my state, turkeys are now a top game bird.
Similar changes affected millions of Americans over the decades. In the 21st century, millions or even billions more people the world over await our words, photos, videos, blogs, websites and tweets. We hold the power of fact and inspiration.
Anyone with a digital device can be an outdoor communicator these days. But not everyone can prove that they have a loyal audience thanks to their ability to provide stories, information and images in an accurate and entertaining  manner. If you are a raging financial and critical success in this business without much effort, congratulations, you’re rare.
Most OWAA members build careers a piece at a time. Many borrow tips and skills from each other. We share ways to sharpen old skills and learn the new. Mentoring young people is our tradition.
It’s a beautiful thing to shoot the breeze with folks at an OWAA conference and listen in as a writer wanting better photo support asks a world-class nature photographer about cameras and lenses. Horizons on my photos got level after being humbled during the reviews as conference photo scavenger hunt winners (and mistake makers) were evaluated. When digital technology ushered in new video possibilities, members on the cutting edge shared their expertise.
A job change required me to suddenly switch from pen and pad reporter to being able to answer tough questions about sensitive issues on camera for big-city television reporters. You’d be surprised how many think archery died with Robin Hood. Thanks to a PDF tip sheet provided by an Emmy Award-winning OWAA member, I was able to face the cameras and I now look forward to them.
The phone rings and the emails ping often, too, at OWAA headquarters as staff assist members with various problems or help them make new connections. There’s always room to make the community larger. Please help staff reel in new members and supporters.
Privileged to work in the sacred and beloved outdoors, professional outdoor communicators are rare compared to other occupations in society. My benefits from OWAA are many over the years, but topping my list is time spent with kindred spirits.
OWAA is “The Voice of the Outdoors,” and helping each other keeps that voice clear and powerful.♦
—OWAA President Bill Graham, plattefalls@centurylink.net
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