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Evolving Journalism, Adapting OWAA

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BY BILL GRAHAM
OWAA’s future is similar to the entire journalism field – it’s changing, but it still serves an important purpose.
Words and images that entertain and inform with credibility will survive in the consumer market place. The dull, unimaginative and inaccurate creators of media for public consumption will eventually wilt away. OWAA is many things, but one of its crucial offerings is ways members can improve professional skills and thrive in today’s media world.
Journalism and public relations work are in a seismic shake. Yet the days of newspapers, books, magazines, television and radio are not yet behind us. In fact, long-time OWAA members Jay Strangis started a print magazine, American Waterfowler, almost from scratch within the past few years. But those old reliable forms of media now compete with various instant social media services and websites. It startles me a bit to realize that I consider websites as old hat in that mix.
Discussions about changes are starting to seem like echoes in a canyon. A new editor took over the helm of Time Magazine this year. She admitted in her first column that splintered media markets make successful journalism difficult today. My local paper ran several stories recently about young people leaving once-hot social media outlets for newer ones. One story outlined how college professors trying to distribute assignments via email have students crying that they never use that dinosaur.
You youngsters will laugh, but I can remember letters to the editor in Outdoors Unlimited from those passionately saying they would never give up their trusty typewriters for a computer. That was followed by stories in OU giving helpful hints about how to buy a first computer. Then the next wave was tips on how to upgrade computers and discussions about hardware capabilities. Any type of computer that could be carried on a trip was cutting edge, and I guarantee you that they were primitive by today’s tablet and laptop standards. Through this change, members helped members adjust.
Digital cameras also greatly changed the outdoor communications game. I was a reluctant convert, partially because my tight finances forced me to scrape and scratch to acquire quality film cameras and lenses, only to have the field shift. Now I shoot both still photos and video with a digital single-lens reflex camera similar in shape to my reliable old brass-bodied Canon for film. But dealing with computer software and photo storage is as challenging as evaluating exposure settings used to be. Things are more complex. How-to sessions at OWAA conferences and in OU have helped me adapt and succeed.
What people are willing to look at, or listen to, and perhaps even pay for, is an uncertain cloud hanging over our future as communicators.
But what still is required for employment or profit is well-crafted words or thought-provoking images that carry truth, verified facts or humor. The vehicle for delivering information matters. Yet quality of what is expressed matters more. That’s why one of OWAA’s primary missions is to be a “how-to” organization. We show people how to get started and we also offer ways for veterans to get better and adapt to industry changes.
But keeping up with technology alone won’t bring enduring success in the outdoor communications field. Whether it’s a blog, podcast, webcast or traditional media – the messages must be credible.
Easy access to potential readers or viewers is exciting. So are fresh voices. New media allows both. But easy entry has also flooded the public with poor writing, misinformation, needless negativity and heaping helpings of the same old same old. The night prior to my writing this, I was at an outdoor event where a citizen lamented journalism’s future due to free information pushing paid professionals aside.
The public craves credible truth among the confused media barrage. Our outdoor viewers, listeners and readers won’t pay attention unless a professional product of very high standard is delivered. OWAA offers pathways to professionalism.
The industry is changing and with it OWAA must change too. But one thing that will stay the same is our organization’s high craft and ethical standards, which are needed now more than ever. ♦
— OWAA President Bill Graham, plattefalls@centurylink.net
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