Get the story you want from the experience you’re given: Making the most of a FAM trip

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You got the call. Some editor or publisher offered you a trip to write about XYZ lodge or to attend a function for manufacturer that promises a chance for hunting and fishing or some other outdoor pursuits.
It might sound like a vacation, but it’s far from it. The way you act and write will establish your reputation across the entire outdoor industry. Your peers and industry professionals will be watching.
So check your ego.
You’ve shot trophy deer in Texas, caught 40-pound lake trout in Whatchamacallit Lake in northern Canada and taken a 12-pound bass in Mexico. Clearly your skill in getting on top media trips or finding top guides is commendable, but none of that makes you an “expert” angler or hunter.
I’ve guided advertising execs from Toronto to 50-inch plus muskies. For one, it was their first fish. Despite their catch they didn’t claim to be a competent muskie angler.
Don’t claim to be an expert when you are not. The people that do, go on FAM trips and spend most of their time trying to prove themselves as hunters, or anglers, instead of as journalists. They fish with a guide all day and never even get to know his or her name. They ride on an ATV or in a new boat with the guy who designed it, and they don’t ask questions or write down quotes to use later. Instead they use the press kit as their source and feed the readers canned information that they could just as easily have gotten off the company’s website.
To get the most out of FAM trip — including a killer story — remember you are a journalist first and foremost. Here’s a few reminders to help you maximize your trip.

  • Step one. Carry a camera and a notepad as a means of capturing quotes and photos at all times. All times.
  •  Step two. Never claim expertise in anything.
  • Step three. Interview everyone who hosts or guides you. The late Ed Crossman, University of Toronto professor and head of ichthyology at the Royal Ontario Museum and the co-author of “Freshwater Fishes of Canada,” said he believed every angler he met had at least one piece of information that would add to his knowledge base. So ask your guide for tips on tackle and techniques. Answer the following questions when you return home. Is your guide married? What do they do in the off season? Does he or she have kids or grandchildren?
  • Step four. Take pictures — more than you think you’ll ever need. Once you get home you can’t get that special shot you want for the feature if you haven’t already taken it. Digital photography means you can shoot as much as you want without extra costs. Take advantage of it. Use the old journalism credo of who, what, where, when and why to get the right pictures. The who and where, (the people and the places) are the most critical on media trips.
  • Step five. Say thanks to everyone who helps you in any way. I’m not talking about tips for your guide, although that’s always appropriate. I’m talking about being genuinely gracious to your hosts and the people who work for them. You’re there to do a job, just as the folks who guide you or put you on a machine are there to do a job. As such they are colleagues, not servants. Treat them that way and you’ll open up doors to information that you would otherwise never see.

The benefits are enormous. When you’re doing that other article on jigs or optics or deer rifles you have a list of experienced professionals who will both return your call when it comes, and provide valuable insights and quotes that give the article authority. In my eyes, an article that doesn’t contain quotes is little more than an opinion piece like this one.

  • Step six. Once you get home write personal thank you notes
    that you mail the very next day.
  • Step seven. Write the feature while everything is still fresh
    in your mind.
    As a professional, never send your article off to the lodge, outfitter or manufacturer prior to publication for review. If something is particularly technical and you’re not sure, by all means send the relevant paragraph for fact-checking, but never the whole article. You don’t work for the host; you work for the magazine and its readers.
  • Step eight. When the article is published make certain the key individuals that helped you get a copy of what you wrote. None of this means you can’t have Fun. People like being around others who are clearly having a good time. Just don’t forget why you are there. 

— A version of this story originally appeared in the newsletter for the Outdoor Writers of Canada.
— Burt Myers is an award-winning editor, writer, photographer and presenter. He is a past president and lifetime member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada and a past national board member for Ducks Unlimited Canada. 

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