How to jumpstart (or shift) your outdoor communication career through mentorship

Person writing mentorship words with chalk on a chalkboard

It can be tough starting out as an outdoor writer. Networking with other professional writers, pitching story ideas to editors, and learning to navigate the outdoor media industry can be intimidating. 

And it can also be tough to break into an entirely new field of outdoor communication like wildlife photography, podcasting, or video production — especially as technology advances.

But whether you’re newly on your outdoor communication journey, shifting (or rebooting) your career, starting your side hustle or full-time freelance career, or coming back from a hiatus, you might benefit from having a mentor. 

What is an outdoor communication-focused mentor and why have one?

An outdoor communication-focused mentor is someone seasoned in their career. They have a wealth of knowledge to pass along to someone else and a fair amount of experience in the outdoor industry field — specifically as a media professional.  

Mentors can help you grow as a professional while coaching you, challenging you, connecting you with the right people, acting as your cheerleader, and pushing you to go farther than you may of thought you could go. Mentors can also pass on a lot of knowledge in a one-on-one setting through a mentorship program. 

For example, if you’re an outdoor writer and want to improve your photography skills to increase your chances of getting more of your work picked up by editors, you’d want to connect with a professional outdoor photographer through the mentorship program. 

You would meet one-on-one — virtually or in person — with your mentor on topics relevant to photography like what photography equipment you need to get started, what type of photos sell, how to compose your photographs and what camera settings to use.

You could even get your mentor’s guidance on a project you have coming up in the field where you’ll be taking photos for a story. (Are you following a biologist in the field to write about moose tracking in Vermont? Are you writing an in-depth conservation piece on whales on the East Coast? Are you traveling to Yellowstone National Park to cover a new hiking trail?) Projects could be better covered by you with the help of a mentor and have a better success for publication.

Mentorship in action

Last year, OWAA member Phoebe Bright paired up with award-winning journalist Ashley Stimpson for an outdoor journalism-focused mentorship. They primarily focused on pitching. 

“Although I’d written journalism pieces before, I’d never cold-pitched,” said Bright. “Ashley helped me develop a pitch for an idea that had fascinated me for a year (research about the role of native fungi in native plant restoration) and find a news peg for it.” 

Stimpson said Bright made her job as a mentor easy. 

“Bright came into the process with sharp writing skills and original ideas — 90 percent of the things someone needs to make it as a freelancer,” said Stimpson.

“Together we worked on the other 10 percent — mastering the convention of a successful pitch. Luckily, this is infinitely teachable stuff: how to tackle some light pre-reporting, how to present your clips, how to grab an editor by the lapels with that first sentence.”

Stimpson added that over a few months, they workshopped Bright’s pitch, so it was compelling, concise, and nearly impossible to turn down. 

Bright said that the third outdoor news platform she pitched her story to took it, and at a competitive rate. 

“Landing that piece was such a confidence-booster, and it was especially rewarding to share scientific research I believe is important with more people.”

Phoebe Bright

Read Restoring Native Prairie Plants? You May Be Missing One Key Ingredient—Fungi” in The Daily Yonder by Phoebe Bright here

“I’m so grateful to OWAA for creating this mentorship experience and to Ashley for her guidance, time, and encouragement,” added Bright.

And while their official mentorship is complete, they plan to stay in touch as Bright continues racking up bylines.

How does the OWAA mentorship program work?

If you’re thinking of joining the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) or you’re already an OWAA member, the mentorship program might be great for you to jumpstart your career, or even jumpstart your way into learning a new skill. 

Through the OWAA mentorship program, you can actively participate (for free) as an Individual Member. And you get one-on-one mentorship. 

To get started, email to begin the mentorship pairing process. You’ll fill out a prospective mentor application with your interests and areas of outdoor communication you’d like to be mentored in. Then, OWAA staff will match you with a mentee. Your mentee will reach out and you’ll go from there!

Once you’re paired up with someone through the mentorship program (a mentee) you can start to glean knowledge from that person one-on-one — virtually or in person — on topics like what photography equipment you need, what type of compositions help sell photos and what camera settings to use. 

Interested in learning more? Find a detailed explanation of OWAA’s mentorship program on the OWAA website under the Members Only Area/Member Resources.

Not yet an OWAA member? Learn more about which membership is right for you!

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