BY RANDY ZELLERS
Color me skeptic, but as an editor I just can’t take things at face value. With outdoors enthusiasts’ propensity to exaggerate, believability should be a major concern for every writer. But I’m regularly approached by writers with rough drafts void of a single quote or attribution.
Small columns, such as this, or anecdotal writings are meant to entertain or engage the reader. They stand on their own without much help. But informative articles, the kind editors are willing to pay good money for, require research. More importantly, they require the writer to state the source of their knowledge.
Many members of OWAA (myself included) began their writing careers because they loved the outdoors and felt comfortable being a source of knowledge. Everyone has a subject or two they could write about from the cuff. But if editors only wanted outdoors experts, getting our next story would be as simple as driving to the waffle stop on the way to a popular hunting destination. Rather, we editors want journalists.
As a writer, you’ve chosen to be an expert in journalism, not animal behavior, metallurgy, statistics or the host of disciplines found in good outdoors prose. Find the experts in those fields and let them tell the story. When you write, be sure to include the source, and explain why that person or source is relevant to the writing. If you only give your readers the name of the interviewee, they still don’t have much to go on. Stating that Richard Kaminski said something doesn’t mean much to readers. Stating Richard Kaminski, wildlife biologist, doesn’t help much either. But Richard Kaminski, professor of wildlife ecology and management at Mississippi State University, lends much more weight to his words.
One exception to the rule of expert opinion is niche writing. A person who has established him or herself as an expert through a career of books, articles and speaking engagements on a single subject (using sources) gets a little leeway when it comes to quoting others. But if that author isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when a reader looks at the subject, they’re still taking a chance if they don’t at least reference some of their previous works.
Of course, without a source to back me up, all you’ve read is one editor’s opinion. ◊
Randy Zellers is from Little Rock, Ark. A member since 2005, he also serves on the OWAA board of directors. Zellers is editor of Arkansas Wildlife, the magazine for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. Contact him at randy. firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY RANDY ZELLERS