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Inspire next generation, future OWAA members

BY MARK TAYLOR
In the early 1980s a gawky kid with braces and a cheesy haircut spent most of his classroom time with his nose buried in a book.
To the casual observer, he appeared to be a model student.
If only his teachers knew what he was actually reading.
Tucked between the pages of those science and math books, inevitably, would be a tattered issue of Field and Stream, Outdoor Life or Sports Afield.
While teachers talked about square roots and osmosis and dangling modifiers, he let writers such as Jack O’Connor, Homer Circle, Gene Hill and Patrick McManus transport him into the wilds of America and beyond.
The kid was pretty smart and if he had actually paid attention in class, who knows how successful he might have been.
Instead, he became an outdoor writer.
I feel like I’ve written that story before, and I probably have. That’s how important I view those years of my life, when my career was shaped by the stories I couldn’t stop reading.
I often think back to those days when I get discouraged with this career, and nervous about the future, something that seems to be happening more regularly these days.
Even though the outdoor writing world is far different than it was for those legends who inspired me 30 years ago, I know there remain readers out there who crave the work we are doing.
There is a demand for what we do.
Sportsmen still want to learn how to make the most of their time outdoors, and rely on us to help them. And many still like to live vicariously through our adventures. We just have to figure out the best way to get that information in front of people. And that’s not easy in this era of media evolution.
Those of us in the middle of our careers are doing our best to adapt. No longer are we just writing our newspaper or magazine articles or columns. We have blogs or our own websites. Instead of just shooting our own still pictures, we shoot and edit videos. Or at least try to!
Heck, some of us even tweet.
As we work through this, the value of numbers is evident. We don’t have to go it alone. OWAA and its vast and diverse membership provide a great resource for learning. We help each other because we’re all in this together.
That’s always been the case with this group, though things have shifted some. In eras past, newcomers to the field and OWAA would eagerly lap up words of wisdom and advice from the veterans.
Now, it’s more of a two-way street. Veterans can provide important insight on how to connect with readers, how to improve our writing and photography. Newcomers can return the favor by helping us old-timers figure out these important new avenues for getting our work in front of readers and, hopefully, earn some income from it.
For many of us who have been at this a while, the boom in electronic media has made our jobs more difficult.
The evolution of electronic media is a key reason OWAA and other outdoor writer associations are battling declining membership. But there are positives.
Electronic media has made it easier than ever for aspiring outdoor communicators to publish their work. Because of OWAA’s recently revised membership criteria, many of those writers, photographers and videographers qualify for inclusion in our association.
So, one could argue that the pool of potential OWAA members is larger than ever. Reaching out to those communicators is important, and not just because there is financial strength in a robust membership. Those newfangled outdoor communicators can learn a lot from us veterans. And we can learn a lot from them.
Which means we can all get better at inspiring that geeky 14-year-old kid who at this very moment is breathlessly reading Eddie Nickens’ most recent adventure story on an iPad tucked between the pages of his Algebra book. ◊
— OWAA President Mark Taylor, mark.taylor@roanoke.com

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