Six OWAA Members are running for three seats on OWAA’s Board of Directors. The candidates, listed alphabetically below, submitted biographies and answered five questions approved by OWAA’s board nominating committee.
All active, senior active and life members are encouraged to vote online by May 15, 2020.
Winners will be announced in Outdoors Unlimited and on the OWAA website. New board members will start their three-year term in June, 2020.
RESIDENCE: Newtown, Connecticut
YEARS OF OWAA MEMBERSHIP: 16
Brassard is in his 22nd year with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, where he serves as senior communications director and media spokesman on a host of issues, including target shooting, hunting, participation trends, firearms and industry issues, safety, suicide prevention and conservation. Prior to joining NSSF, he was a newspaper journalist and editor. Brassard has long been NSSF’s representative at OWAA conferences. He’s attended about 16 conferences and served on strategic planning and other committees.
In addition to his media relations duties, he oversees NSSF’s safety education programs, including Project ChildSafe, which has distributed more than 38 million firearm safety kits to gun owners since 1999 and has received $3.4 million federal and state grants in recent years. He is assistant treasurer of the Project ChildSafe Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. He oversees NSSF’s recent partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and is part of a working group with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Defense focused on helping to reduce the rate of suicide by firearm.
At the NSSF-owned SHOT Show, Bill directs the show’s press operations, which credentials more than 2,500 media.
What are your qualifications for position on the Board of Directors? Have you served in a decision-making position before? If so, where and how? I would say my work with NSSF over the last two decades serves as qualification for the OWAA board. I’ve witnessed the evolution of the outdoor writer community and of outdoor communicator groups and the significant challenges these groups face, including the issue of relevancy. As for decision-making experience, as a spokesperson for the firearms industry, I’m involved in decision-making on sensitive topics on nearly a daily basis. I’ve served on several boards, most recently the Project ChildSafe Foundation non-profit board.
What are the top three things you hope to accomplish as a board member? I first need to understand the priorities of the current board and their projects. I believe that as a new board member, helping the board and organization meet its current goals should be my priority. I’d like to help OWAA re-establish relationships with supporting members, as much as I can assist in that area, and I’ll encourage a “State of OWAA” presentation at the annual membership meeting so everyone has a good understanding of OWAA finances, membership fluctuations and challenges.
What steps should OWAA take to capture as members the many outdoor communicators who are not members? The one strategy that seems to pay the most dividends is having current members invite non-member colleagues to join and attend conference. That should continue to be encouraged, both among active members and supporting members. Also, just as it did when it considered blogger and other digital media for membership, I believe OWAA should continue to review outdoor communicators working in different platforms for membership status.
What would you bring to the board that would enhance its work? I can certainly bring knowledge of the firearms industry and the gun writer community, which can be helpful to OWAA as long as it considers the industry, hunting and shooting an important part of its fabric, which I believe it does. Beyond that, I continue to feel a strong connection to OWAA because of its history, those members who made me feel welcome years ago and the next generation who continue to do so, and my desire to see OWAA continue to bring value to communicators in diverse fields.
What services to members should OWAA supply that are now not being supplied and why should those services be supplied? If we had to discontinue some service now supplied, which should it be? Why? Though I don’t use a lot of OWAA services, I sense it does a good job of providing needed services to members. To understand what new services might be offered, I’d need to acquire a better knowledge of all current services and see feedback from members. The discontinuing of services concerns me more. You cannot always cut your way to long-term financial and organizational health. I sense that OWAA has cut services in order to pare expenses in recent years. Reducing services further should be done judiciously.
RESIDENCE: Midland, Michigan
YEARS OF OWAA MEMBERSHIP: 45
With a freshly minted B.A. in English from the University of Michigan and vague plans of law school in 1975, Steve Griffin sold a freelance article to his local newspaper. Serendipitously, that launched an outdoor writing career that’s now passed the 45-year mark. About six months after that first article appeared, Griffin became an active member of OWAA. He’s crafted articles and photos for numerous newspapers and magazines, authored or co-authored nine outdoor books (four with his then-grade-school daughter Elizabeth), and has worked extensively in the museum and attraction industry. He’s taught as an adjunct in Central Michigan University’s Journalism Department, and more recently, produced blog posts for a travel and tourism website.
Within OWAA, Griffin has served on committees, won awards for writing and photography, and served on the board several times. Since his first conference in Albuquerque in 1979, he’s missed but a handful. Griffin still lives in Michigan with his wife Mary Jo, and shares outdoor adventures with his daughter, son-in-law Steve, and—particularly—toddler grandson Abraham.
What are your qualifications for a position on the Board of Directors? Have you served in a decision-making position before? If so, where and how? In addition to the decision-making required of a 45-year freelance outdoors writing career, a 42-year marriage and 34 years of parenthood, I have also served multiple terms on the OWAA board, including some challenging and tumultuous times. I have learned, through that service and on board terms with the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association, that my strengths lie in working on a team, bridging interests and facilitating progress. I ask questions, I think, and slowly and carefully formulate opinions that often reflect those activities.
What are the top three things you hope to accomplish as a board member?
- Ensure that newer members have access to OWAA-related lessons, foundational skillsets, and traditions;
- Welcome the input and example of newer members as they discover and develop ways to extract income from digital work;
- Help provide an environment in which member diversity unfolds seamlessly
What steps should OWAA take to capture as members the many outdoor communicators who are not members? I don’t like the word ‘capture.’ Communicators are not prey, nor are they customers to convert. I think, simply, we need to (continue to) groom OWAA into an organization with appeal and worth to all outdoor communicators – and make that known and apparent to them.
When I was a young, impoverished new member, incoming OWAA president Tom Opre challenged me to come to my first conference. Keep track of expenses, he said, and if I could honestly say it wasn’t worth it he’d cut me a check for the amount. Of course I didn’t file for a refund, and attended the next 30 or so conferences. Upshot: that kind of organizational confidence and competence is contagious!
What would you bring to the board that would enhance its work? Returning to question one, I would research, ask questions, examine and ponder the answers, and view it all through a creative prism to make decisions and build new programs that benefit OWAA. And yes, abandon programs and reverse decisions that suit neither the group nor its members.
What services to members should OWAA supply that are not now being supplied? And why should those services be supplied? If we had to discontinue some service now supplied, which should it be? Why? At the risk of sounding naïve, I don’t bring a pre-formed agenda to my candidacy. (I’m of the generation that heard the Temptations in their song “Ball of Confusion” mock politicians: “Vote for me and I’ll set you free!”
I think OWAA members need to answer these questions and share them with board members. Our role as a board is not so much to create services to sell to members, as listen to their needs and guide the organization to meet them. And of course we should also listen, carefully, to reasons prospective members offer for not joining us.
RESIDENCE: Boise, Idaho
YEARS OF OWAA MEMBERSHIP: 18
Matthew L. Miller is director of science communications for The Nature Conservancy and editor of the organization’s popular Cool Green Science blog. He is the author of the book Fishing Through the Apocalypse, published by Lyons Press, and the 2019 recipient of the OWAA’s Jade of Chiefs Award. A lifelong naturalist and outdoor enthusiast, he has covered stories on science and nature around the globe. His freelance stories have appeared in Fly Fisherman, Sports Afield, FieldandStream.com, Backcountry Journal and many other outdoor magazines. Miller has attended 16 OWAA conferences and has served on the strategic planning and officer nominating committees. He’s an avid hunter and angler and lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife and young son.
What are your qualifications for a position on the Board of Directors? Have you served in a decision-making position before? If so, where and how? I served previously on the OWAA board 2009-2012, and during my tenure I received the Outstanding Board Member award twice. I led the creation of a strategic plan for the organization, and also led a successful proposal to create membership and award categories for bloggers and online communicators. As an employee and supervisor working for a non-profit organization, I have extensive experience in budgeting, strategic planning, fundraising and membership development. I value the opportunity to further my leadership contributions to OWAA.
What are the top three things you hope to accomplish as a board member?
- Define OWAA’s brand. Right now, if you ask 10 OWAA members what the organization is, you’re likely to get 10 answers. We need to be clear on what OWAA is, and more importantly, what it can provide prospective members.
- Develop cost-effective ways to provide value to members beyond the conference. The OWAA conference is excellent. However, gaining value as a member should not be tied solely to conference attendance. There must be stronger professional development offerings. We have the expertise; we just need to find modes of delivery so members can benefit.
- Continue to make the strategic plan more effective. The strategic plan should be a roadmap for staff, board and committees to follow. What do we need to do to ensure the viability of the organization? How do we get there? The strategic plan should define this.
What steps should OWAA take to capture as members the many outdoor communicators who are not members? Again, we need to clearly define our brand. I have heard all of these reasons for not joining: OWAA is too green, OWAA is too “hook and bullet,” OWAA only caters to the outdoor industry, OWAA is too focused on print journalism. When we don’t define ourselves, others will do it for us. To be clear, our organization potentially covers a large array of outdoor communicators. However, we can’t be everything to everyone. We need to be clear on who is our ideal member, take the time to understand what this hypothetical member wants and needs and values, and then use that information to reach them. Too often, we are using a one-size-fits-all approach to what is actually a diverse industry.
What would you bring to the board that would enhance its work? OWAA has a committed and passionate core group of members, many of whom have strong opinions. But everyone recognizes we need to attract new members. I can serve as a bridge. I’m a long-time member whose career has been strongly influenced by OWAA legends, but I’m an online writer. I hunt and fish extensively and write about the environment. There are a lot of writers and outdoor enthusiasts who are not easily categorized. I bring that perspective.
I also bring a strong background in strategic communications. What does our audience need? That is something we all think about, consciously or not, when we’re writing or communicating. But we need to think about our potential membership as an audience. What do they need? Is it different from what we’re offering? If so, how does that change what we do?
What services to members should OWAA supply that are not now being supplied? And why should those services be supplied? If we had to discontinue some service now supplied, which should it be? Why? We need to provide virtual professional development and craft improvement offerings that are as high quality as what we offer at conferences. The same level of thought and planning need to go into them. These are logistically difficult but not necessarily expensive. We also need to find ways for members to get together locally or regionally. The networking, support and friendships of OWAA are top reasons many of us stay members. Let’s expand that beyond conference.
As far as cutting services, let’s be honest: Anytime OWAA does this, a segment of the membership becomes irate and some even leave. We have also cut a lot already. Let’s focus on fundraising, low-cost solutions rather than cutting more programs.
RESIDENCE: Austin, Texas
YEARS OF OWAA MEMBERSHIP: 6
Russell Roe is managing editor of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, where he has worked for 10 years. He grew up in Texas and continues to make his home there. He has been a member of OWAA for six years. He has attended three OWAA conferences (McAllen, Billings and Little Rock), has been an OWAA contest judge multiple times and has won several writing awards from the group. He is a rock climber, backpacker, paddler, mountain biker and trail runner. He loves writing that educates and inspires, whether it’s about climbing a mountain or making a scientific discovery. His own writing covers topics such as wildlife, adventure, science, conservation and history. He thinks being an outdoor writer or photographer is about the coolest thing a person can be.
What are your qualifications for a position on the Board of Directors? Have you served in a decision-making position before? If so, where and how? I have worked as managing editor of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine for 10 years, so I know the ins and outs of magazine work as well as the workings of a state conservation agency. Working for a state government magazine means making decisions based on what the agency needs and what readers want, which sometimes can be a tricky balancing act requiring diplomacy and leadership. I have previously served on the board of directors of the Texas Outdoor Writers Association and currently serve on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Commission on Communication and Education.
What are the top three things you hope to accomplish as a board member? I would like to increase and diversify our membership. I would like to make our conferences a can’t-miss event for outdoor communicators. And I would like to expand ways for members to stay in touch beyond the conference.
What steps should OWAA take to capture as members the many outdoor communicators who are not members? As a member of my state’s Texas Outdoor Writers Association, I have seen the group shrink as members age and as newspapers lose their outdoor writers. At the same time, I have seen other groups thrive with similar missions but a different focus. I think OWAA could consider pursuing not just outdoor writers and photographers but also outdoor communicators such as park interpreters, outdoor educators and scientists. That’s a passionate group of people who do the same things as outdoor writers — share the story of nature. As more writers and photographers turn to freelance work, we should emphasize the benefits of OWAA as a way to enhance professional connections and find avenues for freelance work.
What would you bring to the board that would enhance its work? I would bring a good work ethic, professionalism and creativity to the board. I work well with a wide variety of people and do my best work when given a challenging task and good people to collaborate with.
What services to members should OWAA supply that are not now being supplied? And why should those services be supplied? If we had to discontinue some service now supplied, which should it be? Why?OWAA has helped me in multiple ways. It has given me confidence in my work and introduced me to others doing incredible work, inspiring me to do better and work harder. I would like to find ways for members to stay in touch beyond the conference. One of the biggest benefits of membership is the network of passionate people who share a love of the outdoors and communication. Maintaining and enhancing that network throughout the year — whether through regional meetups, topical webinars, social media or some other method — would bring tremendous benefits to members. The OWAA Facebook group is a good step in that direction. I do not know of any services we need to discontinue.
RESIDENCE: Duluth, Minnesota
YEARS OF OWAA MEMBERSHIP: 3
Roseth is the founder and copywriter at Kero Creative—a full-service advertising, marketing and communications agency which believes honesty is the best way for companies to build brands people can truly believe in. She began her career back in 2011 as a TV reporter/anchor and did a few stints in marketing before starting her own business. Today, she’s an OWAA advocate and active member. In addition to running her own business, she does freelance journalism on the side, writing for publications including Birds & Blooms, Country, Cool Green Science, CultureTrip and more.
What are your qualifications for a position on the Board of Directors? Have you served in a decision-making position before? If so, where and how? My qualifications for the OWAA Board of Directors are as follows: since 2017, I’ve owned a profitable business and have three W2 employees; I serve on the board of Lake Superior Writers; I served on the Leadership Team at Compudyne, a national IT solutions firm.
What are the top three things you hope to accomplish as a board member? This organization (and its incredible conferences) is one of the primary reasons I was able to start my own business. If you choose me as a board member, I’ll work to solidify a thorough marketing and communications plans for the agency – ensuring we can expand and diversify membership. With the positive financial impacts brought on by new members, we’d be able to enhance services, benefits and opportunities for all. There is no reason this organization can’t be the leading writing association in the country, and I’d appreciate the opportunity to help it get there.
What steps should OWAA take to capture as members the many outdoor communicators who are not members? To capture new members we need to: enhance website SEO to increase opportunities for people to find OWAA online, further solidify and strengthen the OWAA brand as a whole, coordinate and host more local “Off the Record” events, recruit members to share stories of OWAA’s impact, expand email newsletter opportunities, further promote EIC contests to the general public, work with membership to develop OWAA advocates and encourage them to recruit their network, and much, much more.
What would you bring to the board that would enhance its work? Our current board is solid with professionals of varying backgrounds and levels of experience. My hope in joining the board would be to bring an advertising, marketing and communications background to the conversation for the benefit of our membership.
What services to members should OWAA supply that are not now being supplied? And why should those services be supplied? If we had to discontinue some service now supplied, which should it be? Why? We should implement more continuing education opportunities, regional events and the ability to participate in a formal mentorship program. These suggestions all work to further transform an impressive national organization into a robust relationship-based community. If anything, I’d consider potentially discontinuing some of the discounts such as gear, car rentals, hotels and more. I’ve utilized these before, and from a financial standpoint, I’d say it would be more important to have less, more impactful options than a wide range of small discounts, if possible. While discounts are always appreciated, members work through a number of steps to access the discounts and at times, they are negligible.
CHARLES A WITEK, III
RESIDENCE: West Babylon, New York
YEARS OF OWAA MEMBERSHIP: 5
Charles Witek holds undergraduate degrees in English and History from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts and a J.D. from St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York. He sold his first article to The Fisherman magazine in 1974. Until the mid-2010s, Witek worked as a financial services attorney. Since then, he has spent all of his working time as a writer and as an attorney/consultant specializing in saltwater fishery conservation and related legislative issues. When not working, he is an active saltwater angler who also enjoys freshwater fishing and hunting for upland game, big game and waterfowl.
Witek is currently the President of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association. Recent work includes his blog, One Angler’s Voyage, which can be found at http://oneanglersvoyage.blogspot.com, frequent contributions to From the Waterfront (the blog of the Marine Fish Conservation Network), and articles that have appeared in American Angler, Backcountry Journal, and The Fire Island Chronicle. He sits on New York’s Marine Resources Advisory Council. In the past, he represented New York on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, sat on the Executive Board of the Coastal Conservation Association and served as Chairman of CCA New York.
What are your qualifications for a position on the Board of Directors? Have you served in a decision-making position before? If so, where and how? I have held a number of leadership roles at not-for-profit organizations connected with both the outdoors and with outdoor journalism. I am currently serving my second term as President of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association; before being elected to that post in 2018, I sat on NYSOWA’s board and served as its Southeast Region Vice President for nearly ten years. I was one of the founders of the New York chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association and served a number of terms as the chapter’s chairman. In connection with those activities, I sat on CCA’s National Executive Board for 17 years and served as vice chairman of its Government Relations Committee from the time that such committee, and the vice chairman’s post, were first established until I stepped down in 2013.
What are the top three things you hope to accomplish as a board member?
1) Expand the group insurance program to include not only health/prescription coverage, but also more general business insurance, most particularly coverage that includes protection from defamation suits, including the so-called “SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) litigation that can be brought to discourage investigative reporting and the coverage of controversial conservation and natural resources issues.
2) Develop a program, that will be available on the OWAA website, to help transition experienced writers from traditional hard copy to online publications.
3) Use my experience as a financial services attorney to help the officers, board and executive director further develop OWAA’s financial plan, to best assure the organization’s future financial stability
What steps should OWAA take to capture as members the many outdoor communicators who are not members?
1) Make OWAA seem more approachable. While new members are welcomed and made to feel at home at conferences, etc., the history and heritage of the organization can make it seem somewhat intimidating to new writers or those who write for smaller markets. Reaching out to regional outdoor writers’ organizations may be one step toward achieving that goal. It might also be worthwhile to create a list of OWAA representatives who would be willing to appear and speak at other venues, including meetings of state sportsmen’s and other outdoors-related organizations, that include but do not primarily serve local writers, and at colleges with journalism programs, to attract writers just entering the industry.
2) In conjunction with the above, emphasize the benefits of OWAA membership to writers who are not well-established and are still trying to penetrate new markets and create relationships with editors.
What would you bring to the board that would enhance its work? I have extensive experience working as a volunteer in volunteer-based organizations such as the New York State Outdoor Writers Association and Coastal Conservation Association, understand the dynamics of volunteer-based boards and committees and know how to help form, maintain and work within volunteer-based teams. Until the mid-2010s, my primary income came from my work as a financial services attorney; I will thus bring my knowledge of the law and of financial matters to board deliberations.
What services to members should OWAA supply that are not now being supplied? And why should those services be supplied? If we had to discontinue some service now supplied, which should it be? Why? As mentioned above, OWAA should consider expanding its group insurance program to include business coverage, including coverage for defamation lawsuits that can easily result from investigative journalism. Corporate interests sometimes bring suit against writers who might threaten their agenda; the availability of such business coverage would protect such writers from those who would resort to the courts to silence the press.
I would be reluctant to discontinue any service that is currently supplied; the current package creates a substantial incentive for writers to become a part of OWAA. However, in the event that OWAA’s financial condition dictated that some service be discontinued, my decision to discontinue a service would be based on a two-pronged test: 1) Does a service provide sufficient benefit to encourage writers to become and remain OWAA members; and 2) can members obtain similar services elsewhere at a reasonable cost?