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OWAA can be both exclusive and inclusive

BY MARK TAYLOR
As happens at any OWAA annual conference, talk one evening at this summer’s conference evolved from a discussion about sessions and who was in attendance, to talk about who was missing.
I brought up the name of an OWAA veteran who was absent, not only from the conference, but from our association’s roster.
Someone speculated the loss was likely a result of our recent membership criteria overhaul, including new options appealing to communicators who work primarily, or possibly exclusively, in electronic media.
This writer, apparently, had been vocal in his opposition to opening OWAA’s ranks to those some believe are not “real journalists.”
This is unfortunate.
The board’s decision to revisit our membership criteria, which eventually led to the membership-approved revision of the criteria, was not taken lightly. The board gave the issue much thought, as did members who voted to approve the bylaws change this past May.
Evolution is rarely easy. Often uncomfortable. Major or rapid changes can bring attention to our own mortality.
But reaching out to electronic communicators is not admittance that traditional forms of outdoors communication are irrelevant. We are not espousing that printing words and photos on paper is no longer a valid way to reach an audience. Instead, we recognize that the profession is changing.
The reality is that electronic communication has become an important way to reach audiences. And reaching an audience, be it through print or electronically, is what this is all about, isn’t it?
That’s why we were careful to work some specifics, such as income-generation requirements and/or readership minimums, into the membership criteria for electronic communicators.
We very well may tweak those criteria down the line, if necessary, to more appropriately vet our members.
OWAA has long prided itself on being able to provide a stamp of credibility for communicators, and we have no plans to get away from that. By keeping criteria in place, for all of our members, we maintain the important exclusivity of our group.
Plus, reaching out to this new generation of electronic communications specialists has its professional advantages for longtime members. Many veterans of this profession have been working hard to keep up with technological advances, and not just by making the necessary switch from film to digital cameras. Many of us who have worked for decades in only print media are supplementing our output with blogs and websites. We can learn a lot from communicators who specialize in electronic media.
And here’s something else: Those folks can learn from those of us who came up in the good ol’ days of print.
Instead of summarily dismissing bloggers and Internet specialists for not being “real” journalists, why don’t we make a commitment to mentoring them? Many have talent and desire, and are working hard to build their reach and influence.
I wish that one longtime member was still around to be a mentor to these eager novices. He could have taught them a lot about capturing the wonder of the outdoors in words and pictures.
And probably learned a few things himself along the way. ◊
— OWAA President Mark Taylor, mark.taylor@roanoke.com

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