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BY MARK FREEMAN
A recent morning rowing my driftboat while fishing for spring chinook salmon on Oregon’s Rogue River quickly became yet another moment showing why I need the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and perhaps why you do, too.
The yell of “Fish On” from a driftboat fishing 50 yards upstream meant it was lines in for me and my photographer/videographer, Jamie Lusch.
Lusch grabbed his camera and started shooting over my shoulder as a large, bright chinook cartwheeled while a 20-something guy tried wildly to tame it with his rod and reel.
Often when the salmon are biting best, our fishing trips suddenly turn into work. Not honest work, of course. But it’s work nonetheless.
No one but a fellow OWAA member understands this thing we do called work, and it’s why we collectively provide the best — perhaps only — support system for those who do on the clock what our readers, listeners and viewers do on their vacations.
There are plenty of reporters at my newspaper in Oregon, but there really are no peers because our genre of communication is so different than that of the other reporters. We don’t sit in council chambers or courtrooms. We don’t rewrite press releases half the day or go to press conferences.
Sure, newspaper outdoor writer work isn’t all play, but to most other reporters and editors it sure looks like it. We’ve all gotten the, “Wow. You get paid to do this?” from colleagues as well as readers, viewers and listeners.
We get it. We know what it’s like to love your job. But it is a job, and the biggest and best place you can find someone else with a job like yours is OWAA.
Typically, at least in the newspaper world, there’s one outdoor writer at the one paper in town. I don’t run into fellow writers in the field because we’re all doing our own stories in our own regions and we rarely overlap.
For freelancers, the isolation can be worse. There can be even less interaction with others of our ilk, leaving ourselves to figure out the tricks of our trade alone.
That’s why I haven’t missed an OWAA conference in 10 years. It’s the only place where newspaper outdoor writers get time together.
Each year, I get to hang out with old newspaper buddies like Mark Taylor, Brent Frazee, Paul Smith and Brett Prettyman, talking about the different things we’re doing now and sharing new angles on how to approach some of the same generic topics year after year. I also get to yak with some newer newspaper staffers like Christine Peterson of Wyoming to hear how they approach some of the same sorts of stories I do in Oregon.
We get to whine to each other about public access and dealing with increasingly stingy federal agencies. We also give informal backgrounders to each other over topics we’ve covered for years that are now new issues for others.
There is no one in my newsroom that has the work challenges I have. Certainly no one but a fellow OWAAer would commiserate with me about what it’s like to stop fishing the moment when the 30-pound chinook are biting and get to work.
On that particular day I was writing about the last salmon-fishing season before a major dam was removed to improve salmon passage. Anglers like the guy with a fish on the line would lose a prime fishing spot, but the chinook run likely would benefit from it.
Lusch got his typical excellent shots, and once the fish was boated we pulled up next to it for an interview with the fishermen, followed by a little stand-up for the video.
The guy said he’s an avid reader who learned how to row his driftboat to, and fish, this very spot by watching one of the videos we produced for my newspaper’s website a few years earlier.
Lusch pointed out the guy got his two salmon for the day fishing one of our favorite holes, and we got none. But we got our story, photo and video package. ♦
— OWAA President Mark Freeman, firstname.lastname@example.org