Three tips for students stepping into the outdoor communication space

Four college students outside with arms on each other's shoulders

The world of journalism and outdoor communication is intimidating. It’s a competitive field where you are forced to make a name for yourself, and your job opportunities mostly rely on who you know. Making connections is daunting enough, and for those who want to go into a  specific niche of journalism, the challenges seem even greater. 

For me, outdoor/ environmental writing has been my goal and the reason I went into journalism. However, I didn’t have direct contacts at my university who specialize in the type of outdoor writing I wanted to pursue.  I wanted to write about my favorite places to go camping and how to acquire the gear you need sustainably. I wanted to write about the native plants in my area and how important they are to the ecosystem. I wanted to write about issues facing the environment and highlight Indigenous voices, displaying what it means to have a relationship with the earth.

After two years at college, I’m just now starting to step into the outdoor communication space — writing about the topics I am passionate about. Here are three tips that helped me get started. 

Build a good name for yourself 

This is not necessarily specific to outdoor communication or to environmental journalism, but it’s a good tip for any journalism student. Students who take initiative to have good ideas and pitches, meet deadlines, do extra work to help with student media and are open to constructive criticism stand out to professors and editors. 

When you stand out as a reliable reporter for your student media jobs – school newspaper, TV, radio station, whatever media you are involved in – you are more likely to get assigned stories that you want to write about. And of course, having any sort of leadership position in your school’s media looks great on a resume.

But standing out doesn’t just stop at student media. Your professors are likely a gold mine of connections and resources. Chances are they’ve been in the field for a long time and have seen hundreds of students go through their programs and go on to work in various fields of journalism. Being a good student in the classroom really does matter. Show your professors you can get your work done on time and pay attention to their critiques. Being a reliable student will make you more marketable to the resources your professors have access to. 

Start writing about local issues 

Start building your outdoor communication portfolio by writing about local outdoor events or issues for the student media jobs you already have (hence why it’s important to be a good student media worker).

Even if it’s a news story about changes coming to the green space on your campus, writing features on outdoor activities in your area (extra points for catering to a college student budget) or opinion pieces about the outdoor activities offered on your campus, writing about anything related to the outdoors or environment will help boost your portfolio you’re ready to apply for outdoor media jobs and internships. 

Consume the content you want to create

One of the things I find helpful in stepping into outdoor communication is being purposeful to read content by other outdoor communicators. Take time to read books, and outdoor-related or listen to podcasts centered around environmental communication. 

Consuming different types of outdoor media not only educates you on issues you may want to write about but will also give you a sense of the many different styles and ways to create outdoor content, inspiring you to find your own voice in the industry. Not to mention, exposing yourself to different publications is a great way to find out what types of job you might want to pursue in the future. 

If you are interested in writing breaking news on the environment, keep up with a few big newspapers and their environmental beat reporter. I like to focus on newspapers in my state, but I also look at newspapers in other states to see how the reporting is done. One of my favorites is The Statesman Journal’s outdoor reporting – even though I live in Texas. 

Another great source for getting a wide variety of content is “The Best American Science and Nature Writing” books. The books are published every year and are a collection of the top science and nature articles and essays, and many of them are environmental. 

No matter what media you are interested in working in – magazines, blogs, photography, videography, ect. – consume a wide variety of content from multiple sources so you can best understand the industry and get inspiration for your work. 

Additional ways you can gain experience and knowledge to break into the outdoor communication space as a student

Enter student writing and photography contests

Through the Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards and the OWAA Student Photo Contest, OWAA rewards budding North American writers and photographers who capture the outdoors. Cash prizes are awarded to first-, second-, and third-place winners in both categories, split over two age groups (high school seniors and juniors and college students). Entries must have been created during 2022. Entries are judged by outdoor media professionals and winners are announced in May. Prizes for all categories are awarded as such: 1st – $200, 2nd – $100, 3rd – $50.

Each winner will receive a yearlong OWAA Student Membership ($25 value), have their name included in a nationally distributed press release and have their story/photo included in OWAA’s magazine Outdoors Unlimited.

To learn more about the Norm Strung Youth Writing Contest, click here. To learn how to apply for the OWAA Student Photo Contest, click here.

Entries may be submitted between September 1 and January 31 via OWAA Supporting Group On September 1st, 2022, submissions will open and you can enter here (be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page).

Sign up for a discounted (budget-friendly) OWAA student membership.

Take advantage of OWAA’s mentorship program

Attend an OWAA conference 

At our annual OWAA conference, you’ll meet seasoned outdoor media professionals and improve your craft through in-person workshops. The next OWAA conference is in Gulf Shores, Alabama, September 9-11, 2023. 

More about OWAA

OWAA is an international, nonprofit organization, OWAA represents a diverse group of professional communicators dedicated to sharing the outdoor experience. Members of OWAA are experienced outdoor people, the nation’s best outdoor writers, editors, authors, digital content creators, broadcasters and podcasters, film and video producers, photographers, artists, lecturers/speakers, publishers, communications and PR professionals and more!

We aim to offer world-class resources, support, and inspiration for our members as they inform the public about outdoor activities, issues and the responsible use of our natural resources. Through OWAA membership and adherence to its creed and code of ethics, members are commissioned to provide honest, thorough, informed, responsible and unbiased outdoor coverage.

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