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BY CHRIS HUNT
As OWAA prepares to welcome bloggers into the fold as full members, it might be a good time for existing members to consider the benefits of venturing a bit more aggressively into the digital media communication world.
“Bloggers” is a very general term used to describe the new brand of outdoor communicators who will soon be joining our ranks. These are folks who operate independent or sponsored Web logs (or blogs), use video and audio for digital broadcasting (better known as podcasting) and who find a way to make these cutting-edge tools relevant to consumers of hunting, fishing and outdoors information.
OWAA’s acceptance of these folks into the fold is likely a bit overdue, but given the challenges of determining how and where these communicators fit into our professional organization, it’s no wonder it’s taken some time to make it happen. And, of course, questions about qualifications needed to be addressed.
Are these folks truly outdoor communicators? Are they contributing to our craft in a constructive and productive way? Are they “professional?”
I would argue yes on all counts. And I would venture to say that dozens of existing OWAA members — perhaps hundreds — would now qualify for membership based on their blogging credentials alone. In fact, some of OWAA’s longest-standing members are blogging today, and using this unique medium as a way to supplement their existing outdoor communications work.
Making a living at blogging is … challenging. Unless a blogger is particularly prolific and has built a loyal following of readers over a significant amount of time — thus making his or her blog worthy of attracting advertisers — blogging isn’t a way to make a dependable income. Rather, as OWAA stalwarts Joel Vance and Dave Richey might tell you, blogging is another arrow in the outdoor communicator’s quiver. It’s a great way to stay sharp as a writer and improve in the fields of audio, video and photography. It’s an effective way to market yourself and your work while providing what amounts to samples of your expertise.
And let’s face it. Traditional outdoor writing these days is riddled with hazards ranging from an ever-shrinking market, editors who are slow to pay for our work and dwindling editorial rates. As freelance writer Bruce Smithhammer, who blogs as part of a team at busterwantstofish.com, said, “Why put yourself at the mercy of an establishment that not only dictates your content, but then is loathe to actually pay for it?”
Smithhammer is like a lot of freelancers who have turned to blogging, not necessarily to make a living, but for the editorial freedom that comes with it. He freely admits that “Buster” doesn’t earn him a penny, but it does keep his writing and photography skills in tune and, he argues, it offers him an opportunity to be as creative and edgy as he wants — after all, he’s his own editor.
Some bloggers actually do collect a modest income from their work. Take Kirk Deeter for instance, who blogs at Field & Stream’s website as part of the Fly Talk endeavor he shares with photographer Tim Romano. Deeter collects a modest monthly stipend from the blog, but, he says, “It doesn’t pay the bills.”
Rather, he says, Fly Talk (fieldandstream.com/blogs/flytalk) serves as an effective barometer for future work — if a topic he casually blogs about attracts significant interest from an online audience, he deems it worth further investigation, and perhaps worth evolving the topic into a full-fledged article he might one day pitch to the print version of Field & Stream, or perhaps another publication.
“I went into it kicking and screaming,” Deeter says. “After all, I worked hard for a long time to develop my skills as a journalist. The thought that some guy sitting in his basement in his underpants could command attention really turned me off.”
But, over time, he began to see benefits to blogging, not the least of which was having a permanent digital library with this name on it. And, like anything else, Deeter says, quality work attracts interest.
“It’s like ‘open-mic night,’” he says. “The people with talent, drive and passion will draw the attention of an audience.”
While most who participate in today’s vast and diverse blogosphere will never earn a cent from their online blogging efforts, there is some modest organization among bloggers who focus on outdoors topics. In 2010, Rebecca Garlock (who blogs under at outdooress.com) teamed up with Joe Wolf (wolfwaters.blogspot.com) and hatched the Outdoor Blogger Network (outdoorbloggernetwork.com). Today, just over a year after its inception, the OBN is a virtual clearing house for more than 1,000 outdoor bloggers who share ideas, content and even host contests and post regular features. In short, the outdoor blogosphere is becoming much more organized and, I would argue, much more relevant. It’s becoming, for lack of a better term, its own medium.
One of the challenges outdoor communicators continually face is the constantly evolving media landscape that makes our work — and getting paid for it — much more challenging, especially if we’re not, at least in part, willing to evolve to meet the needs of today’s readers, listeners and viewers. OWAA’s willingness to open its doors to outdoor bloggers is part of that evolution, and while we may not see a huge spike in member numbers right away, perhaps the inclusion of bloggers into the fold will encourage some long-time members to make that leap and get involved in these “new” ways to reach readers.
Don’t be afraid to dip your toes in the blogosphere. It’s cheap (free in most cases) and, as Deeter points out, it gives you a chance to communicate directly with the people who consume your content.
“Since I started blogging, I’ve met some of the people who comment on my posts face to face. I’ve gone fishing with them. It reinforces the importance of getting to know your audience,” he says. “And bloggers get to know their audience intimately.”
Or, as Deeter might admit, he’s evolved. He’s embraced a medium and is now using it to make his traditional writing work pay off.
“And I can blog in my underpants,” he said. ♦
—A member since 2007, Chris Hunt is the national communications director for Trout Unlimited, a freelance writer, and a blogger at www.eatmorebrooktrout.com. Contact him at email@example.com.