Last Wednesday I left Kentucky after an early morning teal hunt to attend the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA)Annual Conference in Gatlinburg, Tenn. For those not familiar with Gatlinburg, picture every gift shop, putt-puttgolf courseand dinner theater you’ve ever seen thrown into one of the most beautiful places an outdoorsman could imagine. Someone got it right making those hills and streams. As forthe attractions, I left them to the tourists.
SEOPA is an organization of outdoor communicators. Members include writers, editors, television show hosts, radio hosts, public relations gurus and more. If you’re in the media, draw your inspiration from the outdoors and live in the Southeast, you can probably be a member. To me, SEOPA is an avenue to network with and learn from the best in the industry. I met Keith Sutton and Wade Bourne. I sat down to dinner with Ish Monroe. And I ogled new rifles and fishing rods from various manufacturers. It was great, andI plan to keep in touch with many ofthe peopleI met asIcontinue mycareer. Their input is priceless.
One night I ended up in front of the group for only a brief moment. I didn’t say a word, but someone pointed out that I was the youngest member at the conference, which was followed by applause. My being the youngest member was not surprising. I’m 23. And by outdoor writing standards, I’m a spring chicken. The applause, well, it just made me blush.
Of those in attendance, the oneswho appeared to be close to my age group were mostly the public relations and marketing type. There were very few young writers, depending on your definition of “young,”which I will not discuss.
Recruitment of young members is a concern of the group. Outdoor writing apparently lacks the draw it once had. Some blame it on nontraditional media, like this blog. Others liken it to low salaries, downsizing newspapers, slipping numbers of young hunters and anglers, and a general lack of interest in the written word from people my age. Whatever the case, I see it as a problem.
Here at FLWOutdoors Magazine, our staff probably makes up a surprisingly large percentage of the younger-than-25 age group. Some staff members may not want me to share their ages, but I will do it anyway,indirectly. Five members of our editorial staff are younger than 25. The paint on the wall beside our college diplomas is yet to fade beyond the paint behind them. We’re fresh, and we have our own style of producing a magazine.
Aside from the five here, I wonder how many other outdoor editors out there areyounger than 25,and younger than 30.I know of some, including friends of mine. But are there enough that in 30 years we will be able to fill a conference room in a tourist trap townfor a professional development conference?
I hope so, and for anyone out there with even a slight desire to pursue outdoor writing, let me help sway you in our direction.
In the past 15 months, I traveledto enough states that I’d have to take my shoes off to count them. I fished with top FLW bass, walleye and saltwater pros. I worked with some incredible writers on incredible stories. I caught my personal best bass, walleye, redfish and kingfish. I took photos of mountains, canyons, gorges, hills, plains, forests, valleys and many other parts of natureI didn’t have in my hometown.
I won’t go too much into the “work” side of the job so as not to dissuade your interest, althoughI will say, outdoor writing and editingare about teaching people about topics they are already passionate and knowldgeable about. Readers expect the work to be accurate, newsworthy and entertaining, and they are the real critics. It’s work. But it’s rewarding for anyone who loves the outdoors.
Talk to a journalism professor or English teacher, and look at Web sites for groups like SEOPA. There are many people out there willing to mentor aspiring writers. When I have questions or need advice, I now have people to call.
Outdoor writers are a fine group, no matter their ages. I don’t believe a new generation needs to form to take their place, rather, young writers need to join them. Outdoor writing is changing (blogging, for instance). And if there’s a new school of writers interested in joining their ranks, now is the time to step in, find a mentor and start a career.