Press-Republican

September 29, 2013

Outdoor writers lured inside for conference

By Elizabeth Lee
Press-Republican

---- — The role of communicators has never been more important than it is today, says the Outdoor Writers Association of America. For North Country outdoor writers, wild places are our neighborhoods and workplaces. When we write we are sometimes lucky enough to just share a great outdoor moment, but we often have a lot more responsibility.

As writers we translate the factual details and fictional narratives from outdoor experiences into meaningful stories. That includes sorting through the leftover bait, the invasive species literature and sometimes the humorous but untrue tales told around a campfire. In the North Country the story may be crafted for local newsletters, daily papers, occasional blogs, monthly magazines, regional TV shows or national radio stations.

Outdoor writing demands knowledge of outdoor sports and natural history but also knowledge of business skills and up-to-the-hour technology. Not to mention social media marketing, contract negotiation and unconventional transportation means. Although we are lucky enough to derive our work from the outdoor places we love, to make our deadlines we often have to come inside when friends and families are still on the water or setting up camp.

Last weekend at the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) conference in Lake Placid, local writers were lured inside to learn from nationwide peers about topics that advance our skills and expand the scope of our message.

Tim Gallagher, editor of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Living Bird magazine gave the keynote address. His presentation featured his investigation of the rare Imperial Woodpecker in the drug-war zone of Northern Mexico. The skills and resources Gallagher used to get the story set the stage for the next few days — great background research, digital image matching, video archive searching and the rare lucky break.

One of the highest priorities of any good writer is accuracy. At last week’s conference an interesting session addressed this in light of the NYS Safe Act. Called “Gun Writing for Anglers, Hikers, Kayakers and Mountain Climbers,” this session discussed how semantic inaccuracies can shape public opinion and lead to unproductive hostility rather than foster clarity. Another panel of presenters explored the converse, “Environmental writing in the Hook-and-Bullet World,” offering strategies when the angles that need to be presented exceed the permissible word count.

A big benefit of the conference was to hear writers talking about their roles in ongoing policy development in different parts of the country. Topics like climate change and sportsmen, the impact of natural disasters on fish, wildlife and outdoor recreation and the consequences of government gridlock for conservation, hunting and fishing are topics all outdoor writers will be covering at some point if they haven’t already.

The needs of freelance writers and opportunities to market outdoor writing and photography were discussed in multiple sessions. A panel of editors from outlets including Adirondack Life, Adirondack Explorer, OutdoorHub and Field and Stream gave the group career insights and even some direct invitations to submit articles.

After morning sessions wrapped up there were excellent opportunities to demo gear, complements of some fantastic conference sponsors. At some point during the weekend many out-of-town writers took the chance to get out on a nearby river or trail with a local guide.

Numerous local members of the NYS Outdoor Writers Association made time for this national conference to renew friendships and pick up tips on local sweet spots for outdoor pursuits. We expect that consumers of our craft will benefit from the fellowship.

OWAA’s professionals include writers, photographers, outdoors radio- and television-show hosts, book authors, videographers, lecturers and artists. The association is headquartered in Missoula, Mont. 

Elizabeth Lee is a licensed guide who lives in Westport. She leads recreational and educational programs focused in the Champlain Valley throughout the year. Contact her at lakeside5047@gmail.com.