This is part 20 of a multi-part “More from media” series.
You’ve heard the old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Well, if you’re a professional angler, it applies to media, too.
Breaking through and developing a good working relationship with media is essential if you want to be a successful professional angler. There is absolutely no substitute for that. None! And one way to get media exposure is to become part of the media yourself.
Can you write? Maybe you could do a weekly outdoors column for your local newspaper or write for some of the big outdoors magazines or websites.
Do you take great photos? You might be able to get them published with some of the major outlets.
Are you skilled at speaking and interviewing? Maybe there’s a radio show in your future.
Does the camera “like you”? You might produce and host your own television show.
Of course you need to be talented — just like professional anglers need to be talented on the water to get the most out of their careers, the best of the outdoors media are good at what they do. And it’s not always easy. Being good at the media end of things requires talent, time and energy. Without all three, it’s tough to get very far.
You may be surprised to learn that there are very few people making a living as full-time media professionals. Most have “real” jobs which allow them to pay the bills. Many are retired and working in the media to supplement their retirement income and to get involved with the outdoors industry. Many write promotional materials (press releases, catalogs or newsletters) for manufacturers or other industry entities in order to make ends meet.
I mention that to let you know that working as an outdoors media person is not likely your stepping stone to a full-time career in the outdoors. In fact, I don’t know any aspiring professional anglers who successfully moonlight as media, or vice versa, though some have tried.
Don’t underestimate the challenge
Outdoors media can be just as competitive as professional angling, but in a very different way. The number of print magazines has declined dramatically in recent years, and newspapers seem to be closing every day. With them go a lot of outdoor writing jobs.
While it’s true that many of these jobs have been replaced by the internet, the web pays only a tiny fraction as much as print — certainly not enough for a freelance writer to live on.
To make matters worse, pay rates for outdoors journalism have been stagnant for decades. I sold my first article to an outdoor magazine publisher in 1982 for $250. Seventeen years later I went to work as an editor for the same publisher and rates had not increased at all! Now, more than thirty years later, rates with that publisher have increased only $50.
The biggest and best publishers in the outdoors field pay about 40 to 50 cents per word, and a full-length feature in most outdoors magazines runs about 1,500 words. That’s $600-750 for a feature. If we’re talking about the web, you can knock that rate down to 5 or 10 cents per word, on average (though a very few pay more).
When you consider the time that goes into creating a story, interviewing experts to get quotes, taking photographs (you can’t sell a story without pictures) and the like, it can make for a pretty bad hourly rate. And I’m not aware of any outdoors publications that will cover a writer’s expenses to get the story.
If you want to make real money in the world of outdoors media, you can do it, but you have to be more salesman than media pro. Radio and television hosts who produce their own shows and sell the ads that support them can do pretty well, but that takes time, talent and connections. Few people have all three.
Know where the line is
If you’re fortunate enough to break into the world of professional outdoors media, it pays to have at least a little journalistic integrity. Too much and you’ll get no assignments or story-gathering junket invitations. Too little and no one will be willing to publish your work.
The truth is the outdoors industry is big enough to support some media outlets, but too small to support legitimate journalism. When was the last time you saw an outdoors media outlet publish something negative about a boat or motor manufacturer? It just doesn’t happen — and not because they don’t deserve it occasionally.
Media outlets require advertising and sponsorship. There’s no room to publish anything negative about an advertiser or potential advertiser. It would be like shooting yourself … right in the wallet! That’s why no one does honest product reviews — you can’t be objective because you might offend an advertiser.
For an aspiring professional angler, being part of the outdoors media is tricky business. It’s tempting to tout your sponsors to the exclusion of all other companies, but that kind of “journalism” is transparently disingenuous. Unless you can carve out a situation in which saying glowing things about your sponsors is part of your media routine, it’s probably best to build relationships with media rather than try to become the media.
- If you have the talent, you can become part of the outdoors media and help to carry your message to the masses. This does not mean, however, that you don’t need other media. In fact, you’ll need them just as much as ever.
- If you’re part of the media, you must be careful with how you represent yourself and your sponsors. No one likes a shill, and if you’re perceived as one you won’t last long as a media person.
Tags: advertising, camera, catalog, column, energy, exposure, interview, journalism, journalistic integrity, magazine, manufacturers, media, media junket, media outlets, members, more from media, newsletter, newspaper, pay rate, photos, press release, product review, promotional material, public speaking, publisher, radio, relationships, sponsors, sponsorship, talent, time, TV, website, write