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When young writers ask me to provide tips on how to compose a good outdoors story, I often tell them to write with their eyes.

In others, write what you see on a fishing or hunting trip.

Try to put the reader in the boat or in the field with you. Describe what's in front of you. Maybe it's a moment when dark storm clouds quickly roll in and a cold wind kicks up whitecaps on the lake. Or the golden prairie grass waving in the wind on a cool fall day during a pheasant hunt. Don't overdo it. Too many flowery adjectives or adverbs can get cumbersome.

Still, a simple description of what surrounds you can help grab the readers' attention.


A teachable moment: lessons from j-school


Even after 43 years in the outdoors-communication business, there are lessons I learned in journalism school at Drake University that I still draw on.

  • The lead is your hook. It draws readers into the story. Make it as appealing as possible. You don't have to capsulize the story in one sentence; never have a lead with more than 30 words in it. But it should want the reader want to go on.

  • If you are writing a topic-based article, not a column, be sure to include both sides of an issue. It's a fairness thing, something that is becoming far less common these days.

  • Don't take the lazy way out. Don't start a story with "I got a call from Joe Smith one night and he told me the bass were biting," and then go on in chronological order to write about the trip. Instead, pick out the most memorable moment of that trip and describe it in the lead, then weave in your other information.

  • Spell-check. I still see a lot of misspellings and grammar errors in outdoors stories. One of the biggest: words that are capitalized when they shouldn't be. C'mon, that's an easy one to fix. Get the spell check function on your computer and it will guide you.

  • If you are writing a controversial story, make sure you have verification of your facts from at least two reliable sources. I've had newspapers turn down my articles because I had only one.




One of the mistakes beginners make is overusing quotations.

Quotes are meant to add color or validity to a story, not to state facts.

Let me give you an example.

Wrong: "There were 284,500 deer harvested in Missouri during the 2017-2018 season," said so and so, a wildlife biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Right: Hunters harvested 284,500 deer in Missouri during the 2017- 2018 season, the lowest total in xx years.

"It was one of those years where hunters just had a perfect storm working against them," said so and so, a wildlife biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

From there, the writer goes on to describe some of those factors that worked against hunters, again not in quotes.

See the difference? In the top version, no attribution is need. The harvest is a fact.

In the second version, the biologist offers a catchy perspective to summarize a bad season.

Quotes should be used when the source is offering some colorful storytelling. That's when you can string a few paragraphs of quotes together. But don't get carried away. In general, quotes are most effective when used as the source's catchy way of saying or describing something.

"Our family has hunted these woods since my daddy was a young-un, and the deer know us," said Jeb Wilson. "But we always shoot a few of them each fall.

"We know this area as well as the deer do."

That's it for now. If you have ideas on how we can improve this newsletter or if you have news to report, by all means email them to me at the address above.

In the meantime, have a great summer of fishing, paddling, hiking and camping. And remember, introduce someone new to the outdoors. You'll be glad you did.




The key to getting a good interview from a source is quickly establishing a rapport with that person.

I have seen so many young reporters who are well-prepared for an interview and have a list of questions they want to ask, but are so rigid and stilted in the way they ask those questions that it results in short, terse answers.

Remember, many of your sources are uncomfortable with dealing with the media. For many of them, this is their first time being interviewed and they're nervous.

It is up to you to make them feel comfortable. Once they do, they will often open up and share some of the stories you are looking for.




How you interview a source will determine the quality of a story.

That might sound like a given, but it's not. I have listened to lots of reporters interview people in an awkward, stilted way, and it was no surprise that the quotes in their stories were less than inspiring.

The best interview is one in which you gain the source's trust and just carry on a conversation, much like you would if you were chatting on a bench at a marina.

So, how do you get that trust? Do your homework before the interview. Learn all you can about the source and the subject you will be writing about. If he or she learns early that you have done your prep work, chances are, that source will open up.

Jot down a list of questions before the interview and develop an angle you want to pursue. But by all means, be flexible. If the source reveals something that stands out, be adaptable and pursue that angle.

Afterward, go through your recording and determine what stands out. There's your lead, and the start of a good story.


A Teachable moment: How to develop a query


We have received questions on how to develop a template for queries. I'll say right away that I think that using a template (or a formula) for queries is the wrong approach.

Each story idea you pitch out to an editor should be as personal as possible. I start by finding the editor's name and email address (often available in the masthead page of the magazine) and address my email personally to him or her rather than a general email address that receives hundreds of queries from readers.

Explain who you are and why that editor should be interested in your story idea. Study the magazine to see the type of articles it publishes and tailor your idea for something that editor might be interested in.

Don't just say, "bass fishing at Lake of the Ozarks." Get specific, such as "Ways to catch big bass in the heat of summer." Or "a Bassmaster Elite pro shows how to use finesse baits."

Attach a copy of your resume and links to three of your stories so that editor can see your work. If you haven't heard back after a couple weeks, email back and politely ask if he or she has had a chance to read over your query.


a teachable moment: how to find markets


Some writers are constantly published. Have you ever wondered why? Clever market research is the answer. Seasoned writers establish relationships with editors. Many of these editors become publishers, opening other doors for "their" writers that constantly publish camera ready work. So how do you become one of "their" writers?

Market research is a hunt for publications that match your writing style and genre. Always write about subjects you know best. For example, your expertise may showcase in a bass fishing article, but maybe not in a bowhunting magazine. Remember that experts read these magazines and will pick you to pieces if your story is not up to their standards.

Back in the day we only had magazine racks in book stores or libraries. Today you can find all kinds of magazines and newspapers on the internet. Personally, I use both in a market search. Problem is, anyone can do the same and many people want to be outdoor writers, meaning editors are sometimes bombarded by wannabes.

A professionally written query will often separate you from the crowd but address it directly to the editor when possible. General newsroom-style queries that go to "editors@lllll" or "newsroom@lllll" messages are often lost in the shuffle.

Trade shows or outdoor writing conferences are excellent places to meet editors and start a working relationship. Meet them, shake hands and hand the editor a business card, requesting a meeting before the event is over. Most will either arrange a meeting or will arrange a time for you to call their office. Never interrupt when an editor is in conversation or just having a beer with buddies. Introductions from veteran writers or industry personnel is highly recommended, if possible.

Finally, read several copies of any intended new market. Know exactly what the editor purchases in fiction or non-fiction stories and photography.