Life as an adventure writer is all about survival. Not surviving the adventures; it’s the writing that’s the challenge. Or rather getting paid to do it.
When I got into this business 20 years ago at The News & Observer all I had to do to justify writing about outdoor adventure was convince one editor that people wanted to read about outdoor adventure. Fortunately, the first person I had to convince was a Travel editor desperate for regional copy. She was all too happy to run stories about Raven Rock, Medoc Mountain, Morrow Mountain and the other state parks I was discovering as a recent transplant to the state.
Initially, adventure writing was a sidebar to my day job, first as an assistant business editor, then as editor of the paper’s daily feature section. But I wanted to focus more on outdoor adventure so I convinced another editor to let me write a weekly outdoors column, which came to be called Take It Outside. I still had to do some editing, but adventure writing was now one of my assigned tasks. Five years passed and I convinced the same editor to let me just write about outdoor adventure full time. This while the newspaper industry was still in relatively good economic shape.
Alas, around 2005 the landscape changed and I found myself writing less about adventure, more about whatever the paper needed me to write about. In 2008, I left to start this blog. Now, instead of having to convince an editor to let me write about adventure and staying fit, I had to find someone willing to actually pay me. Fortunately, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina liked what I had in mind and very generously supported me during my startup phase. When I transitioned out of startup phase last year, I found myself again trying to convince folks that what I do is worthy of their financial backing.
Despite the fact my salary has been derived from advertising for most of my life, I’ve never been sold on its merits. Does paying a wad of money to get your name in front of people really make them want to do business with you? Maybe. Maybe if you have a six-figure circulation/readership. If you’re a blogger with a somewhat more modest readership, however … .
Which lead me to wonder: Does it really matter where good information appears? What if I were to provide the information, but put it directly on the adver/sponsor’s Web site. It’s still my information, information that I can attest to the accuracy of. But it gives the adver/sponsor something tangible for his/her money. At the beginning of the year, I changed my business model to reflect this approach.
I mention this now because the first such sponsorship under this new arrangement went live this week. In an arrangement with the Triangle Land Conservancy, I’ve created trip packages for eight of their nature preserves. Each package includes an essay describing the recreational attributes, a map showing trails, a fact box with key information for a visit, a short video and a slideshow. It’s the same type of coverage I would provide on this site, it just appears on the Triangle Land Conservancy’s site, triangleland.org. The first package, on TLC’s White Pines Nature Preserve in Chatham County, went up this week. TLC plans to trickle out the remaining seven over the next two months.
Under a similar arrangement with the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, I’ll provide descriptions of the statewide trail, broken down by section. The first of those packages, on the MST on its 88-mile run from Grandfather Mountain north to Stone Mountain, will go up in late spring. Additionally, I’m working with local entities to provide Community Recreation Resource pages that will detail, in one Web location, the various recreational options — from rec centers and neighborhood parks to hiking, biking and paddle trails — in specific towns and counties statewide.
In turn, GetGoingNC.com will serve as a clearing house for this information. In the upper left corner of the GetGoingNC.com home page, you’ll find an index; currently, it’s where we list our Greenway Guides. Soon, we’ll add Nature Preserves to the mix. A dropdown menu will reveal “Triangle Land Conservancy,” and under that you’ll find links to each of their eight preserves. Click on the link and you’ll get a short description of the property, with the option to “Learn more.” Click again and you’ll be taken to GetGoingNC.com’s trip description — on the Triangle Land Conservancy Web site.
Coming from a traditional journalism background, I thought a lot about this approach and if and how it might be seen as tainting the veracity of the information I provide to you. Would my descriptions be less critical since they’ll appear on the sponsor’s Web site? No. My goal has been to give as accurate a portrayal of an experience as possible. In doing so, I try to avoid too many prejudicial adjectives and let the reader figure out, from a direct, factual description, which prejudicial adjectives he or she chooses to fill in. (Again, that’s a goal; I’m not always above the occasional prejudicial adjective.)
The only drawback to this approach is that I will cover sponsored venues before unsponsored ones. Were I independently wealthy this wouldn’t be an issue, but, alas, I am firmly entrenched in the 99.9 percent. Simple economics, a monthly mortgage, and three teenagers who think college sounds like fun drive my approach. Besides, better to have some information about places to explore than no information.
And it lets me survive this wild business of writing about adventure.