Monday, August 11, 2014

Bueller? Bueller?

Time for a confession: I generally don't much care for the magazines of most of the groups to which I belong, and in fact toss pretty much all of them soon after getting them. Why? Because reading them reminds me of sitting in this guy's class...

 But I was perusing Hatch magazine a few days ago when I came across this interesting review of Trout Unlimited's member magazine, Trout.  Specifically, Trout's recent editorial reboot...

From the review

During the past few years I've come to have a keener appreciation for the writers who are closer to the literary end of the spectrum than the "hook and bullet" end. The Drake, Flyfish Journal and Gray's Fly Fishing issue (though I feel it's aging out) are my new staples. Trout's in that class too though that's a fairly recent development. I first met Kirk Deeter in 2012 shortly after he was announced as editor of Trout Magazine. Kirk's vision for Trout, the in house magazine of Trout Unlimited, was to be of such high quality that folks would join TU just to get the magazine. That sounded awful ambitious.

I don't know Kirk Deeter personally. He and Tim Romano write the flyfishing blog for F&S, and because of this Kirk and I would exchange the occasional e-mail while I was at F&S.  I know Kirk likes to bird hunt, like I do, and he likes to bowhunt with traditional gear, like I do. Beyond that, however, we're strangers. I can't claim to know him.  But he's obviously a talented guy, and he's apparently done a good job with a genre (the member magazine) that, in my opinion, has traditionally been about as compelling a read as the fine print on your cell phone bill.

Maybe I'm too harsh, but apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so...

When you look back at the archives of Trout, you'll see a decidedly conservation bent to the subject matter in each issue. There's also lots of recognition for chapter and national efforts at conservation. It's expected and natural that TU's magazine would have this editorial priority but it made the magazine a bit dry.

Uh, yes. A thousand times yes. Dullness is the Achilles heel of virtually every member magazine I've ever read. To be perfectly blunt, they're boring. Really boring. Five-minutes-on-the-can-then-straight-to-the-trash boring. This sounds harsh, and I guess it is, but as a reader I don't give a damn about slogging through 500 words on how the Greater Tuna Chapter of Sparrows United raised $63 at a cake sale to fund habitat projects on their local sparrow-shooting grounds. That's great and all, but I just don't care, and I'd be willing to bet that the other members of Sparrows United (other than the members of the Greater Tuna chapter) don't care, either.  Not one bit.

But beyond dullness and dryness, I think the other big weakness of member magazines is (familiar refrain warning!) lack of different voices, styles, and a fear of taking chances. It's human nature to stick with what's familiar, and the end result often ends up being predictable, rote, well-trodden, and just... meh. Don't get me wrong, I'm big on the conservation bent, really big. It is, after all, the reason for the very existence of the group. However, I believe - and I've alluded to this before... - that when you're trying to get people to even notice (much less care), how you say it is often as important as what you're saying. And when how you say something is reminiscent of Ferris Bueller's economics teacher, people start suffering from MEGO disease*.

I've never understood why member magazines don't invest more in their magazines and the quality and scope of of the writing that goes in them. I mean, these are the very groups that should own the topic, right? They've got every resource, every expert, every contact. They're right there on the tip of the spear. They could be producing some incredible, compelling journalism and stories, and yet, the majority of the stories and/or reporting I see in member magazines reads like it was written by a staff biologist or some local chapter member dude whose day job is running a Chevy dealership. And there's nothing wrong with that, i suppose, if you're satisfied with it, but if you really want to expand and improve your product you've got to change.

 And that's exactly what Kirk Deeter did.

From the review...

You're not going to learn the latest knot, the best new fly pattern or even the where the biggest trout/salmon/golden dorado can be caught within the pages of Trout. What you will find are some of the finest essays on the sport generated by a generation of writers you'll be reading for years to come: Christopher Camuto, Tom Reed, Bruce Smithhammer, Erin Block, Chris Santella, Monte Burke and more than a handful of other fine pens. The writing is familiar and powerful.

I can take or leave a few of the others, but they had me at Reed and Smithhammer. I'm a big fan of guys who are just a little...different, and write that way.

So here I am sitting on the dessicated, troutless plains of western Oklahoma, about as far removed from wild, free-swimming salmonids as a guy can get, and I'm planning to go join TU; not to get the sticker, not to get the free flies, or to learn the details of how the Boulder, Colorado Pale Morning Tokers chapter of TU are improving streamside trails, but for the writing and photography of the magazine. So I guess the strategy works. At least on guys like me, which is admittedly a rather small and weird demographic. But I'm betting that if other groups took a cue from TU, they'd start getting members because of their magazines, not despite them.**

*My Eyes Glaze Over

** And I'd like to make clear this is not a criticism of any specific magazine or group. They all do good and incredibly necessary work. These are just a few personal opinions on the overall state of the genre, opinions that are worth exactly what they cost, which is nuthin'...    


  1. You hit the nail on the head. Reed and Smithhammer (and Romano's pics) are the only reasons it's not pitched in the recycle bin on the way in from the mailbox. They're getting better but they still have a long ways to go to catch up with the likes of Bugle (IMO).

    1. Tim Romano's a helluva photographer, and a helluva nice guy, too.

  2. I'm a member because every year they send me a calendar with pretty fishing pics on it, and I don't have to go to that little kiosk in the mall. But maybe now I'll start reading the magazine.

    1. Hell, I need to join for the magazine now...

  3. I was thinking the same thing as I perused another member magazine of a group I respect and admire while paying a yearly tithe to. The thing read like a PTA meeting ledger with blood sports instead of PE. In the past I had considered contributing, as a few of our fellow western blogger weirdos have, but couldn't get past the Mac II format and the helicopter parents, sic, Chevy dealers who have access to a word processor and a propensity for shallow genre dredging.. the company you keep.. I just felt like it would go to def ears if the readership mirrored the quarterly.

    I'm happy that Kirk is putting the hammer down and making something valuable from something akin to junk mail and Jehovah's Witness flyers crammed in my door jam. I love TU and hope that this draws some fresh bloody boots into the trenches.

  4. This is why I love the RMEF magazine, Bugle. It's got the conservation and club news, of course, but it's almost always got a handful of really solid essays/hunting stories... it's got SOMETHING TO READ!

    I'd love to see the other member mags I get take the same path.

    1. I'm not a RMEF member, but I hear that a lot about their magazine, Phillip. Must be pretty good.

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