RIP: Print magazine outdoors writing

Sid Evans has left the building folks.

While I’m sure most of you haven’t read Field & Stream since Jr. High study hall, it means you missed the Renaissance of outdoors writing over the last few years, spearheaded by this magazine and Salt Water Sportsman, formerly headed up by David DiBennedetto.

F&S former editor Sid Evans promoted excellent outdoors journalism by shaping F&S columnist Bill Heavey into one of the great masculine voices of our decade, bringing first class journalists like CJ Chivers of the New York Times to write on fishing, and pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable to publish in a hook and bullet print magazine.

Time4media (former owners of F&S and SWS) auctioned off a bunch of magazines to The Bonnier Corporation. Bonnier (who owns Sport Fishing magazine as well) saw that they were actually paying people for their work — the editorial budget at SWS was much larger than that at Sportfishing — and decided to turn SWS into a money cow by turning it back over to its advertisers.

“At SWS you’re going to see more and larger boat reviews, and fewer articles. Integrity is out, shilling is in. It will soon be wooden how-to articles, formulaic writing, and staged photos and big product pics all over again. The under-served market for good copy about salt water fishing just got worse,” said a friend on the inside of the biz.

 You see the same thing at F&S already too. Multi-page spreads on the best lures you should buy, instead of great fishing adventure stories. This month’s big feature — prepping for the upcoming turkey hunting season — was essentially a 5 page ad for new $130 turkey decoys.

It was good while it lasted, and pretty much inevitable that it would go back to sucking. The Web is eating away at print revenues, segmenting audiences up into narrower and narrower interests. And readers interests are shifting. They’re spending more time reading yahoos like me — everybody is a publisher these days. So it’s sad, but not surprising.

 If you’re interested, check out a couple of interviews I did a few years back with Sid Evans and CJ Chivers on the state of outdoors writing back in 2005 — when everyone was full of shiny optimism and purpose.

 FYI: Sid Evans moved on to become editor of Garden and Gun magazine, where you learn to kill weeds with a shotgun apparently.

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About mstansberry

Matt Stansberry currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and son.
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7 Responses to RIP: Print magazine outdoors writing

  1. Snowshoeing says:

    “I’m sure most of you haven’t read Field & Stream since Jr. High study hall”

    Boy, you absolutely hit that one on the head!

  2. Guy says:

    Yep, me, too. Not since Junior High. I guess I got pissed because they never showed an entire PokeBoat. I now have kayaks I never use, but I still wonder what the pokeboats looked like. I’m sure I could find and see them on the Internet, but since they wouldn’t show me then, I’m not looking now.

  3. Pete says:

    I’m in the same dead tree media realm as SWS. There’s a lot of unimaginitive stuff going on in the genre while the execs circle the wagons and try to figure out why the money’s drying up. Creative, well written, and bold features in most magazines are becoming a rare commodity.

    Nothing wrong with boat tests–I do that for a living–as long as you actually TEST the boat (or any product) and say what’s bad about it as well as what’s good, how it meets its intended purpose, and how it rates vs. its competitors. Otherwise, every single product in the magazine is now officially the greatest thing since sliced bread. Praise loses all meaning. You CAN’T run a magazine that does product reviews without being critical if you want to have any sort of credibility.

    I argue these points all the time, but I’m just a cog in the wheel.

    Going down with the dead tree media ship…

  4. Matt says:

    Pete,
    I hear you on the boat thing — boat reviews can be awesome and are really important to a ton of serious fishermen. But my knock on lots of saltwater fishing magazines is that they exclusively focus on boat fishing, when so many fishermen can’t afford boats in coastal areas (myself included). It just doesn’t pay to cover surf fishing because surf fishermen don’t spend any money. And I think that’s lame.

  5. bill heavey says:

    as one of the great masculine voices of the decade, i’d like to point out that you should never mix competing camo patterns. deer are exquisitely alert creatures with a little-understood but highly developed aesthetic sense. they somehow know when they are being watched by someone in an outfit that is too “busy” and will simply up and leave.

    in other news, by a strange twist of fate, i recently learned that the original poke boat was developed by a field & stream contriubting editor, peter mathiessen. he also wrote the ad copy that still runs today in tiny fractional ads in, i believe, the new yorker and other mags.

    i don’t do a lot of salt water fishing because i get seasick easily. besides, like everybody else, i can’t afford the gear these days.

  6. Pete says:

    Matt,

    Hear you on that point as well, and the development of pier and jetty fishing articles was one of the things I enjoyed under Dave D’s stewardship of SWS.

    Re: Peter Mathiessen…the same person who wrote one of my favorite books, Killing Mr. Waston? Great stuff.

  7. Bo says:

    Most magazines are reinventing themselves and cultivating the younger audience. While Boomers have money and take exotic trips — this younger group of Gen X and Y’s have shorter attention spans and simpler interests.

    Look at any updated magazine today — be it Time, Newsweek, etc and you’ll find maybe one or two indepth articles or so but most are limited to a page or less with lots more in even shorter blurbs.

    Sometimes magazines leave their audiences. Sometimes change in technology changes the need for print. But I still believe that a magazine that casts a wide net to young and older has more a chance to survive.

    There are experts who like the sophisticated articles like fishing Cabo but today I think there are more younger novices seeking more entry level knowledge on a wide variety of ways to fish locally. They are also interested in a wider range of issues — political, conservation, access, etc. They in time will stick with a magazine that nurtures that need.

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