Are Outdoor Writers Industry Shills?

By Mary Clary


Over the years, most of us have enjoyed reading the stories and product reviews published on the internet. However, we have noticed a disturbing trend. Many writers have become little more than pitchmen for the companies that sponsor them. This level of literary dishonesty surpasses plagiarism in the academic community.

It is not difficult to understand how the outdoor writers’ world has come to this point. Most writers only get paid if their works are published and/or receive sponsors’ funds to allow them to continue their endeavors. Writers who remain true to their profession and intellectually honest refrain from glorifying their sponsors' products and do not denigrate competitors' products. Unfortunately, that is not the case with many outdoor writers.

To his credit, Chuck Hawks, the Owner and Managing Editor of Guns and Shooting Online, has always maintained the highest standards of professionalism and integrity. (Aw, gee, you're just saying that because I publish your articles. -Chuck) When Hawks reviews a product, he is meticulous, straight-forward and honest. As a result, Guns and Shooting Online has become one of the most successful outdoor internet sites in the world. Guns and Shooting Online advertisers know that if they submit a product for review, the resulting article will be accurate and unbiased. Advertising dollars cannot buy a positive Guns and Shooting Online review.

Over the past few years, we have become friends with several senior executives in the shooting industry. These executives have told us that there are a number of writers who will write whatever you want them to write, if you pay them. They are not shy about naming names. The scribes in question are typically rude and condescending to anyone who dares criticize them. Sportsmen would be wise to ignore their reviews, as you cannot trust their missives to be factual, even though they may sound knowledgeable.

These self-appointed experts fancy themselves as the gurus of the industry. As such, they put out a lot of misleading information. Most of them seem to take almost as much pleasure in tearing down a competing company’s product as they do in promoting their sponsor's product. Either way, their primary purpose is to build their own reputation. The result is that the average consumer is confused and unsure who to believe. However, sooner or later, most people realize they are being had. This helps account for the decline in print magazine readership.

The problem of literary dishonesty is compounded by the reality of the print publishing industry. Magazines survive almost entirely on revenue from their advertisers. One can hardly expect a company to keep paying good money for advertising if the staff writers on the magazine are slamming their products. There was a recent case where a magazine writer broke ranks and actually told the truth about a product. The manufacturer resorted to their normal tactics when faced with a critical review: they threatened to sue and withdraw their advertising. End result, the magazine withdrew the story and the company ran a full page advertisement in the magazine to “set the record straight.”

As a result, the author of the original article has sworn that he will never again review that company’s products. Meanwhile, sportsmen around the country are more confused than ever. We can only hope that ultimately the truth will win out and the product in question will go the way of the dodo bird.

If we, as writers, are to maintain our credibility, we must not “cherry pick” information, take it out of context or make snide remarks about products to further our own agenda. We must be fair and factual, not rude or condescending, in our articles. We must make sure that we convey relevant information and not drivel designed to bolster a sponsor’s product or run down a competitor. Remember, “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Sooner or later, dishonest writers will sink to a negative level of credibility. Many already have!

If any of you reading this have wondered, Jim and I are financially secure and comfortable in our retirement. As such, we neither solicit nor accept advertising or sponsorship funds for our endeavors. We pay for our expenses out of our own pocket. We are beholding to no one and write to serve our readers.




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