10 Aug Gear Whore Confessions: Institutional Integrity
Moab Utah 9:20 AM MST
The Red Rock Bakery
I have all the gear I’ll need for a long time. Making breakfast this morning while camped along the Colorado river near Moab I had my choice of three different stoves, two Teflon coated cook kits and four variations on the spork to prepare a bowl of oatmeal. All the excellent gear I have I’ve received from manufacturers for my consideration in a prospective story or product review. That’s a common practice in my line of work. But as I begin to expand my career to include stories that will likely be sponsored in part by the very companies I report on I wonder if my integrity as a journalist might be called into question.
A few days ago I ran into the very talented young photographer Becca Skinner at the MSR booth during the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City. There with her friend and my first mentor Ann Krcik Becca hoped to begin the process of building the critical industry relationships she’ll need to get a stove of her own. The folks at Mountain Safety Research have been very generous to me over the years and with Anne’s guidance I’m sure Becca will have no problems getting her first pro-deal.
“It was like walking around with the Queen of England,” she said, “Anne knows everybody.”
She just might. Ann Krcik runs a speakers bureau called Extreme Connection that arranges presentations by leading outdoor professionals like David Breashears, Wade Davis, Diane Van Deren and Ed Viesturs. She also consults with the young explorers program at National Geographic. When I met her twenty years ago Ann managed the sponsored athlete program at The North Face. At the time I was fresh out of college and working my first job as the lead rental department technician at the REI store in Berkeley. Ann generously offered up a lot of valuable advice to help move my career forward when I was just getting started. It really warmed my heart to see her take another young person under her wing.
Becca’s uncle Todd Skinner was a good friend of mine who died tragically in a climbing accident in 2006. Ann was Todd’s speaking tour manager and also a close personal friend. As Becca begins her own career continuing the family tradition of adventure Ann welcomes the next generation to the outdoor industry as she did for me so long ago. To watch them work the show floor together, making connections, I can’t help but marvel at the wonderful sense of family and kinship we all share that I believe is unique to any other business.
The professional photographer Chris Noble, another of Anne’s clients, is taking Becca along as a photo assistant on his next shoot. They’re going to the Green River where they’ll take shots for the women apparel brand Isis. That experience will be immensely valuable in Becca’s development as an artist and raise her profile when she goes out on her own looking for work. So when Becca gets that new stove or a rope or a headlamp or a pack or whatever it’s not just gear she receives. She’s getting a token of support to further the progress of her career by helping to save some money on an important purchase. She’ll likely become more familiar with the brands who provide this consideration and hopefully share her enthusiasm for these products that might influence the buying decision of someone who will pay full retail. It’s all part of the business we’re in.
As for me, I do what I can convey that same degree of integrity in my writing, whether it’s a gear review or a feature story on some philanthropic initiative. I’ve been at this long enough to differentiate between press release hype and practical product knowledge. I’m nobody’s shill.
When I write up my impressions of new gear coming out from the OR Show for summer 2011 I hope that consumers and industry professionals alike understand that the products I choose to profile are selected exclusively for their innovative merits and relevance to emerging market trends. Though I am intimately familiar with several of the brands I write about –some I’ve worked for and most are staffed by long-time friends- the opinions I provide are simply my own point of view biased only by two decades of experience and the unassailable integrity of an honorable business I not only believe in but love. And as Becca makes her way through the outdoor industry to become a professional, I’m sure that she too will approach her work with same institutional integrity that is her legacy.
Check Becca’s blog at: www.thoughtsaboutrocks.blogspot.com/
The Joy Trip Project blog and photo array are brought you this week thanks to the support of The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.