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ABA, Hire me

July 30, 2010

No, not for president.

That’s not a job I would be the least bit qualified for.  That said, much has been made on the listservs and blogs about what the American Birding Association should be doing to get itself out of its current difficult situation.  Obviously the new president, whoever takes the position, is going to be the one to whom the real responsibility falls, but there’s a lot that can be done by others as well.  If everything goes to plan, the ABA may be making some changes in the way it goes about its mission or at least, the priority shifts that go along with any change in leadership are such that the ABA may change along with it.  This is to be expected.  But the two critiques of the organization that have resonated the most with me are first, the complete lack of transparency that has accompanied Board doings over the better part of the last decade, and second, the rudderless way in which the ABA has sort of but not quite embraced the new paradigm of social networking.

I’ll leave the Board issue alone for now; enough has been said on that and great suggestions have been made by people far more qualified than I to make them.  It is enough to say that I hope some of those ideas, specifically those with regard to bylaw amendments, are implemented in good faith.  But the second I’m certainly knowledgeable enough to tackle, because whatever direction the ABA goes in, whether it takes on a more vocal advocacy role or reaches out to less serious birders (whatever that means) or takes on conservation initiatives, there’s one aspect on which everyone seems to agree.  That the ABA should have, no, must have a significant web presence going forward to distribute information, initiate discussion among the membership, and be a place where current and future ABA members can hear from one voice about what’s going on in the world of birding and how it applies to them.

There’s an interesting thread being discussed on the Birdchat listserv on good memories of the ABA.  It strikes me that they all have to do with communicating with like-minded individuals.  In the days before the internet, when the ABA published a list of all its members, there was a physical representation of the membership of the organization.  Once they stopped doing this, being an ABA member felt like less of a fraternity of birders and more of a professional organization; it has a great magazine, a few positive young birder initiatives, and little else.  When the ABA conventions were scrapped there was nothing one really got from being an ABA member beyond a magazine subscription and a sticker you may or may not put on your car.  The community aspect was gone and in its place there was little in the way of a human face among the vast majority of the membership and most importantly, the potential membership.  So the ABA finds itself with declining numbers and no clear plan to turn that around.

The ABA needs value for the average birder again.  An increased web presence is not a silver bullet by any means, but it’s one step of many that has to be taken if the ABA is going to be relevant again.  A weblog, an official ABA weblog more general than the Gulf spill blog or the young birder blog or PEEPS, that takes advantage of not only the amazing voices available among the leaders of the birding community, but serves as a means to make a group of disparate people, within and without the ABA membership, feel like a real community is essential.  Blogging, even though the ABA would be a bit late to that party, is a way to not only build that community, but to provide a real sense of transparency and authenticity that the ABA is sorely lacking of late.

I’ve been a bird blogger for some time and I don’t think it’s too presumptuous to say that my blog is fairly well-established in the nature blogosphere, but this stuff takes time to build.  The ABA already has a head start because it is known and trusted brand, but creating a presence that is substantial requires lots of regularly delivered content.  It doesn’t all have to be original content, but some of it should be.  The current staff is certainly capable of doing all that, but consistency and persistence is the key to a successful blog and with their already substantial commitments that may not be feasible.  That probably means a dedicated staffer, posting several times per day every day and being in a position to be responsive to comments and readers.  So let me cut to the chase.

The ABA should hire me to be their blogger.

I believe the professional term is “web content developer”, but that’s neither here nor there.  As I said before, I have a successful and well-established birding blog full of original content, but I was also one of the co-creators of the Nature Blog Network, a community of over 1000 nature blogs seeking to raise the profile of nature writers in the blogosphere, and I’m a passionate believer in the future and mission of the ABA and the potential for that organization and the community of birders to be a voice for bird conservation, bird science, and the good times our avocation offers.

What I envision is the ABA blog, whatever it should be called, acting as a filter to provide current and future ABA members with timely and interesting information drawn from the greater internet (specifically the bird blogosphere and listserv communities), offering notes on rarities wherever they occur, reflections on birding culture to specifically induce discussion, and on-site reports on festivals and meetings in North America in which the ABA has a promotional interest.  I see introductions to ABA staff and why they love birding.  I see conversations with local bird groups and items on conservation initiatives undertaken by ABA members.  This is not at all meant to replace Birding or even Winging It, but to supplement them, to provide another forum for outreach and to allow ABA members to weigh in and discuss and build the community and put a face on the ABA again.

I don’t expect this as a full-time position, not right away at least.  But I’m willing to work part-time and details can be arranged at a later date.  Best of all, given the resources available by the internet, I don’t see why I can’t do it from right here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Have webcam, will not need to travel after all.  I’m 15 minutes from a major airport if I need to come out,but the lion’s share of the work can be done from here.  Such is the magic of the internet, so long as the tubes stay clear.

If you need to validate my ability as a writer or blogger, I have three years of writing samples cataloged to the right, but some of the ones I’m most proud of are the following, in no particular order:

The myth of birding’s Golden Age

On being a “good” birder

What’s in a (common) name?

Stormy Petrels

I realize this is somewhat unconventional, to essentially apply for a job that 1) doesn’t exist and 2) do it in a public forum and 3) do it for an organization whose future is potentially in doubt, but for this specific proposal to be a bird blogger, there’s no better spot to ask for references than on a bird blog.  Why not, eh?

The ABA needs to make inroads on the web, you might as well have someone already there to help you do it.  If there’s some interest in the organization for what I can offer, please contact me.  If not, I look forward to seeing in which direction the ABA ends up going, and hope, as a member, for it’s continued success.

  1. Christopher Ciccone permalink
    July 30, 2010 7:47 am

    Yes, yes, YES. The idea is an excellent one, and I could not think of a single blogger who could do it better.

    I’ve been pretty silent on the whole ABA issue these last few months. The reason is that, I was never a part of the “good old years” of the ABA. Sure I’ve read about it and all, but I’ve only been birding since around ’02 or ’03 and the ABA to me has only been an organization that produces some beautiful magazines, backed some great books (love the Lane guides), keepers of the master list by which many birders hold dear to their hearts as they tick off one species after another, and who held big birding conferences that have been so far beyond my means as to really make it seem like the group was really for, and run by, a group of elite and wealthy birders. I would love to see the ABA come back to being a more social group, more interactive – something that I could really feel like the ‘me’ in the first year of you in birding, the ‘me’ of the present, and the ‘me’ of the future could truly feel like we are a significant part of.

    In this day and age, (when even local bird clubs that have traditionally had large memberships are dwindling and struggling in the face of the immediate knowledge available on the web) having a true, active, and interactive presence on-line cannot stop with just having a flashy looking home-page and an occasional e-mail blast. I, for one, agree wholeheartedly that this would be a huge step in the ABA opening up again to it’s membership – and as I started this out with, I think Nate would be the perfect person to do it.

    My .02

  2. Nate permalink*
    July 30, 2010 10:10 am

    @Christopher- Thanks, man! That’s very kind.

  3. July 30, 2010 1:24 pm

    Glad to see this post: I suggested the idea of an official ABA blog to Ted Floyd a couple of years ago, I’m really hoping it comes of age with this “change” momentum that’s out there.

    To push the idea of an ABA blog idea one step further, I would love to see a multi-authored blog coming from the ABA. Sorry, Nate – while I’d love to see you as one of those authors, I’d like to see the Drinking Bird continue as is without too many distractions from other obligations.

    Seriously, a blog that features posts from the breadth and depth of folks who are interested in this “new ABA” under discussion in so many places would be an amazing resource. That model seems to work well in various other arenas, politics and gossip-stuff, for example.

    Alternate idea, the ABA could run a blog that goes back to the original use of web logs, before they became online journals. Essentially, something that John does with his “Loose Feathers” round-up on A DC Birding Blog: highlight the most relevant posts from the myriad of bird- and nature-bloggers out there in a timely manner. Harness all of that energy, and perhaps mingle in some ABA-specific posts now and again.

    But if they do go the one-blogger route, assuming they incorporate a the blogging route at all, Nate would be an excellent addition to the ABA staff.

    My $0.03.

  4. Nate permalink*
    July 30, 2010 1:46 pm

    @Mike- Your suggestions are actually precisely what I had in mind. In the interests of keeping this post from becoming a magnum opus I left some thoughts out, but I’m right with you.

    I think a multi-authored blog would be best, and that there are lots of people already there who have great voices (Ted especially, the stuff he posts to Birdchat alone would translate wonderfully to a blog format). And the concept of highlighting important posts or discussion beyond just the blogosphere would be crucial to what the ABA could and should offer in the way of a blog. You’re right, the format to keep in mind for this is that of a political or entertainment blog, which doesn’t exactly exist in the nature blogosphere currently (though pieces of it certainly do).

    That said, there still needs to be a single person coordinating it and doing the grunt work to ferret out those stories and present them, which is a significant amount of work that the current staff might not have at their disposal. When I say that a blog needs consistent reliable content, this is largely what I have in mind. A weekly or bi-weekly commentary from a staff member is one thing. But the day in and day out filtering of relevant information is how a blog builds a reputation and a following, and that needs a person to give it attention.

    I’d love to see the Drinking Bird continue without distractions too, but the only way I can do that going forward is to figure out how to make a buck at it. I certainly don’t mean for that to sound self-aggrandizing (I struggled with that writing this post, and still do truthfully. It’s not my nature), but I think I’ve invested enough in this site to try. 🙂

  5. July 30, 2010 2:59 pm

    An official general-purpose ABA blog is a good idea. A multi-author blog would probably be best; that seems to be the easiest way to ensure consistently high-quality content and diverse subject matter. I’m not sure if it would be better for the ABA to hire established bloggers or develop its own stable of writers. There are probably people already in the ABA who could do it, but they might not have a good feel for the web. At the same time, they would be in a better position to write about conservation or educational activities the ABA is working on.

    Some topics that could be included on an ABA blog:
    1. Promoting Birders Exchange and the like (do for that what Charlie has been doing with the Sharpe’s Longclaw on 10,000 Birds).
    2. Reports on ABA fieldtrips – these don’t need to be long, just some highlights and photos along the lines of CMBO’s View from the Cape or field trip reports, written by the trip leader.
    3. Cross-promotion with the Birding magazine – certainly an announcement when the magazine comes out, but more than that, perhaps an interview with one of the authors or perhaps a chance for readers to interact with the author and ask questions.
    4. Reports on interesting bird research, especially research that may have a bearing on identification issues, speciation, or bird ecology. This could also include interviews with the authors of those studies.
    5. Pot-stirring posts like the emails Ted Floyd send to BIRDCHAT. Those would probably bring the most traffic to the blog (especially if cross-posted to BIRDCHAT) and could draw eyes that might see some of the other things.

    I’m sure there are plenty of other things that could go on an ABA blog as well.

  6. Nate permalink*
    July 30, 2010 3:06 pm

    @John- Excellent ideas, all of them. At the very least, regardless of who does it, I think it definitely needs to be done.

  7. July 30, 2010 6:22 pm

    I think this is the best idea presented to date to help revitalize the ABA and by all means should be implemented. A multi-author blog sounds like the best way to go about doing it (and Nate, I hope that you would be one of the authors) as this would provide different perspectives, writing styles, and more content. Suggestions put forth by John also sound good although I think that the content of the blog should be balanced with that of the official ABA website.

    On a side note, I had no idea that the conventions were scrapped! I suppose they weren’t deemed to be cost effective and suffered from competition with the plethora of birding festivals. Whatever the reason, I am sure that solutions can be found to bring them back.

  8. July 30, 2010 10:16 pm

    I’d vote for you, Nate 🙂

    Some great ideas here. The ones that excite me the most are those that could only (or best) come from the ABA – interviews or articles in conjunction with Birding, field reports from conventions and festivals, and thoughts from staffers and other birding luminaries. Basically, a sort of behind-the-scenes look that most members are bemoaning a lack of right now.
    This would be a good first step in the right direction.

  9. July 31, 2010 1:03 pm

    I love your technique here. Reminds me of the time I got an online magazine position with a cover letter that started out “Pick me! Pick me!” and proceeded to give my Top Ten reasons I’d make a good whatever. The Internet makes all things possible! Hope you get the top blogging job.

    I’m in complete agreement with the direction of this thread and have thought the same myself.

    Birders are diverse bunch and the things that hold our attention are becoming increasingly more diverse. From stories of The Quest, to bird ID, to population changes, to discussions of molt, everyone brings or takes something different from the sport. So it’s good to have a variety of VOICES on the subject so that birders can find the niche that most interests them.

    As blogging has become more popular, it’s hard to cut the wheat from the chaff. I like the idea of one entity serving as a clearinghouse of the most engaging or substantive voices. That is, taking that NBN model and focusing it on what best represents ABA.

    I also want to make a shout-out to the hard working staff at ABA who find themselves in the firestorm brought upon by others. They’re trying their best and deserve to be commended for keeping the ship afloat.


  10. July 31, 2010 1:14 pm

    Nate, you’d be a wonderful ABA blogger or Blog coordinator. Even so, I can’t imagine what changes would be needed for me to consider joining the ABA, or why I should care if it continues or not. There’s too much history to overcome. Perhaps targeting younger birders, bird feeders, and bird watchers is the way to go – which reinforces your argument that ABA needs to learn how to have an effective internet and social media presence.

  11. Nate permalink*
    July 31, 2010 2:54 pm

    @all- You’re too kind. Really, I’m blushing over here. Specific things that jump out at me.

    @Pat – Re: conventions. I’m not sure why they got scrapped, I’m not in that loop. I used to be critical of the ABA convention template because it seemed a tad exclusionary to me, but that was before I saw their use as a fund-raiser for the organization. I think if the ABA can find a way to use the conventions as a fun thing for members and still continue to reach out to non-members (future members) at local festivals using ambassadors and the odd staff member, they could both work. It’s definitely a balancing act.

    @Grant- Agreed. Long form interviews and such are made for Birding and the pubs, but short little blurbs to keep people mindful of what the ABA is doing for them, that’s non-profit micro-publishing 101.

    @Laura- Absolutely. The NBN model is definitely something to look to here. One thing I’ve always found fascinating was that the ABA crowd and the bird blogger crowd seem to be completely different communities running parallel to each other. It’s high time they were properly introduced. And I couldn’t agree more about the ABA staff.

    @ Wren- You’re right on. People need to have a reason to join the ABA, and they need to be reminded of that reason regularly. As I wrote to Grant, that’s the whole idea of non-profits using social networking and micro-publishing tools.

  12. July 31, 2010 7:49 pm

    Nate, you’ve hit the nail on the head again. Your long track record of doing so suits you for this (currently) imaginary position perfectly! So do your unimpeachable nature blogging credentials and field skills.

  13. August 1, 2010 5:51 pm

    Dear Nate,

    Thanks for your blog entry, which is so far as I know the first more or less concrete rehearsal of the things the ABA would need to do to make its web presence more exciting and more effective. I don’t think I’m talking out of school when I observe that several of these ideas have been bruited about by the staff and interested members off and on, and that their execution has been delayed by institutional inertia, not by a lack of staff interest or expertise. That said, should the organization decide that it needs an additional “web content developer,” I think you’d be a very good candidate to join David Hartley, who–like so much of the rest of the ABA staff–has been doing a yeoman’s job with precious little organizational support.

    Let’s assume that the ABA’s structural difficulties can be solved and that it survives to reconsider its priorities and its approach to those priorities. What sort of materials would the ABA have to offer on line that would be sufficiently different and sufficiently attractive to make birders want to pay to have access to them?

    I think first (and again, most of these ideas have been raised, and more eloquently, by others over the past several years) that the ABA’s current print publications include a fair bit that could be moved over to the website to great advantage. North American Birds, the most important of the ABA’s print productions (taking the view from eternity, at least), should have become an e-publication quite some time ago, reducing the cost and physical limitations of print while at the same time making the information more readily available to researchers. (Note that many years of NAB and its antecedents are already on line and “searchable” at SORA.) One might object that everything from local “listservers” to the Surfbirds rarities galleries already provide the data, in more or less “real” time, that NAB presents months later–but only NAB and its exemplary editorial team headed by Ned Brinkley provides the sort of analysis that makes those data worth considering. I for one would certainly maintain my subscription to NAB if it went all digital, and I know many birders who would actually start reading it (or start reading it again) if it took a form other than yet another magazine in the mailbox every few months.

    Winging It, of course, has a special place in my ABA heart, but it, too, regularly publishes material that would be better placed on the web. Bird-finding information, brief book reviews, quick and unreviewed sightings summaries, members’ milestones, notices of endorsed tours, and such ephemeral matters would actually be more useful to the birding community delivered more quickly and in immediately “searchable” form. The problem, and it is a very important one, with making Winging It into a publication only on the web is the classifieds: those ads are a tremendous source of information to the birding community, and to my eye at least, they work only in print publication; who would ever scroll to the bottom of anything to read classified ads? Until that problem is solved, I think Winging It should persist as a print newsletter in some form or another.

    “Some form or another.” I think the very best form would be to re-integrate Winging It and Birding. Even Birding contains a few elements that would make very good sense on line, whether exclusively so or (as is done at present with some photographic material) as a supplement to the printed magazine. I’d love to see, for example, Paul Hess’s unfailingly wonderful updates appearing every couple of weeks or so in my e-mailbox, and the photo quiz (which already has an online fraternal twin) could become a genuine locus of e-communication. Were some of the historic strengths of Winging It–discursive reports from new or little-known birding areas, for example–re-incorporated into Birding, where they would sit alongside major identification articles, historical pieces, thoughtful essays on the culture of North American birding, and other articles of more permanent interest, I think the magazine would gain in both variety and appeal.

    Two other publications should become e-fodder immediately. The annual list report is, simply put, a waste of paper and postage in its present form, and could be posted on line and members given the opportunity to update it at will. I enjoy reading the list report myself, but it would lose nothing and gain much if it were edited better and transformed to be more “interactive” and less consumptive of resources and expense.

    And the ABA should produce a new, updatable Members’ Directory available on the website. I know many members and ex-members who joined in large part on the strength of this fine resource, and it’s a disappointment that it hasn’t made it into e-form yet.

    All of this is relatively uncontroversial, I think, the simple translation of already existing material from one medium to the other, mutatis mutandis. But there would also need to be new sorts of stuff provided; the “corporate blog” is not a bad model, as you note so well, where staff and members present their ideas, their activities, and their questions in an informal way each day. There are enough birders on the ABA staff to make this very interesting indeed.

    The ABA’s web presence could also be heightened by making the site into the very best entry point to all the birdy information already available on the web. We all have vast lists of “bookmarked” identification sites, discussion groups, travel pages, and on and on; there is no single clearinghouse for access to these resources, and it would be a major accomplishment if the ABA could provide a rational, continuously updated index to the sorts of things birders need.

    I wish that the ABA “owned” SORA, eBird, Surfbirds, and Birdingpal. It doesn’t, and free and wonderful sites like those will make it hard for the ABA to develop web materials birders want to pay for. But it’s certainly worth a try, building first on the strengths of the publications and the current ABA website, with the addition of absolutely irresistible ABA “exclusives.” At this point, we need to know more about what those “exclusives” would be.

  14. Nate permalink*
    August 1, 2010 8:09 pm

    @Rick- I certainly didn’t intend to diminish the efforts of current ABA staff who are, as you say, doing great work. My effort here was a bit of hot iron striking such that it were given the attention my blog has received in some circles. I know that in order for a blog to be as immediately successful and as comprehensive as the ABA one would need to be, if would require a great deal of attention and coordination. While I don’t doubt the ability of current staff for a split second, I only wonder if their time commitments and current priorities would prevent the sort of attention a really great web presence would require. I’m ignorant of what goes on in Colorado Springs though, more power to them if they can do it and I definitely don’t want to step on any toes.

    First, I don’t have any particular sort of insight into your publications strategy, but it makes good sense to me. I imagine you’d need to think about what each publication does really well, and let them do it. That seems overly-simplified I admit, but each one appeals to a somewhat different aspect of the birding community and in turn people expect different things from each of them. That means long-form, in-depth identification pieces and detailed book reviews are always going to be in Birding, and detailed stories about Birder’s Exchange or birder advocacy or trip reports are going to be in Winging It (or in an incorporated Birding/Winging It which definitely has its appeal).

    But an ABA blog shouldn’t be in the business of replacing them, but trying to offer additional content related to them, such as short interviews with the authors, festival notes and info, all the while referring to the publications. That in addition to being a filter to share relevant issues of interest to the birding community from elsewhere and rare bird notes (state/province as well as ABA-area), ABA has a significant reputation with reagrd to that, they should run with it. Additional opportunities exist for members of the ABA community to comment and share ideas and connect as well as bringing attention to bird related conservation initiatives. Things of that nature. The blog platform works well when the content is relatively short (though the odd longer piece should be encouraged) and specifically in the interest of appealing for visitor feedback. But as a blog, it should seek to cast a wide net and offer content that would appeal to all sort of birders in a way that Birding may not.

    Birding mag, for instance, is many things; a great journal, an incredible resource, a way to pleasantly kill a couple hours, but it’s not necessarily accessible to the entire range of birders nor should it necessarily try to be. But for some time, Birding has been the primary outreach tool for the ABA, and it has led to the unfortunate idea that the ABA is just for “elite” birders, an idea that the ABA hasn’t been great about discouraging. So a blog is not, by necessity, going to be as in-depth as the dead-tree stuff, but it should provide a way for just about every kind of birder to find something interesting in a way that should drive them towards the established publications without feeling overwhelmed.

    So I see an ABA blog as being an extension of outreach rather than an extension of publications, though there is obviously a publications aspect, and for that reason the blog itself has to be free and open. In a world where so much of that information is already free and available online, what you’re selling as the value of an ABA membership is the opportunity for community and birder advocacy (which should be an important part of the ABA going forward in my mind). Hiding content behind paywalls has been a historical loser for print media, no reason to think it would be any different here when so much is available. Besides, by laying the right groundwork you can absolutely set up an ABA blog/website as a major point of reference for birding on the internet, which means traffic which means ads targeted to birders that can bring in revenue to supplement those already in the pubs. In any case, it should seek to be a tool to help attract new members into the fold as well as as appeal to current ones.

    As for what should be members-only content. I would think the directory is fairly obvious, not only for privacy reasons, but because the opportunity to network should be a feature of joining the organization. I also think the concept of a dynamic list is really cool should a way be figured out to do that. Also, if there’s ready content available online, you could probably get away with pulling more of Birding off of the site and putting it behind a paywall as premium content, as other print mags have done.

  15. August 2, 2010 10:19 am

    YAY!!! Do it!

  16. Bonnie permalink
    August 2, 2010 12:33 pm

    Just a quick comment on the subject of ABA conventions. In the spring of 2009 I received a survey that was conducted on behalf of the ABA, and the survey included a section on conventions. Subsequently I read a post on the ABA’s website, or possibly in Birding that the results of the survey indicated that only 1% of those surveyed had ever attended a convention. This was a factor in the decision to skip a convention in 2010, and to partner with existing birding festivals.

    I attended several ABA conventions during the years 2000-2009, and thoroughly enjoyed them. I saw a lot of great birds and met a lot of good people. I’d be sorry to see the ABA completely abandon the conventions;perhaps going back to a bi-annual format might be possible.


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