Class Spotlight: Writing the Wild Literary Journalism of the Outdoors

For many people, outdoor exploration is a hobby on the side of a busy career. However, for most outdoor journalists, experiencing and writing about radical new expeditions, if they live to tell the tale, is part of everyday life. Mark Bryant, former editor of Outside Magazine, is currently teaching a class focused on outdoor journalism. Class sessions include visits from novelists or magazine writers, writing exercises, workshop sessions, and presentations on prolific writers of the past (lovingly referred to as Classic Wednesdays).

Photo by Paige Shetty

Just this past week, the class traveled to Santa Fe to meet many renowned outdoor journalists and to visit the Outside Magazine headquarters. In an attempt to learn more about this class, I spoke with sophomore Caroline Williams to discuss the structure, content, and success of the class.

When asked to describe her reasons for taking the class, Williams explained, “The professor is very well known in the journalism community and I thought that he would be a good contact to have. From the course description, it also seemed like we’d be involved in a lot of ‘hands-on’ learning and meet a lot of the writers whose work we read.”

During their four days in Santa Fe, the class met with many people from Outside Magazine, all of whom hold unique positions. “We were able to meet a gear tester, who hires people to go out into the field and test equipment and report back with their opinions so he can write about them,” Williams said.

In Williams’s opinion, the coolest person they met on the trip was Grayson Schaffer. “He used to be more or less a traditional journalist for Outside, but then he got really into videography and now makes videos for Yeti,” said Williams. “It was really fascinating to hear how he translated his background in writing to something very current and untraditional.”

In fact, one of Williams’s biggest takeaways from the whole trip was the lack of rigidity in outdoor journalism. “Every person we met gave us their story on how they got into outdoor journalism and every single person had such a different backstory,” Williams said. Some of the writers began their careers at online magazines as fact-checkers or as interns at Outside Magazine itself. “There was definitely no set path on how to become a successful journalist in this field, other than do what you like to do and write how you write and see where it takes you,” Williams said.

On a typical night, the class will read articles from various writers (mostly pieces published in Outside Magazine or the New Yorker) for homework, and over the course of the writing-intensive block, they are required to take what they’ve learned and write three short essays and one long essay, which will become the students’ portfolios.

During class, the students discuss their nightly readings and have daily writing exercises. “Every day we are given a random prompt to write about for a set amount of time. The prompts can vary from imagining you’re on a swing and describing the light to writing your own obituary,” said Williams. “Although we never explicitly talk about the writing exercises after we do them, they’ve really helped me with my describing abilities and to find my voice.”

“I would definitely recommend this class to other students,” Williams said. “Mark is totally open to experimentation with writing so you don’t have to necessarily write in the ‘traditional’ outdoor journalistic manner. It’s a great class to take if you want to try out new styles with your writing.”

Students like Williams are lucky to have this experience working with Bryant, a prominent figure in the field of outdoor journalism—an intriguing and entertaining field for many CC students.

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