If I needed any reassurance that the Bryan on Scouting blog had become the successful Scouting resource I had always dreamed it would be, this was my sign.
Well, technically, it was Hunter’s sign. And by sign, I mean a piece of torn cardboard on which a Scout had scrawled “Where’s Bryan on Scouting?” in black marker.
I was wandering around the 2013 National Scout Jamboree, looking for stories to tell, when the sign caught my eye. I remember walking right past it and several seconds elapsing before my brain registered what I had seen.
I spun around and jogged to catch up to Hunter, a Scout from Jamboree Troop C346 out of Georgia.
I said something like, “Uh, I’m Bryan on Scouting.” Hunter told me he had been looking everywhere for me and that he was the blog’s biggest fan.
Looking back, I now realize this was a career-defining moment for me. I knew from tracking pageviews (probably too fanatically) that the blog had a loyal readership. But those were faceless numbers; Hunter was there in real life.
The encounter reminded me that the words I typed into that blank text box each day really had the power to make a difference, one Scout or Scouter at a time.
The meeting with Hunter happened four years into the life of the blog known as Bryan on Scouting. Creating and growing the blog (which, despite its singular name, was far from a solo effort) remains the proudest accomplishment of my 16-year career in journalism and communications.
That makes writing this next part incredibly difficult: This will be my last post as a regular contributor to this blog. Yes, after 3,286 articles, I’m hanging up the keyboard.
I’ve taken a new position as the director of communications for USA Fencing, which is the national governing body for the Olympic sport of fencing in the U.S. The new role simply won’t leave me with the time I’d need to continue writing for the blog at the level that Scouters expect and deserve.
Even as I begin a new chapter, I’ll continue to advocate for Scouting everywhere I go. There’s truth to that old adage I’ve probably typed on this blog a hundred times: “once an Eagle, always an Eagle.”
Beginning tomorrow, I’ll shift from blog writer to blog reader as this trusted outlet for BSA news, inspiration and advice begins its next chapter. That’s right: I’m leaving, but the blog will continue. More on that a little further down.
But first, I’d like to take a moment to look back.
Contrary to the blog’s name, Bryan on Scouting has never been about me. As you’ll read, I even initially resisted my editor’s suggestion to call it “Bryan on Scouting.”
For my final post, though, I hope you’ll indulge me as I reflect on 13 years of writing for the blog and all the fascinating people I got to meet along the way.
More work, please
This blog was born on March 16, 2009. About eight months prior, I had been hired as the associate editor of Scouting magazine — truly a dream job for someone with both a journalism and a Scouting background.
A few months into the job, I realized that there was no way to cover everything happening in the Scouting movement in five or six printed issues each year.
So I did what any rational person would do. I requested more work.
I asked my boss at the time, Scott Daniels, whether I could start a blog on our website. I told him I’d post once per day, Monday through Friday. This new blog would give us a way to communicate with Scouters every weekday on their computer instead of every other month in their mailbox.
We imagined the blog not as someone shouting announcements from a loudspeaker but as a conversation among Scouters. So we came up with the name Cracker Barrel — a reference to those post-dinner gatherings at summer camp and elsewhere during which volunteers share snacks and swap stories. (Sadly, we never did get sponsored by that chain of friendly neighborhood Old Country Stores.)
Starting a blog is easy. We launched Cracker Barrel on a platform called Typepad, and thanks to the wizardry of web editor Bryan Wursten, we were up and running in no time.
Growing and sustaining a blog, I soon learned, wasn’t so simple. Coming up with topics to fill each weekday meant manufacturing content. I showcased a different square knot each week, spotlighted impressive volunteers (never a shortage there) and recapped troops’ weekend outings.
A recurring series called Name That Council demonstrates how hungry I was for readers. Only the longest-tenured readers will remember the series where I dragged an image of a council shoulder strip into Photoshop and digitally removed the council’s name. Then I asked readers if they could identify the council by looking at the visual clues in the patch.
We sent the actual patch to one random person who answered correctly — a rather tame form of bribery that eventually worked.
Cracker Barrel had 27 visitors to the blog on that first day. My parents, Don and Kay, were two. The rest might have been me refreshing the page every 15 minutes.
After several months, daily pageviews had grown to 100. And as the blog neared its two-year anniversary, that number had passed 1,000.
By then, I no longer had to make up blog post ideas. They arrived in my inbox daily.
That’s when a new chapter began.
The launch of Bryan on Scouting
At first, I resisted the idea.
My then-editor John Clark invited me into his office to talk about the next chapter of Scouting magazine’s official blog. After 22 months and 460 posts, he suggested I rebrand the blog and make it more personal.
I worried that calling the blog Bryan on Scouting would come across as self-serving. I felt that the spotlight should be pointed on Scouts and Scout leaders, not me.
John reasoned that readers would connect with someone who was passionate about the BSA. By incorporating my voice and personal experiences into the writing, he said, engagement would soar.
And so, on Jan. 21, 2011, we rebranded the blog as Bryan on Scouting. We switched from Typepad to WordPress, and my writing shifted from third-person to first.
John was correct. The debut of Bryan on Scouting represented a turning point both in the blog’s growth and in my career.
In the years that followed, I got to interview TV stars, World Cup-winning athletes, an NFL head coach, the CEO of a major airline, a former defense secretary, a Grammy-winning singer and countless others whose names aren’t famous but whose accomplishments are just as impressive.
Yes, it was the Scouting name that opened those doors — not mine. But I’ll be forever grateful that the blog helped me become one of the people selected to walk through those doors.
As pinch-me moments went, my trips to Washington to cover the BSA’s annual Report to the Nation ranked among the tops. After five years of covering that trip remotely, I was invited to join the festivities in person in 2016. As the Scouts toured private Smithsonian archives, met with high-ranking elected officials and entered their report into the congressional record, I was there — audio recorder and notebook in hand.
An expenses-paid week in Washington was nice, but this was definitely a business trip. Wanting to justify my presence on the team, I was up till midnight each night recapping that day’s action. As if that wasn’t rough enough, those were the only five days each year when I wore a tie.
In later years, I added live video interviews into the mix to help readers feel like they were part of the visit.
I suppose that’s a great way to explain my mindset when I got to attend a National Jamboree in West Virginia, stuff my face at the Michigan Crossroads Council’s Beast Feast or travel to New York to interview an Eagle Scout working on Broadway.
I knew I had won some sort of journalism and Scouting lottery to get that opportunity, so I wanted to soak up as much as possible and help those following along from home feel included.
Through all this excitement, I still cared about the numbers. Today, the blog gets more than 250,000 views a month — a number that 2009 me never could have fathomed. But I care a lot more about the people on the other end of that screen.
One for the team
Whether it’s a magazine article, a newspaper story or a blog post, a byline should always carry an asterisk. That one person is far from the only individual responsible for the story you’re reading.
That’s certainly true any time you’ve seen my byline — whether here on the blog or in the pages of a BSA magazine.
For most of the blog’s life, my posts have been expertly edited and reviewed by Mike Goldman and Paula Murphey. Their guidance and careful eye improved every post you read. And they deserve a second thank you for letting me write my annual April Fools’ Day posts — one of my favorite articles to write each year.
I mentioned Scott Daniels when talking about the formation of Bryan on Scouting, but I must thank him again for giving a chance to someone with no magazine background when he hired me to write for Scouting magazine in 2008. When Scott left, John Clark took over and helped further shape my writing style and train my eye to recognize good stories.
The BSA’s magazine team was one of the most collaborative and fun teams I’ve ever been a part of. We worked hard but never took ourselves too seriously — especially when enjoying silly stunts on Facebook Live (a tradition that continues today).
I’m lucky to have worked alongside talented people like Aaron Derr, Clay Swartz, Gretchen Sparling, Gina Circelli Mulcahy, Edna Lemons, W. Garth Dowling, John Fulton, Bryan Wursten, Kevin Hurley, Beth Morgan, Eric Ottinger, Marcie Rodriguez, J. D. Owen, Karen Rash, Adryn Shackelford, Judy Bramlett, Judy Pritchard, Linda Lawrence, Bob Wiemers, Lenore Bonno, Lisa Hott, Scott Feaster, Stacy Lee, Michael Freeman, Lauren Iriarte and the late J. Warren Young.
Over the years, I’ve also benefited from BSA experts who have agreed to be interviewed, helped me understand new BSA programs or simply pointed out when something didn’t read quite right. The roster of these professionals would number in the hundreds, but a partial list includes Nathan Johnson, Deron Smith, Effie Delimarkos, Dave Verbraska, Stephen Medlicott, Richard Bourlon, Bev Singel, Scott Olson, Garfield Murden, Anthony Berger, Bill Steele, Dustin Farris, Ryan Larson, Jeff Laughlin, Andrea Watson, Frank Reigelman, Bill Evans and Michael LoVecchio.
Last and most certainly not least, I have to mention my dad, Don Wendell. Without my Eagle Scout father, I never would’ve pulled on that orange Tiger Cub T-shirt 32 years ago. And I never would’ve become Bryan on Scouting.
I had the best time growing up in Scouting. My dad and I hiked through Philmont’s rugged backcountry, attended summer camp at what’s now called the Trevor Rees-Jones Scout Camp, and enjoyed troop meetings held in the conference room at my dad’s office. We went to two National Jamborees together, in 1997 and 2001. The memories flood back every time I see an old Scouting photo on the shelves at my parents’ home.
But I also feel lucky to say that some of my favorite Scouting memories with my dad happened after I turned 18. We served on Jamboree staff together in 2005, 2010, 2013 and 2017.
In 2014, I blogged about our father-son vacation to England. We went to two soccer games, saw a musical on the West End and took a Beatles tour of Liverpool.
And even though this was a personal trip — the BSA didn’t chip in a dime — our passion for Scouting prevented us from visiting England without making a stop at the original Gilwell Park in London. Scouters are Scouters, even on vacation.
The 250,000 club
In the blog’s history, I’ve written nine posts that have amassed more than 250,000 page views. Over the years, I’ve tried to write content readers want while also considering how to reach search engine users — all while avoiding clickbait or content that doesn’t deliver on the promise of the headline.
I’ve had many failures. But these posts represent the successes. I’m proud to share this list here, in order of popularity:
- Four options for retiring worn-out American flags
- 40 questions to ask at your next Eagle Board of Review
- Tips for deducting Scouting expenses on your tax return
- Here’s how to earn the BSA 2017 Solar Eclipse patch on Aug. 21
- How to request congratulatory letters for your Eagle Scout
- Everything you need to know about merit badge sashes
- This was the least-earned merit badge in BSA history
- In the loop: A guide to square knots, and how to wear them
- Meet 112 Scouts who became famous
More than a few posts were labors of love — articles that took forever to write but didn’t get anywhere near 250,000 views. I’m proud of those, too. Here are three that come to mind:
- So cool it’s scary: Stephen King references Scouting in more than half of his novels
- Can you solve these Scouting-themed crossword clues from The New York Times?
- Decoding the art of merit badges
The next chapter begins
I’ve never been accused of being succinct when writing for this blog. Now that we’re more than 2,000 words into this post, there’s no sense in starting now!
But that’s enough about me.
I expect many of you are wondering what will happen to this blog after today. First, let me point out that Bryan on Scouting hasn’t been written by just me for some time.
You’ve probably seen the bylines of Michael Freeman, Aaron Derr, Gina Circelli, Kate Matthews and Sheniece Chappell.
As they have contributed more to this blog, having a single name at the top of the site has been problematic. I’ve received dozens of emails thanking me for “today’s fantastic post” only to have to redirect the well-meaning reader’s praise to one of the other contributors.
Those fantastic contributors will be the voices behind this blog moving forward. As you (and I!) continue to read “On Scouting” in the coming days, weeks and months, we’ll get to enjoy their stellar writing skills, fresh ideas, and unmatched understanding of what Scouters want and need from this blog.
Aaron Derr, who will run the blog moving forward, has been with the BSA for 20 years. He has experience writing for Boys’ Life — now Scout Life — and also Scouting magazine. He has served as a BSA volunteer at the Cub Scout and Scouts BSA level, and you’ll probably recognize him from Trek on Tuesday and other Facebook Live events. So yeah, he’s more than qualified to take On Scouting into some exciting new places.
As one chapter ends and the next begins, I want to reserve my final thanks to you, the loyal reader. Thanks for your blog ideas, your feedback, your support. Thanks for reading and for coming back. And most of all, thanks for all you do for Scouting.