travel journalism
1666 days ago
 

The internet is ruining travel journalism

travel journalismBeing a journalist I’m partial to a good headline.

And I figured I needed something to grab attention for my first post on Tnooz. I’m delighted to be in such talented company, but I wonder if I’ve got anywhere near the experience or knowledge of my newly acquired peers.

In fact, it’s this that has got me thinking. What am I here for?

The answer in part is: because I have no choice.

When, heady with excitement and a little wet behind the ears, I jumped from my dull corporate career to join the ranks of the world’s freelance travel writers, the internet was in its relative infancy.

People had forecast the impact in might have on traditional media, but few took them seriously.

How things have changed: according to a recent piece in the UK version of Wired magazine “evaporating advertising revenue means that operating income in the newspaper segment of the Newscorp empire is down from $209 million to just $7 million year-on-year”.

That is a COLOSSAL drop.

What does that mean for travel writers? Well, I was recently offered £250 (around $300) to write a 1,500-word feature about El Salvador by a major UK national newspaper.

Not just to write it, but to go there, do the trip, take the notes, come home, write it up.

And no expenses either. Utterly impossible – even if I had got complementary flights and accommodation out of the airline and tour operator I was working with.

There is no money in traditional travel writing. Does that matter? I believe it does.

As travel editors have less and less budget for their content, the quality of that content deteriorates. Writers crank it out ever faster, with less time for fact-checking or site visits. Worse, the temptation to accept ‘sponsorship’ from suppliers, to blur the distinction between unbiased assessment and paid-for review becomes increasingly potent.

I recently wrote an advertorial for a large tour operator here in the UK.

A media deal was done to place it on the travel pages of a major UK newspaper and, to my surprise, it ran as ‘feature of the day’ as if it were a piece of objective editorial. There was no suggestion anywhere that it was an ad. This is a very slippery slope.

So, as we celebrate the latest bauble from Google or the newest app for our iPhones the trustworthiness of our media is being eroded.

Many would say that its place is being taken by the masses. Who needs a pro travel writer to review a hotel when there are probably 100s by ‘real customers’ on Tripadvisor?

But do you want to spend hours wading through this mass of content trying to make an objective assessment? Can you trust it?

I believe that UGC has a hugely important role to play, but the objective, thoughtful, unexaggerated assessment of a true travel writing professional is essential to the mix. I just don’t know yet where it fits in in the online universe.

Whilst I sometimes yearn for the days of proper budget print journalism, I’m excited about the future.

Look at most travel websites – tour operators, travel agents, DMOs – and the content is lacking. Whilst UGC sites are full of opinion, but lacking in balance, tour operator, travel agent and DMO sites are bland and opinion-free.

They feature fluffy brochure content or stuff that’s borrowed from elsewhere and poorly maintained. There’s an urgent need for quality content that informs and advises, that’s carefully written for its specific audience.

Traditional media offers fewer and fewer opportunities for pro travel writers, but somewhere out there in the midst of all the exciting innovation and chaos a few of the old rules will still apply.

And that’s why I am here.

 
 
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  10. Hal Peat

    Christine,
    You must be genuinely clueless if you think you “get it” and you read what I said completely wrong. Furthermore, doing quick google reads of someone does not provide a profile of their career, life or direction. So let me clarify for you instead this way. Fact: I obviously do not care about your wonderful world of online travel community. I do know very well what’s out there — and most of it doesn’t interest me whatsoever. Fact: I’ve contributed content to other people’s sites, and I really don’t care what they do with it. Fact: I don’t want my own site or I would have done that *years* and years sgo. You were the one moaning above about someone “cheating” — as I said before, a contract is between two parties last I heard, and so it takes two to tango. Fact: Personally, I don’t care who cheats, because that’s the reality of the economy in a free-market system — you cheat as much as possible and the only sin is if you don’t get away with it. So 3 cheers to Steve Keenan and anyone else getting huge amounts of content at sweatshop labor rates. I think you’re just pissed off because time spent on someone else’s lowball-paying mass traffic site translates to time spent by that reader not reading your type of site. Fact: Yup, I’ll be continuing to paste old content into online sites as much as I fancy, and whether I earn 2cents or 2hundred dollars is all one and the same to me.

     
  11. Christine Gilbert

    Hal:

    I didn’t see your last comment to me when I wrote my response.

    To be clear, this is what I advised Jeremy:

    “Well it’s on typepad, you don’t update often enough (once a week or more would be better) and you need a new design. If you networked a bit with other bloggers, then you’d start building a loyal and rabid following.”

    Switch platforms, get a new design and network a bit with other bloggers. Not a word about social networking or any promotion. So before you tell me AGAIN that I’m advocating for the use of social media as a form of spamming, please read what I wrote.

    That being said, if you think using Twitter, marketing yourself at all, being savvy about Stumbleupon or Digg or understanding basic SEO principles are spamming, then TNOOZ is a spammer. LA Times Travel is a spammer. Planet Eye and Suite101 are spammers. National Geographic’s online blog is a spammer.

    Your definition is so broad, it loses all meaning.

     
  12. Christine Gilbert

    Hal:

    I see you also used to work for PlanetEye. I almost had a contract with them too after they merged with B5Media’s Travel Channel. I know that they pay by traffic volumes, but their rates are really low. That’s why I didn’t sign.

    Working for sites like PlanetEye or Suite101, they can give you the impression that the way bloggers who make money online do it is by spamming. It can be frustrating because you write much better content and yet you’re not getting rewarded with high traffic.

    It’s easy to assume that bloggers who are happy and confident in the medium are some how cheating. After all, you’re the real talent and they are hacks.

    I say assume, because I know you’ve never seen anything I’ve written advocating commenting on other sites. The fact is, if I was a blogging spammer, commenting would be the last thing I would do. Do you know how many people clicked on my URL from this post?

    5.

    For the effort I’ve put into this conversation, do you think I have a blog with healthy traffic because I’m commenting and spending all this time at blogs for 5 clicks?

    That’s okay.

    I get it.

    This isn’t really about me or any of the other bloggers. You’re annoyed that some people are doing it and you’re not. If I can offer you some advice:

    -Build your own site. I have higher traffic than the planet eye traveler site (where I found your profile). When you write for these one-off sites, it is a quick buck that that’s it. When it’s your site, you’re building a backlist, much like a career novelist does. It’s not the individual posts, but the volume over time that gives you the revenue.

    -It’s not about spamming people, that doesn’t work. The top 150 travel bloggers– none of them spam. A way to tell when people spam is that they have a high amount of traffic but no comments and low subscribers. For travel blogging it’s about relationships. Three’s a big community out there and you’re not a part of it. We’ll lift you up. Just be nice. Then return the favor.

    Anyway, I understand the frustration. I think you’re inadvertently speaking to how many journalists feel about bloggers. It just doesn’t make sense that we’re writing content people like and that’s it. We must be cheating, because look, you know good writing, and blogging ain’t it. I’d argue the point you’re missing is that it’s the medium, not the writer. If you continue to write online as if you can just copy and paste your “for print” articles into a blog post, you’ll continue to be frustrated.

    Or maybe I’m making too much of a leap. I’m piecing this together from your online work, which all seems to be you trying to make money, but working for the lowest paying gigs out there. Maybe it’s none of these things and you’re just trolling for a fight. I hope not.

     
  13. Hal Peat

    Christine:

    You may very well be a blogger, but the methods by which you also seem to advocate making blogs “successful” involve spamming strategies. You can call them other things like social networking, but they’re just a glorified spamming activity in a slightly disguised format. Like I said, some people are interested, others are not. Some online content simply doesn’t depend on the contributor doing anything more than contributing. Jeremy Head isn’t really interested. Neither am I and many another. Carlton Reid can pay who he wants and if he wants – it does take two to make a contractual agreement. Have a nice day driving your traffic.

     
  14. Hal Peat

    Hi JoeBlow,

    No apologies to you either. Guess with your one-off made-up name, we won’t be seeing where or how you spam, but since you enjoy imagining you’re calling anyone out in the least, just FYI: those mass content sites like Ste101, Examiner, etc. are all out there and it’s NO big news. They’re a place where some of us can park bits of old content to earn a few extra dollars — that’s how you use them. And, more importantly, I wasn’t using the word “spam” in regards to websites, I was using the word “spam” in terms of the strategy of posting endlessly on blogs and sites with the underlying purpose of driving viewers to your own site. Which is exactly the strategy that Ms. Gilbert and others go on and on advocating. Sorry JoeBlow, you fail.

     
  15. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    Editor’s note:

    The irony of this conversation is that for apparent professional writers and/or commentators, some of you are sailing pretty close to the wind when it comes to the laws of libel and defamation.

    Keep it straight, guys.

     
  16. Joeblow

    Hi Hal,

    You mean clogging up the interwebs writing for spam engines like Suite 101?

    http://www.suite101.com/profile.cfm/hal1026

    Get off your high horse mate!

     
  17. Christine Gilbert

    Hal:

    Don’t drag my name into this, please. I’m a blogger, not a spammer. If you think the two are the same, that’s a much different conversation than the one we’ve been having.

    Thanks,

    Christine

     
  18. Hal Peat

    “Some people have an interesting “take” on life and so others want to hear what they have to say. That’s a talent, a gift, and so if they can’t make money out of it, it does seem rather a shame. One can hope that ultimately they may build their own “brand” and start making cash from their gift, and meanwhile they could benefit from the exposure on high-traffic FOC sites, in order to build up a following for their work.”

    On the other hand, plenty of people do *not* have any interesting take on life at all, nor a talent, much less a gift — yet they do make cash by spamming the travelblogosphere with their commentary. Good for them, consider the cash compensation a minor reward for having no other genuine talent. You forget there are other ways to “make cash” than spamming the travelblogosphere the way you and Christine Gilbert and too many others propose. Not everyone wants to go your rather questionable route — thankfully he doesn’t. It’s old already – boring and meaningless and without substance to hear the same one-note blather intruding into every discussion about the future of travel media.

     
  19. Jenny WOolf

    When we’re talking about FOC a lot depends on the writer. Some people have an interesting “take” on life and so others want to hear what they have to say. That’s a talent, a gift, and so if they can’t make money out of it, it does seem rather a shame. One can hope that ultimately they may build their own “brand” and start making cash from their gift, and meanwhile they could benefit from the exposure on high-traffic FOC sites, in order to build up a following for their work.

    I suspect that people like this are few and far between, becasue there is an awful lot of hack work on some FOC sites, even the ones which aim to be rather classy. It seems this really HAS been written by people whose only aim is to blag a free ticket and a free hotel, and that is only too painfully obvious.

    The little red warning light blinks for me especially on these “Ten Best This and That” because I know they’re often largely put together by PRs and are complete space-fillers. One of the first jobs I ever did in journalism was putting together a “ten best hotels” piece and I shudder to think what I put in – I simply had no idea what any of them were like and I know I included at least one rough old boozer whose owner was flabbergasted to be included. (I still wonder what readers who turned up there thought).

    In the end, this kind of hack work will drive people away from the FOC sites, and such sites’ chances of making money will be further diminished.

    When criticising “ten best” etc. I’m not talking about the intelligent ones that actually tell you something useful, by the way. There’s an interesting piece on the times online at present in which a writer investigates the top ten Good Hotel Guide recommendations to see if they’re worth their inclusion. That was well worth reading. I wonder if it was a FOC or a paid for.

    ‘ll be very very interested to see what happens if Murdoch starts to charge.

     
    • Fiona Cullinan

      Great debate all round. Travel journalism is dead, long live travel journalism!

      I’m pro-internet (after 20 years in print) and love the opportunities it allows writers – even if that does mean levelling my income from that source or the mass ‘amateurisation’ of the form (I don’t mean that in a bad way, btw, there’s much to love about non-journalistic content).

      I’ve done a couple of articles for free but I’m now at the point where I’d rather do that on my own blog as a labour of love. (I’m currently having fun playing with travel journalism on Tourist Vs Traveller, writing hometown tourism articles, publishing source material, revealing process, experimenting with web2.0 tools, etc.)

      @Jenny said: “The little red warning light blinks for me especially on these “Ten Best This and That” because I know they’re often largely put together by PRs and are complete space-fillers…”

      Funnily enough, I’ve just done one of these (paid for, thankfully) but I thought I’d open up where the source material is from, and how the piece was put together on my own travel blog. Why? Because it makes it as transparent as noting that one ‘travelled as a guest of…’ in the factbox.

      Any sane person should take ‘top tens’ with a pinch of salt but it doesn’t mean the content can’t be interesting – or that travel journalists can’t print the other 99 ideas that didn’t make the finished piece.

      The internet is also opening up forms of travel journalism and has the ability to expose exactly what is a PR job and what is not – and that can only be a good thing for the reader and journalism.

      Would also recommend digital journalism academic Brad King’s blog, which looks at ‘storytelling and technology… and the disconnect between the ways we used to tell stories and the ways we can tell stories now.’

       
  20. Carlton Reid

    I’m an executive editor on a trade magazine that will gladly accept stuff from writers FOC.

    Most of the writers – in guest columns and the like – are not full-time journalists. They want to see their point of view put across so don’t expect payment. This is common in trade magazines.

    Some of the writers are bona fide journos and will supply copy FOC (a) because it will be read by industry folks and that could generate them more work long-term or (b) their magazine bosses have asked to write the pieces to promote their titles.

    When a piece is needed that has to come from a freelance journalist (pretty rare) then a fee would be paid.

    The content in the print mag generally also goes on the website eventually.

     
  21. Christine Gilbert

    Carlton,

    I meant soliciting as in “to seek”. Basically as an editor, are you getting free content from other writers?

    -cg

     
  22. Carlton Reid

    Am I soliciting unpaid content? You mean trying to offload stuff from me for free?

    No. And yes.

    I get paid for my content most of the time, but I also write promo copy for third-party blogs, such as for the publisher of one of my books. The plan is the stuff I write for free will bring me in money in some other way (hopefully, selling books etc).

    I have books that sell for real money (trad publishing), and I publish some of my own books online, for free. While the books – available on page-flicking site Issuu.com – are available for £0.00 I make money from the included display ads, the free newspaper model. Editorial independence is maintained.

    As others on this posting have said, being a standalone writer is getting tougher and tougher. The web allows journos to easily become micro-publishers, able to pump out polished UGC.

     
  23. Christine Gilbert

    Carlton Reed,

    As the editor of several websites, are you soliciting unpaid content?

    –Christine

     
  24. Carlton Reid

    “Steve Keenan. Writing for free online? For exposure? You are basically stealing from people who are too desperate to care. There is no way to sugar coat it. It’s wrong and you’re doing it. There are plenty of ways to take advantage of people– but let’s not pat ourselves on the back for it.”

    Wrong? He has to source content and much as though we may hate it, plenty of people will provide copy for exposure. There are a number of travel journos who are heavily subsidised by their partners and don’t need to earn a crust.

    I do need to earn a crust but, in the digital age, there are many ways of doing this as well as simply submitting a bunch of words.

    Providing content to a mass circulation website for ‘free’ can generate cash in other ways and you don’t have to sell your soul.

     
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  28. Hal Peat

    At first I was inclined to agree with James Ellis above when he stated that “Perhaps we should turn about face and look at writing travel journalism about the cities we actually live in and actually selling that on to papers abroad.” Then I had to remind myself that at this point, unlike people who “fell into” travel writing, it came to me in large measure as a way of trying to understand and make sense of a lifetime of travel, not some random choice of what to do with my time when other things failed. It was an inevitability. I think James may be correct in suggesting that in the changing media landscape, your immediate physical geography might be best to tell about to more distant parts of the world and more distant publishers. But, what if you don’t connect to your immediate place of domicile in a more profound way than where your bed and car are parked? Some of us are nomads, or maybe sharks — we have to keep moving, or we die.

     
  29. Valere Tjolle

    I agree, the world is changing rapidly. Things that had a value yesterday have no value today. However, wherever you look there is a requirement for content, mainly filled with pap. Really good writing will always have a value. It’s simply a question of obtaining it. Vanilla travel articles always were superficial and unfulfilling great crafted writing is not.

     
  30. Christine Gilbert

    Jeremy,

    I agree and I disagree… yes the opportunities are drying up, but you’re also looking at the wrong way. For instance, your personal site, http://jeremyhead.typepad.com/ could be making you $1000/mo. (not enough to live on, but a start). You’re a great writer, you have the credentials and you write interesting posts. So why aren’t you one of the most popular travel writing blogs out there? Well it’s on typepad, you don’t update often enough (once a week or more would be better) and you need a new design. If you networked a bit with other bloggers, then you’d start building a loyal and rabid following. Heck, when you do post everyone comes running… but you don’t take it seriously as a way to make money.

    That’s the problem with all travel journalists who complain about the internet– they don’t actually take it seriously. Meanwhile, people with no journalism background are building sites and doing well, because they think about it completely differently.

    Steve Keenan-

    Writing for free online? For exposure? You are basically stealing from people who are too desperate to care. There is no way to sugar coat it. It’s wrong and you’re doing it. There are plenty of ways to take advantage of people– but let’s not pat ourselves on the back for it.

     
  31. jeremyhead

    @ Linda @James (as you already know because you left a really insightful comment on it!) there’s a great discussion about Simonseeks on my blog from the week it launched:
    http://www.travelblather.com/2009/06/travelsupermarket-simonseeks-travel-guides-travel-writers.html

     
  32. James Dunford Wood

    Simonseeks. There, I’ve mentioned it! I am reminded of what someone once said about the invention of the motor car, and its impact on London’s cab driving fraternity. Those businesses that understood that they were in the transportation business rather than the horse and buggy business survived and prospered.

    For me, the self-publishing and communication opportunities afforded by the internet to aspiring travel writers far outweighs the narrow outlet offered in traditional print media, so often compromised by fam trips and advertising. I had article after article and pitch after pitch rejected by editors all too cosy with their favourite coterie of writers, so I started my own publishing company – online. Vanity? Maybe. But its not true there is no money to be made online through travel writing. Far from it – you just need to be a bit more entrepreneurial.

     
  33. Ian McKee

    Haha, yes. Well we’ve certainly had our hands in each other’s pockets for some time, but the roles were clear (PR pays, journo writes). I’m saying that these roles are merging now.

     
  34. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    Unfortunately, Ian, some might suggest that travel journalism and PR merged quite a long time ago…

     
  35. Ian McKee

    Firstly, I agree with David’s comment that the title should probably come with an asterisk – *as we know it. The current system is dying, but that only means a new system is developing.

    Secondly, I suppose PRs have been summoned due to the bad light this all puts PRs in! This seems to be saying that revenues in print journalism receding plays into the hands of us PRs – we can now get a page of advertorial presented as editorial, apparently. I don’t think the ultimate goal of a (good) PR anyway, we want good, balanced, trustworthy copy too. If all content was advertorial, consumers generally have the intelligence to realise, then inevitably they would lose faith altogether in the traditional review sources and user generated reviews like TripAdvisor would become the sole source that travellers would look to. That would be massively harder to monitor and influence.

    So, in light of this I think travel PRs are facing a very similar predicament to travel journalists. We are having to find new ways of getting our message out too, if national print travel pages cease, or even newspapers online travel loses it’s cache, then they will no longer be our target. We need to think of new ways of reaching the public.

    I find James’ idea of flipping roles to write about your home destination for foreign outlets interesting too. I’ve talked about blogger trips on our blog before, and when they will actually happen. I’m beginning to think that maybe they won’t, that bloggers just need good stories and good content, that people don’t need to do a traditional ‘get commission, get free flights/accommodation, write it up, get paid’ anymore. So we’re starting to generate that content ourselves, be it copy, video, images, and distributing it either direct to consumers or to them via online media.

    Also, on Daniel’s point, if travel journalists all end up writing news and stories for tourist boards and travel companies, then aren’t they doing a PRs job? So if we’re producing content, and journalists are writing for tourist boards, perhaps the online revolution is causing PR and journalism to merge more than ever before. That doesn’t neccessarily have to be a bad thing, I don’t think.

     
  36. Stuart Lodge

    Thought provoking as always Jeremy. Just a quickie – if some of the big news mega-corporations are going to start charging for content online from next year (Pearson, WSJ, News International), does that mean they’ll earn more cash to pay for writers, training (even amateurs could use a style book) and maybe to restart paying for good writers to go on independent trips? But as Steve says maybe the model is dead but I still think the key is the GOOD writing part….

    I’ll keep coming back to the idea of a writing travel exchange – travel companies sponsor good writers who get a nod from a travel ed. Maybe the travel eds could recommend the writers/bloggers (to keep it fresh and relevent). Tech wise it cant be that difficult..hmmm…sounds like a job for a new travel tech news site..

    Anyway we’ve got a great writer Mark Eveleigh off on an RTW at the moment. We get fresh content, he gets an RTW (half of which we scrounged off an airline) and the ability to get some other stories. And he met Shakira on the plane last week! So maybe life isnt so bleak in freelance land….

     
  37. Celia

    I find the whole travel advisor UGC content debate incredibly interesting, and got lost in all of these UGC sites when recently booking a holiday to Turkey. I have now come to the conclusion that review sites are just not entirely trustworthy. After turning down a ridulous amount of hotels and even destinations (as egypt and Greece had been on the cards too) we eventually settled on a resort which was given approx positive 66% recommendations. This still meant it had XX terrible reviews and XX poor/average but the clock was ticking and we were close to having a holiday in the UK. In actual fact the hotel was spot on, weather was amazing and there was an incredible amount of food (was an all inclusive resort). Yet when we were on the bus to the airport the people behind us piped up complaining about how terrible their holday had been and how they lived on rice and bread the whole time…how?!! And a lot more that I won’t bore you with.

    This is lead me to the conclusion (and is one that is touched upon by Michael McIntyre in his latest comedy sketch) that nothing can stop you from focusing on that one bad review about a place even when the rest are sterling and that people are after very different things. Are review sites therefore not so reliable? Absolutely.

    Moving forward, I think that people should be given profiles on these sites, so that you can understand what kind of things they like, how old they are and what other holdays they have reviewed and so on before you read their latest reviews (much like the way you build up your favourite film/theatre reviewers in the press).

    As a result I think that travel journalism is still incredibly important. I would always read press articles (online or not)and travel books above these reviews, in fact I’d appreciate more of them. So as not to get bogged down in unneccessary and sometimes completely false details.

     
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  39. Linda Fox

    Just a passing comment but interesting that no one has mentioned Simonseeks yet!?

     
  40. Alastair McKenzie

    Hope you don’t mind Jeremy, if I hijack this comment stream to remind you and other BGTW members the subject for this month’s meeting (8 Oct) is “The current state of travel writing, in the face of the recession and the digital revolution”.

     
  41. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    Much of the discussion here is about the consumer press. Another equally important area is the trade media…

    You will often find supplements fronted by Company X or Company Y, in the same way as the large mainstream media outlets, but this time aimed at the business itself.

    One might ask which is the more damaging? ‘Influencing’ consumers or ‘influencing’ people that then sell to consumers?

    Just a thought…

     
  42. Daniel Johnson

    And as a quick addition to my previous comment, here is a story from the US about various businesses hiring journalists to publish news (not PR) directly: http://tinyurl.com/create.php.

    Could a tourist board or one of the bigger travel groups do something similar?

     
  43. Daniel Johnson

    Really interesting article Jeremy, and I think your conclusion is spot on. As a travel company, I would appreciate offers from freelancers to provide really good travel articles about the destinations I sell to, because I know your content will be better than mine. Then I can concentrate on making sure I put those articles in places where my potential customers can see and act on them.

    Independent reviews give people the confidence that they are making (or have made) the right choice, but really good travel journalism inspires people to choose a country, region or type of holiday.

     
  44. James Ellis

    Interesting and thought provoking stuff.

    I’m not sure newspaper travel journalism has been all that good for years to be honest (controversial I know) and it’s not just down to the internet.

    Shepherded on press trips by PRs, itineraries so tight you have to fit what other people do in two weeks, little time to explore a different angle, most people coming back with identikit stories. Where’s the adventure and exploration in that? All that happens is you ratchet up another country on the list and in two years time when someone asks for a hotel recommendation in Blah, you can’t remember because all the trips end up blurring into one

    Steve’s comments are interesting about finding other sources, such as people based in a country doing a guide book. Perhaps we should turn about face and look at writing travel journalism about the cities we actually live in and actually selling that on to papers abroad.

     
  45. The sceptic

    You reap what you sow. The things you describe: editorial promised in contra deals, biased reporting, articles in return for freebies has been happening for years. Maybe the readers aren’t stupid. Maybe people prefer to get their advice from sources that can be more easily trusted and who aren’t in the pocket of the big tour operators.

     
  46. Andy Jarosz

    Very interesting article to read, especially from the perspective on one of the new kids on the travel block. Leaving the corporate world where writing was a large element of my work but not the primary purpose, the opportunity to adapt my writing style to the subject I love is one that I am hugely enjoying.

    There’s no money in it, I read every day. As David says this environment requires a writer to be more than just a writer. I have to be publisher, marketer and entrepreneur, and I need to think beyond immediate returns when making a judgement on whether to take a piece of work. But that’s a big part of the challenge and after 20+ years in an office and suit this is an exciting place to be; and yes, I’m even getting to send an invoice or two.

    The demand for UGC is growing as the public becomes more sceptic of the words (written or spoken) of professionals. It appears to be part of a wider trend in society where the views of the often uninformed masses are preferred to that of the uncharismatic expert (medicine and law are having to come to terms with this phenomenon too). I am confident that a refined way of presenting credible UGC will emerge that will allow sensible sorting of the decent stuff from the rubbish, and at the same time will appeal to the users as well as the creators of the content. That may be where the next wave of opportunites arise.

     
  47. Stuart McDonald

    I agree that £250 for a UK based travel writer to go to El Salvador and write 1,500 words on it with no freebies is a big ask, but no doubt there’s not a shortage of more-than-competent English speaking freelancers living there who would jump at the chance to write a piece for a UK daily…

     
  48. steve keenan

    Just an adjunt to my last post. As travel editor of timesonline, I need extra content because I only get copy from the papers two days a week. Now I have a mix of paper content supplemented by staff, correspondents, bloggers and freelances working without money but for a variety of quality controlled purposes. We also have live debates, readers’ photos, archive-sourced features, video, tweets, author extracts, galleries from aforesaid books, guidebook writers and more. We are a mix – and the best freelances do precisely the same. And long may we all prosper – while working out the money for us all – think of us when we go behind a paywall!

     
  49. steve keenan

    I used to be able to pay freelances £100 to write travel pieces for online. That stopped nearly two years ago, when I was told I had to rely on staff people writing up their holidays. No comment. But I had to diversify as a result. From that day, I thought the traditional freelance model was dead. There is no money in online – you know that, Jeremy. But you are not alone in being worried that what is produced online is in somehow inferior. It isn’t – it’s just changed.

    The onus on finding good stuff to publish has been exhilarating. It started by offering established freelances the opportunity to publish so that they could score flights and hotels. That was good – many were journalists travelling to research guidebooks and, as a result, I have had heaps of excellent research/remote travel pieces from Bradt, Rough Guide and other authors that I would never get from The Times or Sunday Times.

    But that was just a start. I have discovered dozens of excellent bloggers – and Tweeters – who can write. They are usually niche writers or destination-based amateurs whose enthusiasm and knowledge far often outweigh the writer who dips in for a day or two and writes a paid-for feature.

    Yes, it is uncomfortable not being able to pay – but the internet is more about exposure, recognition and the ability to promote people who would previously never had the channce to pit their pen against ‘professionals.’ That’s not cheapskating – that’s a reality and, as it turns out, a joy.

    I am now more tuned into writers out there than the professionals – whose need to find an ‘angle’ to sell a story frequently makes me despair about newspapers’ judgement. But you also know Jeremy that times aren’t a-changing – they’ve turned triple somersaults in the past five years.

    The Times’ budgets have been slashed. So have shifters and picture desks. The old model has been shattered, so we have had to be much more flexible online in finding new sources. And hurrah for that.

    Like the miners, the steelworkers, the hot metal machinists and potters, the days of freelance journalists earning £800 for writing up five-day trips to Chile as serious professioanl travel journalism are gone. But what an exciting world has evolved – now it’s only up to you and your fellow professionals to work out how to capitalise on the new world.

    And for us at Timesonline to keep up the standards, find the right people and originate fresh content and ideas to make travel vital – not a defunct model from the 20th century.

     
  50. David Whitley

    Excellent post as always, Jeremy.

    I suspect your headline needs an asterisk: The internet is ruining travel journalism* (*as we used to know it).

    There’s no doubt that print is dying. I don’t think it’ll die completely, but the future is probably niches rather than mass market.

    The web, however, is still in its relative infancy. You hit the nail on the head here: “Whilst UGC sites are full of opinion, but lacking in balance, tour operator, travel agent and DMO sites are bland and opinion-free.”

    That’s hugely important: the more content that goes up, the harder it becomes to navigate. People are increasingly going to need informed opinion, guidance and discernment. That’s where travel writers (at least the ones that are prepared to adapt) come in. Hopefully market demand for that middle way between PR blandness and UGC shouting will create a way of paying for this. We shall see.

    In the meantime, I believe there is a phenomenal opportunity for writers and guidebook authors to apply their expertise in a new medium (http://bit.ly/55MDo for my full argument on this). They’ll need to think like publishers as well as writers, however.

     
    • Durant Imboden

      ” They’ll need to think like publishers as well as writers, however. ”

      Precisely. The way to make money on the Web (as in print) is to be a publisher–and on the Web, a writer can become a publisher.

      See:

      http://travelwritten.com

      http://www.writerswebsiteplanner.com

      (The first “how-to” site for aspiring travel writer-publishers is mine; the second is published by Tom Brosnahan, who was a successful guidebook author before he moved to the Web.)

       
  51. john

    Yes this is a problem, but not as bad as you think. Naturally, you are biased because the increased competition means you now will make less. The days of the press being special are over. You make very valid points re: factchecking but I disagree with your contention that sites such as tripadvisor are invalid. I’d say 90% of the reviews on that site are legit and I use it all the time. It’s better to look at 30 hotel reviews from real people than one review from a jaded journo any day of the week.

     
 
 

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