The internet is ruining travel journalism
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.
Special Nodes is the byline under which Tnooz publishes articles by guest authors from around the industry.