Saturday, January 29, 2011

Travel Writers Aren't Journalists!!

I was finishing a media training with a travel industry client recently and our conversation turned to Travel Writers.

Now, I’m not one to generalize, but Travel Writers are about the lowest form of life in the journalism food chain. They seldom have ethics and are almost uniformly loathed by the PR and Travel Industries.

Why the low esteem, you ask? Because all too many travel writers are whores! They purport to be objective reporters of the average consumer’s travel experience but are anything but.

Ask anyone in travel PR and you’ll hear horror stories about travel writers asking, no… demanding, free trips, free hotels and meals. Yet, when they write their reviews they never disclose that their travel experience was comp’ed or that they places they wrote about knew they were writing a review! So much for objectivity.

Imagine if someone from Consumer Reports went into a car dealer and said “I’d like borrow a car for free so I can review your product.” Would the dealer give them just an average car, or one that’s been fine tuned, polished and made perfect? And getting a free car, do you think the reviewer’s report would be swayed?

Most restaurant critics dine anonymously and pay their own tab. Their experience most closely mirrors that of the average patron. But not the freeloading, gimme-gimme travel writer!

There are two notable exceptions to this generalization: Conde Nast Traveler magazine and the NY Times. Neither will buy a story from a reporter who accepted a “fam trip” (familiarization trip) or who didn’t pay their own way. What gets written in those publications, after extensive editorial scrutiny, has credibility. Everything else in newspaper travel sections, blogs and such is suspect.

Who do I trust most for travel reviews? Fellow travelers! Anytime I’m planning a trip, business or pleasure, I visit Trip Advisor and see what others have to say. The reviews may not be pearly prose, but they’re credible because they were written by someone like me and shared out of altruism, not greed.

What’s the difference between a journalist and blogger… or a travel writer and a Trip Advisor contributor? The ‘new media’ has empowered us all to find an audience. So let the best, most objective, most transparent writer win!


At 2/22/2011 , Blogger Justin Schmid said...

I have to agree. But we have to realize that the travel industry doesn't want journalists. It wants shills. Preferably shills who shuffle to NY, Las Vegas, Paris and places like that. Shills who launch every cliche to urge tourists (not travelers) to golf, dine lavishly and shop.

There's not much call for writers who are real people on real budgets with real time constraints who just want to add a little fun and adventure to their lives. Good thing there are bloggers for that.

Still, it takes some effort to find the good ones.

I took a look through your other posts, by the way. I like what I see. I hope you post more often in the future.


At 2/23/2011 , Blogger JIM CAMERON said...

From my old NBC News colleague DAN BLACKBURN:

Jim, old friend.....Shame on you. You have just done what you usually decry -- generalize from inadequate data.

I never have met the travel writers you describe. And I have been doing freelance "travel" writing and photography for the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Backpacker, Sierra Club, Outside, Sierra Heritage and many other publications for the past ten years.

Most of my writing and photography -- and the photos sell pretty well -- takes place in national parks, national forests and other outdoor locations. My wife and I and children usually pitch a tent and camp, preparing our meals on a Coleman stove or MSR Whisperlight. We pack in our own supplies and pay the campground fees and for gasoline, etc. Lunches usually are carried in backpacks. When the weather is bad -- cold, wet or windy, we deal with it. And we don't miss too much the luxuries you seem to think all writers enjoy.

The travel experiences that I write about are quite literally what we experience which, for the most part, turns out to be positive experiences. You are painting with much too large a brush dipped in black ink. And, incidentally, who pays for all your travel when you do seminars and other events for which people pay to attend or which are sponsored by some organization? Sometimes, some things really are a matter of definition.


At 6/11/2011 , Blogger Jackie said...

I don't think the reviews on Trip Advisor are much better. There's no way to verify whether the commenters actually stayed at the hotel, ate at the restaurant, etc. that they are "reviewing." In particular when reading negative reviews, you just have to wonder why the first impulse of someone is to post their bad experience instead of contacting the staff to address the problem real time.


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