There was an interesting debate at the back end of last week about whether the internet is killing travel journalism. It was started here in an excellent piece by Jeremy Head and continued here in another one by David Whitley.
While it’s somewhat ironic that the debate took place on the net, my view is that the more outlets there are, the more we have to place stories. Pitches no longer have to be limited to national or local papers and specialist mags but can now be sent to a plethora of websites – which ones pay or not is a matter that will eventually sort itself out.
When it comes to user generated travel content, the advantage most travel writers have is our ability to cast a critical eye through a prism of experience. I know, for instance the Atlantis hotel in Dubai is better than the one in the Bahamas because I have been to both.
I actually think there is a far greater threat to travel journalism: that of the celebrity travel writer. It’s easy to see why it works, PR offers celeb a holiday for nothing, celeb accepts, celeb gets a family holiday for free (and without having to pretend their spouse is their photographer), the resort gets the kudos of having a celeb there and, crucially, the section editor gets a ‘name’ piece for free.
Everyone is seemingly happy but the person who loses out is the reader – more often than not, the celeb has no more critical faculties than Billy Bigmouth who posts once a year on TripAdvisor.
Personally, I don’t really care if Mariella Frostrup taught her family to ski or the Minghellas enjoyed Tuscany and, while Alex James may have been the bass player in one of my favourite bands, I’m not interested in his travel tales.
Over the ten years I was at Metro, I published possibly half a dozen celeb features. Five of them were by Claudia Winkleman when she was still setting her stall as the anti-Davina (read funny). At the time, Claudia came up with great ideas, was erudite, witty and knew what made a decent travel story – perhaps the genes were passed on from her mum, Eve Pollard. Sadly, Claudia went on another path and established herself in TV.
The other was one of my biggest nightmares as editor. A PR agency asked a favour to publish a piece by a certain raven-haired ladette from the north east who was heading to Malaysia on holiday. I was promised she would try anything and do anything to come up with a suitably Metro-esque angle, when in actual fact she really wanted to lounge in the spa.
I asked her to do two pieces, sent her style sheets and structure tips; she came back with one story that crammed KL and two different island resorts into 700words and flitted from the past to present tense more often than an episode of Lost.
After weeks of toing and froing of emails, it was still so bad, I had to get the PRs to re-write it and then re-write their copy to make it less gushing; when I asked for a holiday snap of her in the resort she claimed her camera had been stolen.
When I got a note from a PR for one of the hotels she stayed in complaining that on one night she had rowed so loudly they had to re-house the couple in the next villa, I was absolutely mortified this was happening in the name of my publication.
And it was then that I vowed: if you’re a celebrity by all means get out of here… but please don’t expect me to publish your piece on ‘what I did on my holidays’…