Travel content isn’t king, it’s clerk

Right Pants #006: Video report from the Grassy Knoll

The problem I have with that word “content” — whatever that is — can’t be blamed on a dictionary. Because “content” isn’t there, yet. Not the web-version of content anyway. (Look it up, then see 40 tries a blog made to sum it up.)

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 4.43.56 PMThis is the same “content” famously called “king” back in the winter of ’96, when Bill Gates boiled it down, more or less, to “information and entertainment” consumed online. In order for it to thrive, he said, those who take it in “must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information.”

Got that? “Deep.”

People like to say travel writing is a dream job. I sure like it, though it’s easy to confuse with unemployment on most days. Particularly considering many writers so openly “WILL WORK FOR TRAVEL” — and make no bones about pawning off words for free trips.

Why this matters to me is because I believe — I really do — that only travel knows all.

oil-spill-truthTraditional journalism is vital, but it tends to chase events. Only “travel” is everywhere, before, during, after a “news event.” Meaning it’s usually travel that knows everyday things first. That, of course, you CAN go to Mexico. That it’s become safe to visit Colombia. That locals in Burma want you there despite a boycott.

Or the looping video of gushing oil offshore on CNN has little to do with what you can expect to find on nearly all Gulf Coast beaches.

This is an important addition travel content offers. Or can offer.

But travel content is increasingly feeling more like clerk than king to me.  I find it telling that an accommodation booking site is valued at 1120% the value of the world’s leading travel content provider.

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 4.33.47 PMRegardless of what that “value” may mean, or how all this gets paid for, I think there has to be some sort of commitment for travel writers who persist to simply ensure they’re doing three things, none of which excludes working with “partners” of some kind:

1. Add to the existing conversation of a place. That means pre-research Minsk before you go. Know what’s said already. In articles, video, blogs. And simply ADD to that through your experience. Otherwise it’s noise.

2. Don’t lie. If you’re in cahoots with a company, or been hand-delivered a customized itinerary, be open about it. Don’t gush with exclamation points at things you wouldn’t tell to your mom the same way. I mean, if you can’t pass the “mom test” with your writing, you’re probably lying.

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 4.33.23 PM3. Keep the marketers away from editorial roles. Marketing and editorial live in a grayer world now, I get it. But there’s no reason why anyone associated with marketing needs to have final say of things. Even what makes a little Top 10 list.

Oh, some fact-checking would be good too.

 

 

 

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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6 Responses to Travel content isn’t king, it’s clerk

  1. Well said.

    Though I’ll admit, I’m a recent fan of occasionally going somewhere with no preconceptions and a basically suicidal level of underpreparation, just to take an unprompted shot at discovering what my senses are telling me. This usually involves getting lost and encountering massive amounts of self-recrimination, but my notes feel really honest when I read them back.

    Content is king, but truth is government and we need a republic. If the revolution means a few people get shot, I can live with that. Although I’d probably end up being one of them. Well, it’ll make a good blog post. Scheduled in advance, obviously.

  2. Robert Reid says:

    Thank you Mr Senor. I have no problems with showing up to see what happens (#SUTSWH). Perhaps you “add to the conversation” once back, with some post-research. I dunno. In general I think SUTSWH works better for travel, than for travel writing.

    • Good point, & agreed. I’ve never sold a piece of writing based solely on a #SUTSWH expedition, although I’ve got one to pitch to someone, so I’m looking forward to that going dreadfully. And even with that, I’m retrospectively filling the gaps with post-research. Love to know if anyone has gone full-on, pants-off #SUTSWH and got published with it…

  3. You’re right and I’ve been wanting to write about this for awhile. I think so many people have forgotten the basics of journalism/good writing and are just churning out exclamation-point-riddled “content.” I hate that word.

    Don’t let pushy PR people dictate your article. Is it good? Is it bad? I have taken comps, but I let them know well ahead of time that their comp doesn’t guarantee a good review or even a review at all.

    Nothing is free.

    • Robert Reid says:

      I’m always amazed how “journalism” is a threatening word to some travel bloggers. People make FUN of blogs. People BLAME blogs for the decay of writing etc. I think employing a bit of “journalism” is healthy all across the board. A couple years ago I pitched that idea as “jourblism” — with a gerbil icon even, good for merch. Journalism + blogging.

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