Endemic corruption or just a travel press trip?

11 Dec

Twitter on a Sunday afternoon. I shouldn’t do it. But I did and found this tweet from @rafat (Rafat Ali) the guy who set up Paidcontent.

“Corruption endemic in travel industry, free travel junkets that FTC should *really* crack down on: http://bit.ly/rVlIah

The link is to a page on Keith Jenkin’s Velvet Escape blog about a new program he has launched called iambassador.

Quoting from this page:

“The iambassador model involves a collaboration between travel bloggers and the tourism industry. The product can be utilised by tourism boards, tour operators, cruise companies, airlines and/or hotel chains to market a specific destination or travel theme (adventure, cruises, gastronomy, safaris, city trips or beach holidays to name a few).”

The benefits to the tourist board etc:
“iambassador maximises the value generated by blog trips by turning the bloggers into digital ambassadors…. The model involves a collaboration between influential travel bloggers and their blog trip sponsors and is designed to generate a social media ‘blitz’ centred on the destination as well as increase brand visibility of the sponsors.”

I pointed out to Rafat on twitter that press trips (‘junkets’ in his parlance) happen in many industries (the motoring writer gets loaned the new Porsche for a weekend, he doesn’t have to buy one to write his review – is this corrupt?). And that in travel, the cost of actually experiencing a destination is so much that if a travel writer or travel publisher paid for the trips that got covered in their publication they would run at a huge loss.

Rafat pointed to the first example of the iambassador trip – a sponsored blog trip with Visit Jordan.

I pointed out that if the bloggers disclose that their trip is hosted by Visit Jordan what’s the problem. The reader can make up their own mind.

Frankly for those of us who write about travel for a living (bloggers, travel writers whatever) this is a very old debate. If we didn’t have press trips there’d be very little good quality travel content at all anywhere. (I’m not condoning the current situation by saying this. I just don’t really see another way right now.)

But Rafat went on to say (and here I really part company with him):

“I am saying even disclosure isn't enough. corruption disclosed isn't corruption corrected”

I just don’t see corruption here. Corruption implies that the bloggers will intentionally mislead their readers – by for example saying positive things about stuff that’s actually not that good.

But then again… Keith talks explicitly about this as a ‘marketing exercise’. Here’s the text of his tweet back to Rafat:

“i appreciate your comments. However, this is a fully disclosed sponsored marketing campaign, not a free junket.”

To me as a writer employed several days a week by a marketing agency I completely get this language and approach. I can see straight away how for a tourist board like Visit Jordan it has real value.

But as someone who still thinks of himself as a travel writer I'm less sure. It’s incredibly overt. I think Keith should be applauded for his openness. But if I was a reader of Velvet Escape… how would I feel if I read that page? Maybe I'm just being an old travel writer here? Perhaps people who read blogs like Keith's (which is full of genuinely useful, quality travel features and advice) couldn't care less.

For me though this more overtly commercial approach is perhaps the final outcome for free travel content online. Reader… you come a long way down the list of priorities these days. (But what do you expect? You’re getting free content!)

This more overt commercial focus is not unique to travel bloggers. I know of at least one major UK national newspaper that is actively looking to tie sale of product (flights, hotels etc) more directly to its travel editorial – because ad revenue alone just doesn’t stack up.

So… expect to see a more ‘buy this now’ calls to action around travel content in the future.

And expect to see the divide between promotion and editorial become ever thinner.

And consider… would you prefer content farm crap written by a student who has never visited a destination (but who is of course 'impartial'!) or content written by a potentially ‘corrupt’ travel writer who got a free trip to the place?

Pic by Flickr user: Mike Licht

49 Responses to “Endemic corruption or just a travel press trip?”

  1. pam 11. Dec, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    What about a third option? What about awesome, quality writing regardless of terms by writers brave enough to write real stories and reviews?

    • Jeremy Head 12. Dec, 2011 at 9:45 am #

      Hi Pam!
      That would be brilliant. But do you think they will ever be able to make it really pay?
      I'd love to think they could, but I'm still not sure.
      Cheers
      Jeremy

      • Pam 12. Dec, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

        Yeah, I think they -- we -- will at some point. I've landed some pretty great gigs lately, dollar a word kind of stuff, and one of them is a digital gig.

        I'd kind of like to shift this conversation as we keep having it -- we, the writers of the travel on the internets. I'd like to see us talk about what defines quality material as a result of a PR engagement.

        For example, I immediately dismiss anything from which I can rebuild the itinerary. I also totally discount anything that focuses on "Lookit! Here's me and seven other bloggers doing something AWESOME! Here are some other pictures of my cocktail!"

        What IS the ROI on that stuff? Popular blogger goes hot air ballooning over the desert, this results in X tweets and X hits and bookings go up by what percentage now? I'm thinking that the payoff is minimal and that this will shift. There's some gold rushing happening now while places are still trying to figure this stuff out. "You want to work with bloggers! I can set you up with some "quality" bloggers for only 19.99, but don't order yet! You also get..."

        Sometimes, at peak crankiness, I want to send everyone to a critical reading class. I also want to educate people in a really simple concept I learned very early on in my day job -- Who Are You Writing FOR? Even in a sponsored relationship, a good PR person will say "You're writing for YOUR readers, not MY boss. Because your readers are the customers for what we're selling, not my boss." There's a lot of fear about that, I think, and worry -- "What if I lose my free travel?! What if PR people don't want to work with me again!?"

        Meh.

        Instead, I try to remember that the democratization of the media got me here, and that where I am is actually a pretty good spot. I take sponsored trips, I write for my readers. I get paid a dollar a word sometimes to write for some pretty great publications.

        Rambling. That's the long way of saying this: Yes, we can make it pay.

        • Nikki Bayley 12. Dec, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

          See - I tried asking about this on the discussion hashtag during the WTM SocMed stuff - but was accused of being (amongst other things) an Anti-Blogger, a troll, scared of the future, in denial of the internet etc
          Meh indeed.
          I just could not work out what value it was to the reader of a budget backpacker blog to learn about the writer's undoubtedly-exciting times at one of the most expensive restaurants on earth, etc.
          Write for your reader. Be honest. Check your facts. Surely this is basic stuff?

        • Caitlin 13. Dec, 2011 at 3:05 am #

          But, Pam, if you are taking sponsored trips that is the "potentially corrupt" travel writing that the post refers to. Note that I'm not saying you're corrupt, nor is the author of the post. But it's responding to a third party who says that you are by virtue of taking the trips.

          • Pam 13. Dec, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

            I honestly don't *care* if a few people think I'm corrupt simply because my travels are funded by others.

            They can go read my stuff and get back to me. If they STILL think I'm corrupt, they can stop reading me, which is what I suggest everyone do with bloggers/writers they don't like and feel judge-y towards. Stop. Reading. Them.

  2. Nikki Bayley 11. Dec, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    I have to say, I am a tad bewildered by Rafat's anti-'junket' rage. Disclosure is EVERYTHING. You tell the reader that the trip was paid for by X, Y , Z and I think your ass is covered. The point at which you show if you're a writer with any integrity or not is whether you write gushing copy about everything - regardless of whether that is true or not - or whether you pick and choose what you want to recommend, making sure you tailor the content to your readers - and tell them what's to be avoided too.
    With pagination being cut, freelancers being pushed out and rates being the same that they were a decade or more ago, how the heck is anyone MEANT to write about a destination - if not on a 'junket' or at least on a solo sponsored trip? I know some people manage to pay their way - and I applaud them for that - but I can't do it. BUT I do say when I think things are not good - I say when things are best avoided and if somewhere's crap, I tend to not write about them at all, I prefer to cover things that I can say for sure are great - as for me, at least, one of the joys of travel is getting to say 'OHMYGOD you have to go to this place, it's amaaaaazing' when someone else is going there. Seriously, I love that.
    When you think about the amount of travel writing that is out there that's been researched online - or the guide books which can no longer afford to send writers to destinations to research - is a fully-disclosed "junket" really the target to pick? I think not.
    Oh - disclosure - I was on a trip with Keith this year, after GoMedia, he's an inspirational guy; smart, savvy and I believe, not at all interested in misleading his readers.

  3. David Whitley 11. Dec, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    Right, please forgive a self-promotional link but it's shorter than repeating everything I said on this subect last year. Here t'is: http://www.grumpytraveller.com/2010/08/30/travel-writing-and-freebies-the-bias-that-matters/

    In short, though: Freebies per se aren't what matter, it's what's done with them. Travel writing's credibility is slowly dwindling to zero not because of comped hotel rooms, but because of cowardly editors/ publishers continually printing near-promotional fluff as that's what brings advertisers in. The deluge of crap is the problem.

  4. Matthew Teller 11. Dec, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    All of this obsessive focus on hosting is an irrelevance. People don't believe travel writing anymore not because of who paid the air fare, but because 95% of what passes for it in print & online is either 'what I did on my holidays' or nakedly promotional. It's a quality thing.

    Disclosure is a distraction. It simply doesn't matter. There is no disclosure in sports journalism, or business journalism, or motoring journalism, or food journalism, or wine journalism, or political journalism, or any other kind of journalism. Because readers don't give a monkeys. They want the truth, not the invoices.

    A writer with integrity takes the freebies in order to give the real story to their readers. An editor/publisher with integrity supports that. So where did they all go, then?

    • Chanize 12. Dec, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

      Well said, Matthew. Itemized info on a story on what was spent on what? Ridiculous. The reader doesn't care. What they want to know is if the location is safe, if the food is good, if the hotel smells like mold, and recs on where to go to have a good time. THAT is what they want to know from the writer.
      But time and again I have editors who want copy based on an advertiser who has dropped in and then they want to build around that. Why isn't there more outcry about that?
      Why do people spend so much time concerning themselves about what other people are doing and how they decide to make a living? It's like the damned Mommy Wars all over again. Breast vs. Bottle. Typewriter vs. Computer.

      How about spending more time focusing on working at your own craft? This profession is already devalued enough, but if you're getting work, can feed your family, etc., then all this whinging about what the next person is doing is bananas. Or maybe I'm just too old anymore to get my panties in a twist about this sort of thing.

  5. Frank Coles 11. Dec, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    Where did they all go? I tell ya, they cashed in their editorial chips and went to work directly for the marketers. As a freelancer I know I did. For every one article I placed as a freelancer for the beer money that is paid in journalism I could have five times the money and the words I write as marketing releases top and tailed across many, many, publications.

    When the cheque lands you can then travel when and how you want to. Although that said there are still some amazing press trips out there that aren't just about hotel chains filling their beds. And as long as you write it how it is you will always sleep at night.

    Unless the trip includes other hacks of course and then, well, there's no hope for you!

    • Jeremy Head 12. Dec, 2011 at 9:46 am #

      Love it Frank! Very well said! :-)

  6. lara dunston 11. Dec, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    Agree with Pam. And also with David and Matthew here on issues of degradation of quality and irrelevance of freebies.

    I also wrote long ago on my personal travel blog Cool Travel Guide (soon to be relaunched) about travel writers and especially guidebook writers being ambassadors for places and products *if* they like them. I use that line almost every time I write to a PR, but I'd hate to see that term become conflated with 'marketeer' because I think they're very different.

    My husband and I were performing a slightly similar - yet not the same - function to what Keith is now proposing when we launched Grantourismo and embarked on our first project with HomeAwayUK in 2010.

    However, from the text you've quoted above, Jeremy, I see a major difference between what Keith is proposing and the way we worked with HomeAwayUK and work with other orgs. - which is why I can appreciate Rafat's concern.

    From the text above, it appears that Keith sees his role as being to "market" a destination/concept, " to generate a social media blitz" and "to increase brand visibility of the sponsors", and is essentially presenting himself as a marketing tool.

    Whereas our role in our partnership with HomeAwayUK - and in our work with other organizations, such as tourism bodies - is to tell stories about places and we don't promise any more than that. We warn that our stories will be opinionated, critical and occasionally might be negative if warranted (eg. on Diani Beach, Kenya), and that we have editorial control. Our role is still that of travel writer/travel journalist because we still see our function being to inform/educate/entertain/inspire. Not to market.

    All HomeAwayUK ever asked us to do was inspire people and write evocative stories about places; they recognized that some of those stories wouldn't always be positive and appreciated that they could be critical. If that's what Keith's clients expect too, then that's great. But I'm guessing from the text above that they would expect something very different if they're viewing the content Keith is going to create as marketing material.

    What Keith has to ask himself is whether his readers have been visiting his site to read advertorial and what his obligation is to them.

    • Jeremy Head 12. Dec, 2011 at 9:47 am #

      Hi Lara
      That's exactly the distinction - I completely agree. You put it better than me!
      Thanks for commenting
      J

    • Melvin 12. Dec, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

      I think you don't need to worry too much. It's all easy. At the moment a blogger or journalist is fine with going on a blog trip, he should be fine with the iAmbassador concept.

      You go on a blog trip & you share travel experiences via tweets, photos & blog posts when you are back. That's what the iAmbassador project does, just that it's all bundled on 2 days. If you are thinking of traveling to a destination some day, that's a great opportunity to get informed.

      But there is a different to Lara's model, as the iAmbassador concept don't add guest posts on other blogs, just to add smartly as many backlinks as possible for free to get some link juice. Don't get me wrong... If that works and everybody is happy, that is fine. But I can tell you that the profit for HomeAway was extremely high. I guess you all remember that post about paid links? ;-)

      The actual & old question is "Are blog trips good or bad?" I'm happy to get invited to blog trips, but I would never sell myself! I'm sure you wouldn't & that's what our readers expect from us. It doesn't matter if you blog or write for a magazine or guidebook. Talking about that... How often does it happen that a guidebook author doesn't really re-visit a place for the new version of a book & just phones them to update the prices? Puuuh! That stuff happens!

      Readers are smart & realize which content is advertising & which isn't.

      • Paul Smith 12. Dec, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

        "Readers are smart & realize which content is advertising & which isn't."

        That's one hell of an assumption to make about readers, and it's scant justification for poor editorial decisions.

        • Melvin 12. Dec, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

          Hahaha... OK, maybe not all. But I think you know what I mean. When you read a post, you realize when it's advertising right? For example when you see everywhere stars on the photos & the full article is NOT about BMW, Audi or VW, but about... ;-)

          • Paul Smith 12. Dec, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

            Actually, I'm not sure what you mean.

            Unless there's an obvious caveat at the beginning of a blog post, then I assume it to be editorial content, because that's what blog posts are. I assume it was written by the blog owner or a writer associated with the site and represents their personal opinion, uninfluenced by a third party.

            That's how I consume content. That's how the average reader consumes it. And that's the problem. In fact caveats are largely irrelevant because so many bloggers use them to excuse obvious bias.

    • Abi 13. Dec, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

      Just a brief reply, sorry, as I'm really pressed for time today. As one of the people taking part in the campaign I thought perhaps I should answer some of these questions...

      We have complete editorial control. Complete. Utter. We have been and will be free to write whatever we like, good or bad, throughout the whole thing - as usual. Visit Jordan will also pay for an advert on our sites and we will be taking part in a couple of twitter events (sorry again, don't have the details right here right now) where again we are free to say whatever we like about the destination. I value my integrity. I value the quality of my writing. I've written about the negative aspects of a press trip before and I no doubt will again when required. I agree with Lara that my job is to "inform/educate/entertain/inspire" - and I actually think that this campaign helps rather than hinders in that regard. Hope that helps answer some questions...

  7. Dave 12. Dec, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    Who are the vast majority of readers for many of the bloggers out there? I think that's something the sponsors need to quantify. If they are just basing it on comments, Alexa rankings and PR I wouldn't worry about it so much.

    If they are basing it on the general public, then I probably wouldn't worry about it either, though I would hope differently.

    I have yet to read a bad report from a sponsored trip. Yes a few little quips here and there,but nothing enough to rock the boat when it comes to potential future trips.

    During the visit Jordan campaign I must admit as a reader of travel I got tired of it all very quickly. Some very genetic copy being written.

    I think I count this as year 2 of mainstream travel blogger sponsored trips. So around about now,I'd like to see some non blogger ROI or even data.

    Never mind the ethics in all this, it's an eyecandy and notion world out there. How about some hard proof of ROI from the sponsors?

  8. Jan 12. Dec, 2011 at 2:25 am #

    My dad used to be a doctor. There was an offer to go to a "seminar" by pharma companies almost once a month, usually Swiss Alps, including family with a light program on the seminar side.
    Lots of tech blogger report that the loaned gadgets they get are never requested back. Maybe asked formally but never enforced if you forget to send it back.
    I know a car journalist. They never get "a porsche loaned over the weekend". There are always free group review trips over a few days to attractive places including hotel stays. If you wanna be independent, ask for a normal testdrive and you will most likely get one. I know there is a german blog that does just this. Ask for testdrives and they write independent reviews.
    Now there is a Bangkok based travel blogger who tweets about TAT trips on the weekends quite often. When the floods hit Bangkok he turned into a TAT spokesperson suddenly defending very emotionally that people should still come to visit as most parts were dry. He was right but there was also a real risk to come and see the country. Transport around was getting more and more difficult and he was reporting very one sided about the events. I think he wasn't even aware of this.

    It's rather naive not to see corruption in all of this. You get pretty large freebies with free trips and it's just human to return favors. It's basic behavioral economics. Show me a negative car review for example in a major publication.

    You say that those trips are needed cause it's too costly to go to every country and write a review. Thats an odd way to see it. There are people traveling those countries all the time and a part of them are travel blogger. Also there are publications that pay their staff for such trips from their own budget. It's not that we wouldn't see any reports on countries that don't offer free trips.

    You define corruption as in someone giving you money and then telling what you write about. Are you kidding me? Corruption on any level works with those kind of significant freebies, donations, generously paying politicians a speakers for events. and so on. There are no signed deals like you imagine them.

    It's you choice to be independent in your reviews or not. But to take free trips and call yourself independent just doesn't work. You might not be aware that you are corrupted by sponsored trips but you are. Disclosures are nice but they don't make you independent.

    • Jeremy Head 12. Dec, 2011 at 9:58 am #

      Hi Jan
      Some great points - I do take your point about using local writers or people that are there anyway to a degree - but ask any editor and he'll tell you'd he rather use a seasoned pro who knows how to write than a local who doesn't. If you can find a combination of the 2 - ideal. I've been commissioning copy for a tour operator about specific destinations recently and increasingly that's what I've been trying to do - find a local expert who can really write too.
      But I still disagree about corruption. There is the possibility for corruption yes. But one does not necessarily lead to another and a pro travel writer knows there is a balance to strike with what they write and how they write it. A gushing review of a place that's not good will show them up as corrupt in moments. Readers will complain. Their reputation will be tarnished.
      It's just not as black and white as people from outside the travel writing sector always think it is.
      Thanks for your comment
      Jeremy

      • lara dunston 12. Dec, 2011 at 10:13 am #

        I'm sorry but it's going to take a hell of a lot more than a $250 hotel room or a free flight or even a free holiday to corrupt me. If writers are corrupted by any of those things, then they obviously have questionable ethics and they're probably going to be corrupted by anything, no matter what they do for a living. And if someone thinks it's so easy to be corrupted by such trifles, then I think that says more about them and their own sense of ethics than anything else.

        I recently did a 6-day trip with my writer-photographer husband, hosted by a private train company, that cost $13,500. We were flat out working every day we were on it, taking photos, taking notes, interviewing people etc. It was a wonderful journey in many ways and it has the potential to be a truly great journey, but it also has some faults. I've written detailed feedback for the PR on what the problems were and how we think they can change them to improve the trip enormously. But we'll also be writing about the problems in the stories we publish. If they don't invite us on another train trip, then c'est la vie. I'm not going to lie about the experience. Why would I? To do the trip again?

        There was another travel writing couple on board also - they read books and took naps the whole time and I never saw them take a single note or photograph. I thought they were on holidays. I can't wait to see their story. Maybe they're the kinds of writers Jan is talking about, who knows.

        • Chanize 12. Dec, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

          Exactly, Lara.
          I am on trips and I find myself rip running taking notes, etc., while other writers are just lazing about. I wonder, what exactly are they doing there? Are they taking it all in by osmosis? Or maybe it's just that my brain is old and I need these notes? I dunno. But I write down the things that I see are not up to snuff and I mention them. But I've actually had editors cut those things out!! What exactly, am I, as a writer, supposed to do about that? I figure the editor is cutting it out because they want advertising from that destination in the future. My hands are tied with that. I would love, love, for editors to really talk about that in depth.

          • Caitlin 13. Dec, 2011 at 3:44 am #

            Well, are they writing narrative or service pieces? Service stories take a lot of research and note taking to do well. Narrative is more about absorbing the experience and processing it later. I don't really want to read narrative about someone lying by the pool but there's nothing wrong on principle with separating experience and writing.

      • stuart 12. Dec, 2011 at 10:15 am #

        At risk of throwing another chesnut in, I got the impression Keith Jenkin's project isn't targetted at "seasoned pro writers". As others have mentioned, the posts from the previous Jordan thingy are a pretty fair barometer of where this could head.

  9. Adam @ SitDownDisco 12. Dec, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    If you work for the government, free stuff is a no-no. Why? Because it encourages corrupt behaviour. Sure, most people won't act corruptly of a potential supplier gives a free holiday, but the supplier is doing it to gain favour and it's exactly the same for bloggers. The Visit Jordan campaign was run with the expectation that bloggers would write glowing reviews. Of course the bloggers duly delivered because they don't want to be blacklisted. It's a rort, pure and simple. Of course, the bloggers are only responsible to themselves and if readers continue to visit the site even after the junkets, the bloggers have done a good job of retaining readers in the face of unethical behaviour.

    • Jan 12. Dec, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

      Not just government organizations. Many companies have those internal regulations, specially in purchasing departments. We feel obligated to return favors, this is nothing new, it's been know for a long time. This is how we are hardwired in the brain as social beings. Everyone would say that it takes more than xxx to become corrupt, but actually it doesn't. You might not be aware but thats how we work.

  10. Paul Smith 12. Dec, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    I was one of four writers/bloggers to participate in easyJet's 15 Hour Challenge last year. I was sent to Malta, where I tweeted to 12,000 followers for suggestions of places to visit, and recorded a video for the promotion.

    After the promotion ended, I posted a brief summary of my trip on my previous website, which was in no way critical of easyJet (they're my favourite budget airline anyway, but I had no issue with the service either) but I was critical of the destination:

    http://twitchhiker.com/2010/10/31/the-easyjet-15-hour-blogger-challenge-in-malta/

    Around the same time, easyJet was courting bloggers with regards to their holiday website. I was one of them, up until the point that post was published. I know at least two of the others 15 Hour Challenge bloggers have been on further trips with easyJet since. I didn't hear anything else.

    I've turned down several blogging press trips since; at least two stated as part of their terms that I must tweet and write a minimum number of posts, and that I couldn't post anything critical of the trip or destination. If other bloggers are agreeing to those sort of restrictions to secure a freebie or ensure more of them, then their writing is pretty much worthless to the reader.

  11. Jason 12. Dec, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Thanks for moving this off Twitter. There were so many @handles that we only had 12 characters to argue with.

    Those of us who aren't hiding anything would agree that there needs to be more transparency in travel blogging: Who's paying for what, why someone's traveling to a certain destination, has coverage been promised in return for the trip, what's been comped, etc.

    And there are also some regional differences we all have to live with. The UK travel press has very different relationships with PRs than the travel press in the US. UK writers and PRs work together on itineraries and stories to a much greater extent than you'll see in most US media -- with bloggers being the exception.

    US media organizations tend to be much more strict on how writers and providers interact. This insistence on transparency is largely a good thing, but often it leads to hilarious ethics statements (I read this whenever I need a laugh http://www.vacationcruisesinfo.com/ethics.htm), and editorial coverage that's very favorable to high-end advertisers (there's a reason you see more luxury goods advertised in Travel + Leisure than Budget Travel).

    But let's be honest about why PRs and travel providers are throwing so many freebies at bloggers these days. We know it's not because of their traffic or influence. It's because the PRs/providers have more control over the message and they can run back to their bosses with clips and URLs and Klout scores that show how well they executed their goals for that quarter. Some travel bloggers are able to use this to their advantage, but the real winner in this relationship is the account or marketing manager.

    There's lots of work that needs to be done, but perhaps we star with disclosures and, of course, good writing and see where that leads us?

    • Jeremy Head 12. Dec, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

      Hi Jason
      Thanks for your comments. Interesting to hear that stuff about the difference between PR agency approaches in the UK and US.

      BUT I've just thought that there's an interesting other angle to this debate - the iambassador idea also makes using a 3rd party PR agency redundant.
      Wonder how PR agencies will feel if they see that bloggers are working together to broker blog trips direct with DMOs/Tour operators without the need for the PR agency to act as middleman?

      Jeremy

      • Jason 12. Dec, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

        Once you start doing things like http://velvetescape.com/iambassador/, you're no longer a travel writer. You're a marketer. There's nothing wrong with being a marketer or being in PR, but you can't work both sides of the fence and be legitimate. Pick a team and play ball.

        The ridiculous thing about iambassador and using bloggers to publicize your destination and product is how very tiny their reach is. You can count on 3 or 4 fingers the travel bloggers that have a reach that merits a blip on analytic tools. And once you cut out fellow travel bloggers from the audience the numbers are embarrassing for the majority of bloggers. A smart client would reach more people by hiring a sky plane to buzz a mid-sized U.S. city than get a dozen bloggers to write about their trip to Alberta.

        I'd love to see a product that harnesses the wisdom of travel bloggers who are are smart about the industry and genuinely help their readers (like Karen, below) and broadcast what they do to a larger audience. And I'm just as eager to hear less from those who claim to be able to sway social media by enlisting some weak-willed bloggers to say shiny happy things on their blogs.

        • Nikki Bayley 12. Dec, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

          Not to get in the way of yet another super-fun blogger/writer/press trip endless, pointless circular argument, but have you *seen* Keith's blog? It's pretty good. He's on-target with his readers * consistent with that.
          I'd be surprised if he's going to set up anything as ill-thought-through as what many of you are suggesting.... But hey, why let reason or facts get in the way of a smackdown, I mean - it hasn't launched yet but meh... Carry on...

          • Jason 12. Dec, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

            Most of us are basing our opinion of the iambassador program on his very detailed description. It's not a smackdown to say "Hey, this is marketing and not travel writing" when the website copy describes it as "an innovative marketing model." I don't think a good marketer should feel shame about being a good marketer. I'm pretty sure marketers are happier people than journalists.

            And none of use are suggesting the idea is "ill-thought-through" either. It seems like a very smart way to disrupt the current relationships between PRs, DMOs, travel providers and the bloggers who want to cover them. I'm sure there are plenty of people who wish they were as smart as Keith about this.

            But it's not travel writing and it's not even service journalism. It's marketing that takes advantage of the current lack of agreed-upon ethics and proper behavior in the travel blogging/writing field.

  12. Karen Bryan 12. Dec, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    Paul - I wouldn't go on a press trip where it was stated that I couldn't write anything critical about the trip or destination.

    I do see an awful lot of fluffy reviews and reports from press trips, it's as though the writers don't want to jepoardise the next trip by any negativity.

    For me, it's not really about ethics as such, it's back to your readers. Will they really place any faith in what you write if everything is always wonderful and awesome?

    When I read about Keith's iambassador I wondered how that would deal with anything negative about trips?

  13. DonaldS 12. Dec, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    Nice post... and on an issue that I don't think is going away anytime soon!

    I hesitate to spam your comments... but my response got a little long, so it's here:

    https://plus.google.com/109852013615103151846/posts/MsBYd2bdqzH

  14. Michael Hodson 13. Dec, 2011 at 2:14 am #

    I've taken a few press trips and gotten some freebies. Will likely to some more in the future. Not an integral part of my travel, but nice enough when you can land it. And I write about, disclose it, and my readers like it. Never have gotten a complaint from any reader about me taking a press trip. Readership is going up every month. People vote with their feet and I like how they are voting.

  15. Alastair McKenzie 13. Dec, 2011 at 8:06 am #

    Yawn. That was a long sleep. What time is it somebody? 1988? (when I became a travel journo) Must be. They're still having the same 'ethics of freebies' argument.

    I hesitate to raise the more recent endless topic, 'the difference between traditional journalists and bloggers', because, as many point out, it's sterile. There are no real differences - save one.

    Bloggers are writers AND publishers. Think 'Bob Woodward & Rupert Murdoch' rolled into one.

    Ok, maybe on a smaller scale.

    In traditional media the two roles are separate jobs done by separate people, often at odds with each other but mutually dependent. For bloggers, that clash is internalised.

    So, why have a hissy fit when Keith is wearing his publisher head and talking to clients?

    As Nikki points out, and those of us who know him might, Keith the writer has an honest & open relationship with his audience, which is a good job because if he didn't, Keith the publisher wouldn't have a blog to run.

    Keith the writer is lucky he has a talented and innovative publisher to keep him in work. Many others don't and probably won't be in work much longer unless they find one.

    • Dave 13. Dec, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      I should really have unsubscribed to this post. But, so be it.

      Alastair, are you not involved with Travelllll? The same website that threatened to call out travel bloggers who sold SEO text links. And, then changed the content of the the original article as the comments came in?

      Possibly not the best people to be talking about "Ethics" then, and not just in regard to journalism. No doubt you'll be writing about this article too.

      I'm guessing this is the 2011 way of doing things then. I liked 1988. Journalism was still held in high regard back then, at least for the most part.

    • Jeremy Head 13. Dec, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

      Hi Alastair
      The other way of seeing this difference is that bloggers have no editorial supervision. I think that's an important distinction. Often a second set of eyes on a piece of copy is hugely valuable in terms of quality control.
      Dare I say it - the quality of some content written on some travel blogs is pretty poor. (And the need to please the press trips organiser could contribute to this?)
      But that's of course my personal judgement - it might be spot on for the readers of the blog.
      Rupert Murdoch... perhaps an unfortunate choice for your example? Not the most ethical of publishers!
      Cheers
      Jeremy

      • Abi 13. Dec, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

        Hmmmmm...Editors can be great. They can also introduce errors and delete negative comments!

        • Jeremy Head 13. Dec, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

          Hi Abi
          I wouldn't for a moment suggest an editor should moderate comments. That would have to be the author of the post. Something I always find remarkable about mainstream news organisation's websites where comments are enabled. The writer is almost always totally absent from the ongoing discussions there. Crazy.
          Cheers
          Jeremy

    • Michael Hodson 14. Dec, 2011 at 8:31 am #

      Alastar, so correct. For those that don't understand that travel blogging means a combination of writing AND publishing (and the needs of each), they are missing the boat. The model of "writing and someone else paying you to publish it" is quickly dying out. Folks will either learn this and deal with it... or just keep bitching about it as their income dries up.

  16. Jack 13. Dec, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    'Corruption' – what a ridiculous word for someone to bandy about when talking about someone who is simply trying to make a living (legally) out of writing.

    Has any other emerging occupation been put under the microscope and dissected by the world, his dog and the dog's fleas to such an extent?
    I can't quite get my head around why the ethics of travel bloggers are being constantly questioned (sometimes by bloggers themselves). Is there an assumption that because someone is a travel blogger they're less able to make sound ethical choices than writers in other mediums? Ridiculous notion - the sequel.

    I'm uneasy when marketing and sales-speak takes pride of place above quality and usefulness of content in the pro-travel blogging world. That's because I don't want my travel writer to sound as though they're Don Draper; I want them to sound as though they're William Dalrymple.

    It may not always be my idea of what travel writing should be about, but it's not a crime.

    • Jan 14. Dec, 2011 at 8:13 am #

      It is corruption by any definition. Deal with it.

  17. Alastair McKenzie 13. Dec, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Yes, Dave. Pleased and proud to work for Travelllll.com. :)

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