Gridskipper is a daily blog that covers the urban world of trendy restaurants, flashy hotels, hot nightclubs, and plenty of underground happenings with a snarky appeal. It's a fun site and worth putting in your RSS Reader.
Today, Gridskipper approaches investigative journalism with a story about some 20 bloggers who have been invited on a press trip to Amsterdam, with the only requirement that each blogger place a pair of advertisements on their blog. Tit-for-tat sort of thing.
I don't find this sort of arrangement particularly odious, and god knows I've had plenty of freebies during my many years as a freelance travel writer, though Gridskipper makes some compelling arguments against the travel writer/blogger-freebie situation.
Leaving off that many of the anti-junket bloggers simply object in principle to advertising on blogs, and/or that they equate blogs and citizen journalism as the second coming of Christ, their collective naivete about travel journalism is laughable. The process by which old-media journalists visit destinations and "report" on them for travel editorial is almost without exception supported -- in whole or in part -- by the destinations visited or the vendors described.
Economically it would never work any other way. Newspapers cannot spend thousands of dollars to send reporters and photographers to one city for one story, or even a series of stories, without getting price breaks or comps. Magazines usually have a little more leeway financially, but that's only because they bring in more dollars per story for the ads they already sold around that upcoming story. (Newspapers use the same methodology by selling ads around themed special travel sections.)
Even with the intermediary of the publishing company taking money from a vendor and passing it on to the journalist for expenses, the ad money is what makes the travel possible. Some media outlets insert notices identifying such practicies in the story, but it's all the same game whether they admit it or not.
Of course, there are plenty of freelancers who pay their own way and sell their stories on a mercenary basis, but they are both exceptional and typically doing so for personal reasons besides a pathological fear of compromise. The key is whether you trust the author and/or media outlet to give you an honest opinion. And frankly, it's usually painfully obvious who's been aesthetically bought and who has not.
If anything, the Amsterdam blogger project is going overboard with the transparency thing. Given that the bloggers aren't asked to actually blog about Amsterdam as part of the deal, what the Dutch are doing is trading the trip for publicity, i.e. the adspace. If some of the bloggers have a good time and blog about it, that's great too of course, and who really believes that at least one blogger won't report on a positive experience? And who really believes that at least one blogger won't report a negative experience? Publicity is publicity, and if the Dutch chose bloggers they thought were most likely to say complimentary and relevant things, well duh.
Of course, none of this will convince anyone who is constitutionally allergic to blog advertising in the first place, nor will it allay the suspicions of anyone who views every financial transaction as a political act tainted with potential (or inevitable) corruption. To them, I can only say: You should already be taking travel journalism you read anywhere -- including here -- with anything from a grain to a truckload of salt. And if the citzen journalists of the blogosphere can't collectively tell shit from shinola by now, they aren't much use regardless.