Friday, July 7, 2006

Leif Pettersen on Free Crap for Travel Writers

World Map

I wasn't going to post this link, but just let you folks follow the link provided by Gadling, but it's such a great piece of work that I just had to pass it along. In fact, do take the time to explore the entire blog of Leif Pettersen, who's an enormously talented travel writer with plenty of useful messages and advice for prospective travel guidebook writers. I don't necessarily agree with his opinions about accepting free crap while researching guidebooks, but it's still an hilarious piece of writing.

The delicate art of asking for free crap

You may be surprised to hear that travel writing has a seedy underside. Quite often, almost routinely in fact (when you’re not working for Lonely Planet), travel writers are given a free room, meal or service, with an accompanying wink, on the condition that they compose glowing praise for whatever the free thing was, no matter how much ass it sucked.

The nadir of this ritual is called a ‘press trip’. This is where some tourism bureau organizes an all-expenses paid trip for a pack of travel writers (with assignment letters in hand, obviously, we gotta keep out the riffraff), arranging for flights, hotel rooms, meals and tours, hands held for every waking second, and then the travel writer is sent home to write an article, or more preferably articles, about how great the destination was, even if it was Miami.

Mostly this is just underhanded advertising under the guise of what lay-people assume is an objective travel article. However, tourism bureaus aren’t completely to blame for the popularity of this tactic. In the defense of what may seem like greed on the part of the travel writers, the reality is that newspapers can’t find it in their hearts to pay more than $100-200 per article. So, if a professional travel writer were to pay their own way on a one week trip, even to some relatively cheap destination like Duluth, then came back and spent two days diligently writing the article for an average newspaper fee, the travel writer’s net earnings for that assignment (nine days of time, plus expenses) would be about -$500. Over the course of a calendar year, that travel writer would net between -$25,000 and -$50,000, depending on trips and expenses. The upshot is all these negative earnings would be tax free. In your face IRS!!!

Clearly, this isn’t a feasible arrangement. Tourism bureaus saw a slick, promotional opportunity that helped both them and the travel writers and press trips were born.

As if to cement their positions as blood-sucking wankers, now many newspapers won’t accept articles that were written on the strength of a press trip, meaning unless their field of hopeful travel writers is independently wealthy, none of them can afford to take a newspaper assignment that ranges further than local zoo. Since no one is beating down their doors to work for negative money, the newspapers usually end up printing some soulless shite they bought off a syndicate that was probably written by someone who themselves wrote the piece off a press trip, or worse, wrote the piece from Internet research and thinly veiled plagiarizing off other travel articles. While the newspapers fancy this approach as being honorable and legit, in actuality everyone loses, particularly the readers.

Leif Pettersen Killing Batteries Link

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