At the risk of going over familiar ground, I want to put down a few thoughts prompted – yet again! – by a post on Jeremy Head’s excellent Travelblather blog, discussing ‘the skillset of the online travel writer‘.
In the comments, Debbie Ferm of Traveldither.com wrote, “Like all web copy, travel writing will need to be more scannable… almost like copywriting.” What a pity if she’s right!
What interests me are people and places. I’m a writer. I care about the travel industry only to the extent of how it impacts on the stories I want to tell. The stuff I’m proud to write – which, not coincidentally, matches the stuff I like to read – is not round-ups or hotel reviews or sponsored puffs. That’s for paying the bills. When I’m a doddery old grandpa, few people may care about my stories of travel, but absolutely nobody will give a monkeys about my opinion of the travel industry in the long-forgotten 2010s.
Newspapers have painted themselves into a corner. By abandoning the journalistic model of paying skilled writers to report on people and places, they turned themselves into mouthpieces for the travel industry, which has funded the creation of travel ‘content’ for years now.
That model is now breaking down, as the travel industry withdraws its funding and cuts back on print advertising. This has left traditional media high and dry: by their parsimony and, some might say, corruption in years gone by, they’ve killed the goose.
Online travel writing is in a different place. Divisions and micro-definitions get boring, but perhaps one is justified here: travel journalism, i.e. round-ups, site reports, reviews, listings, investigations, industry analysis, is different from travel writing, i.e. stories of people and places, features, profiles, cultural insight, long-form creativity.
Both are valid. Thanks to the old media models, the former dominates. It shouldn’t.
And, online, it needn’t. Long-form feature writing about travel matters. It can do things that no other kind of writing can do, and can make connections that might otherwise never be made. Old media nonetheless sold it down the river.
If we accept Debbie’s notion of online travel writing as glorified holiday-brochure copywriting, SEO’d to within an inch of its life, the same thing will happen again.