Why a rough guide is better than none

First, the campaigning political journalist Nick Cohen decided to lay into Lonely Planet for their supposedly expedient politics.

So I wrote this response, explaining why Cohen is wrong.

Next stop: Michael C. Moynihan for this desperately muddled libertarian froth. Jason Clampet already had a go.

Wish me luck. Better still, anyone else like to step in?

UPDATES (24/08/2012):

UPDATE 1: My response to Nick Cohen was up less than 48 hours before he came back with this even more specious piece, attacking me for a lack of principle – prompting a sharp put-down from a uniquely well-informed observer here.

UPDATE 2: As for Michael Moynihan, he seems to have been making things up. Lonely Planet responded to him directly here, prompting the editors who originally published his piece to issue an end-note correction here. But, like a libertarian dog with an ideological bone, Moynihan then launched into a lengthy, and eye-stretchingly tedious, attempt at a rebuttal here. Enjoy it.


  1. Richard Trillo (@RichardTrillo)

    I’ve just been reading the Moynihan piece properly – bit late to all this with Rough Guide deadlines on my back…

    Is it just me, or is it surprising that someone of Moynihan’s analytical abilities should devote so much space to rubbishing travel publishers by stringing together out-of-context and out-of-date extracts to make his points about Cuba, Iran, Libya and North Korea? But then it is late summer and perhaps he has nothing better to do.

    There is a place for political commentary in good travel guides. Moynihan has made a judgement about the tone of the Lonely Planets and Rough Guides and Bradt Guides to countries he mistrusts and then he’s poked around (if not in the books themselves then in something else the authors have written) to find some phrases that seem to support his views. Easy to do, but cheap and lame. And misguided: why should a guidebook author’s political views be to Moynihan’s liking? The kind of writer who is willing to spend six months to a year travelling and writing about a country like Cuba or Iran, for around $5000–$20,000 depending on publisher, is not likely to be a person who would confine their views on it to neo-conservative ones that they picked up by unthinkingly reading FP magazine. He or she is going to be an enthusiast. If the guide is going to be good, that writer is going to love the place, or at least be fascinated by it and see it in terms much bigger than its current government’s relations with the US.

    It’s not about making excuses for dictators. It’s about finding a tone of voice that works for your readers, rather than ramming a US-centric view of the world down their throats. And for a start that means not alienating them, or at least alienating as few of them as possible – something that Moynihan has demonstrated he doesn’t get.

    Maybe there’s a queue of eager young Moynihan acolytes lining up behind him to apply for the next writer’s opening on the Rough Guide to Cuba. But I doubt it. And can you imagine what kind of weird, off-putting, disengaged guide would result if Moynihan were in charge?

    Possibly there’s a clue in the documentary the Vice Guide to Travel http://www.vice.com/the-vice-guide-to-travel (released by Vice Magazine, of which Moynihan is the managing editor). It’s basically a piece about making the entire Non-USA look dangerously unhinged:

    “We went to such far-flung locales as the Pygmy villages of the Congo, the radioactive ruins of Chernobyl, and the bomb-pocked refugee camps of Beirut so that you never, ever have to go for yourself as long as you live.”

    So don’t just throw out the guidebooks, throw out your travel plans: the world’s far too unsafe to leave home.

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