Travel Writer as Curator

Rick Steves: On the state of newspapers and the role of tour guides and guidebook writers

11.03.09 | 9:51 AM ET

I’ve been in San Francisco for a couple of days—giving talks, enjoying a bit of the Bay Area, and meeting with travel publishers and travel editors. Today was filled with philosophy about the role of a travel writer and tour guide. I’m not sure exactly what we were talking about, but it stirred my thoughts nicely.

I spent breakfast talking with Spud Hilton, the travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. One of only about a dozen journalists in the U.S. still earning an income as a full-time travel editor, Spud gave me an update on the state of newspapers in our economy.

As we lamented the cost to society of traditional journalism morphing into blogs and amateur internet postings, Spud compared “citizen journalism” to “citizen dentistry” or getting a “citizen plumber”—do we really want to dispense with the professionals in trying to understand our world through news reporting?

Spud also talked about the challenges of getting good articles for his travel section. He likes a travel story that gives a place a personality profile, written by a writer who shares his experiences there in a way that tells more about the place than the writer.

I lamented how I can do a month of really productive guidebook work and come up with almost nothing of any value for newspaper articles. Then I can go out for two days without my guidebook chores and stir up plenty of great anecdotal material for newspaper and magazine writing.

Spud said one reason he likes to run my articles in the Chronicle is that people in the Bay Area already feel like they know me. This is helpful because he figures they get up and running with me more quickly, and that enables me to establish myself in a place with fewer words. And fewer words is a plus when you have limited newspaper space.

Conventional thinking is that people go to the travel section of a newspaper to learn about good deals. Spud believes you can find countless deals online these days, and for a paper to offer something unique it needs to run finely crafted articles that take you there. We were talking about my new Travel as a Political Act book, and found that we were both dealing with the same notion that there are two fundamentally different ways to travel—the old “tourist versus traveler” thing—and that one is not necessarily right or wrong. My passion has been to inspire people to both have fun and have that broadening experience.

Spud, who landed his position in part because he’s an expert in (and a fan of) the cruise industry, also sees two kinds of travel: what he terms “discovery travel” and “leisure travel.” We agreed that these are not mutually exclusive. You can go to Mazatlán and have the leisure on the beach (with a plastic wristband giving you unlimited margaritas and a stretch of Pacific beach cleared of locals) and then head a couple blocks inland to eat real Mexican food with locals.

Then I had lunch with my publisher, and the fun conversation continued. My publisher is a futurist/visionary/travel publishing wonk—a wonderful man to collaborate with if you want your guidebooks to succeed. In analyzing the ebb and flow of various guidebook series, he was into the notion that some guidebooks are into aggregation while others are into curation (as if designed by a “curator”).

Aggregation publishers build their guidebooks by pooling all the data in a giant content bank, and then ladle out various configurations as if buying modular furniture: Would you like an L-shaped sofa? How about a guidebook to clubs and shopping in capital cities? Other guidebooks are a result of “curation”—designing, organizing, and interpreting information that works together holistically, like a body works together. Knowing what a traveler needs and what they’ve learned or experienced so far, a “curation” guidebook intuits what is helpful as the trip unfolds.

I told my publisher that I experimented this summer with letting my staff dedicate days to hotel updates, freeing up time for me to “live the books” and have the experiences in order to better shape and design this end of the information. I was thinking this might be the most valuable use of my time. He said, “Yes ... curation.” (Perhaps the word is just made up, but I like it much better than aggregation.)

Then, this afternoon, I talked on the phone with my tour operations department and grappled with the challenge of guides who keep their groups very happy by aggregating the travel experiences on a tour, but aren’t curators in bringing everything together to give a big context and maximize meaning and learning by weaving together what the various local guides have shared and taught.

Whether it’s through newspaper articles, guidebooks or tour experiences, we are working to make the travel experience as rich and meaningful as possible.

Rick Steves

Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. He is the author of Travel as a Political Act.

50 Comments for Travel Writer as Curator

Gary Arndt 11.03.09 | 12:03 PM ET

The idea of comparing journalists to dentists is absurd. Journalism, despite its attempts via journalism schools, is not a profession. It is a trade, or perhaps more accurately, it is an art. Anyone who is literate can write, and the more you do it, the better you get. Good writers have practiced their craft, they are not granted special gifts from God.

Journalists have no special powers of observing reality, and anyone who has been interviewed by the media knows how bad they get it wrong on a consistent basis. In the area of travel, it is especially absurd to grant special status to journalists. Anyone who travels can convey their experiences to their friends and family. There is nothing special about a travel writer’s experience. They are human like everyone else. 

I also find it interesting that Spuds brought up citizen plumbing. Since the creation of PVC pipes, citizens can in fact do their own plumbing. It isn’t that hard. Some aspects of dentistry like teeth whitening have in fact come in to the hands of citizens. Likewise, blogging has made it possible for citizens to publish their own thoughts and share them with the world. Traditional media is based upon l monopoly control of information, and that world isn’t coming back.

I find it odd that the only people who lament the demise of traditional journalism are the people who make money at it. Everyone else is adapting and moving on.

Jim Benning 11.03.09 | 12:35 PM ET

You make some good points, Gary.

No, journalism isn’t brain surgery. But society benefits from great reporting from great journalists—whether they’re bloggers or NPR correspondents or whatever. Great reporting takes resources. It’s expensive to do well. And that’s what I lament most about the changes in media these days. We just won’t see as much of it.

On the travel writing front: I love great narrative travel writing, and I just don’t see a lot of it in the travel blogosphere. Do you?

Sure, there’s some good non-narrative travel blogging out there. But it’s a different animal.

Kim@Galavanting 11.03.09 | 12:43 PM ET

I agree with Gary on the bogus comparison. And as it happens, I was on a press trip last year with a writer for a big-name print paper about whom the organizer complained had to be completely hand-held the *entire time*. All the while we (the bloggers) were off gathering our own unique stories, verifying facts, and getting to know the locals. I’m not trying to generalize about all print travel writers of course (as Mr. Steves does about web writers), I’m just saying that whether or not ink is used, some writers suck, and some don’t.

Kim@Galavanting 11.03.09 | 1:08 PM ET

PS: I also agree with your points Jim, just thought the comparison was bogus.

And yes, WorldHum has great travel narratives! :) I hope you guys can help inspire more of it at TBEX ‘10. A few of my favorites that we’ve published over at Galavanting recently are:

The Amazing Pot Woman of Benin:

Finding My Inner-Liesl:

Marcy Gordon 11.03.09 | 1:53 PM ET

Good writers do have special powers of observation.

I think there is a big difference between what I call travel talking and travel writing. I see very few bloggers providing any compelling narrative. Mostly it’s just “What I did and where I did it” without a greater sense of place or perspective.

I do agree writers get better the more they write and work at it. But I don’t have 20 years to wait for you to get better at your craft. That’s why editors like Spud are important, and sites like WorldHum are valuable resources guiding the reader to the best stories available on the topic.

Style counts and good travel writers have a special blend of narrative and voice that make them rise above the rest. I find many travel bloggers are just churning out content without regard to audience. Sure anyone can tell their story to their friends and family, but good writers have a wider audience beyond their inner circle.

(By the way, I use the word ‘you’ here in the collective sense.)

Lauren Quinn 11.03.09 | 2:15 PM ET

I think the world of travel writing, and subsequently the world of traveling, can only get richer by having both voices heard: the seasoned, trained expert, and the novice blogger (though not always a “novice,” it’s certainly true for me!) I think the danger is when one starts replacing the other, which appears to be the worrisome direction of large parts of the industry. Writers are increasingly squeezed harder and compensated less, and this can only be bad, not just for writing and journalism, but for how we perceive and interact with the world.

Don’t know about y’all, but I’m finding plenty of good narrative travel blogs out there. Maybe I’m just looking in the right places (hard to refrain from making a bad pun there)...

Gary Arndt 11.03.09 | 3:53 PM ET

I disagree that you will see less journalism. It will change, but so long as there is demand, there will be a supply to match it. What is changing is the business model. The idea of someone giving you money and paying you to visit exotic locations in exchange for text is going to disappear. The problem is, if you have one of those jobs, it is a great gig and it is easier to try and fight change than it is to try and adapt to the new conditions.

As for narrative writing, it is out there, but I’d concede two points: 1) most of it isn’t very good, and 2) it is very hard to find. Going back to the original point of what Rick was writing about, I do think there will be a great deal of value in curation in the future. There are tens of thousands of travel blogs out there if you include all the travel blog hosting sites like BootsNAll, Travelpod,, Travelerspoint, etc. 

There will be great value in finding and collecting the best content. If I were a newspaper publisher that was looking at having to shut down my paper, I’d remove all my comics and syndicated columnists and replace them with webcomics and political bloggers. They would do it for free just for the publicity. Likewise, the travel and food sections could be populated by bloggers who would love the exposure and link just to build their own personal brands. The problem is, no one is thinking this way because the idea of letting “amateurs” in the club is abhorrent to “professionals”. 

I also don’t know why the personal narrative is something special which needs to be protected. I’m not against it, but it is something which lends itself to the publishing world. There is no feedback or conversation. The future will have the personal narrative, but wont be the only game in town. Video, photos, short upto the second tweets, and discussions are all part of the new world of travel journalism. I have done personal narrative type articles, but it is a small part of what I do. I spend a lot of time on photos, answering questions and talking to people.

Trisha Miller 11.03.09 | 4:05 PM ET

@Gary - Bravo!  I agree with you 100%.  I would only add that I think it’s high time that Mr. Steve’s both comes down from his self-anointed pedestal and pulls his head out from the sand.

@SpudHilton - I’m disappointed in you man.  The Spud I met at the Book Passage conference *seemed* to have a bit more respect for travel bloggers.  I’m hoping that Rick simply misquoted you.

@Marcy - your comments imply that you think only travel narrative essays are “good” writing.  I disagree.

There are many great writers, great journalists, and great bloggers.  And more than plenty of all three that suck as well.  While I agree that WorldHum IS a great resource for good writing, it’s unfair to say that it, or any website “guides the reader to the best stories available on the topic.”

Why?  Because what makes great writing or the “best story” on any given topic is NOT determined by the writer, but by the reader.

Plenty of readers are seeking information that is about the place, NOT about what experience you had there (and I mean the collective ‘you’ as well).  To someone seeking concrete information on a place they want to visit, who is not interested in your latest escapade, might they not think your blog is just “churning out content?” - if it’s not giving them what they seek, the answer is likely yes.  Others may love what you write.

There is definitely a place in the broad (very broad) genre of travel writing for reviews and the type of writing that you seem to be looking down your nose at.  You may not enjoy reading it, but there are people who do.

And that’s what Rick Steves needs to understand.  It’s NOT about the newspaper or magazine, it’s not about the editors or writers.  It’s about the readers.  If they are leaving the print publications in favor of online resources, there’s a reason for it.

Claire Walter 11.03.09 | 4:37 PM ET

I don’t believe that “travel writing” these days is either/or. It’s not either journalism practiced by seasoned travel writers or posts by amateur bloggers. It’s not either a trade or an art or a profession. It’s not either on-line content or traditional print media. It’s not either insightful personal narrative or nuts-and-bolts how-to information. IMHO, it’s all of the above, sometimes practiced by the same individual for different print and online media.

The most successful travel writers have their fingers in many media pies. Rick Steves, whom I admire greatly, is a perfect great example. He writes guidebooks (with the support of a staff, which most of us do not have. He is the host and star of a television series and a radio show. He writes for the traditional print media. He writes on-line content like this piece. He has his own website links to his broadcasts/telecasts and opporunities to book trips and buy all manner of travel-related books, maps and products, including a luggage line with his own name on it. He is a congenial and engaging public speaker. And miraculously, he finds time to engage in social and political activism.

I am a freelance writer. I miss the days when I was assigned 2,500-word features or 1,000-word service pieces at 75 cents to $1 per word. I miss the days when contracts were written to honor a writer’s copyright rather than as a rights grab for the publishers. I miss the days when people bought books and magazines and newspapers so that editors hired writers like me.

Spud Hilton 11.03.09 | 6:46 PM ET

For my part, it’s important to separate the topics of journalism and travel writing. (Sorry, Trisha. Not misquoted, just over-paraphrased.)
My comparison of professional journalists to “citizen journalists” applies to journalism in general. I stick by it, especially after Gary’s comments, because the people who do some of their own plumbing and some of their own dentistry (yikes) are dabbling in the profession, but they are not professionals—similar to 90 percent of “citizen journalists.” But would you want to put something as important as the public’s right to know (the whole public, not just the techno-literate) solely in the hands of dabblers? Should I list the schemes and scandals that would never have come to light if not for well-trained reporters and the resources of a news organization? Anyone heard of Watergate? Barry Bonds? (Again, these comments apply to journalism as a whole, not travel writing.)
In the realm of Travel: I agree with Marcy, there is a difference between travel writing and travel talking. I agree with Lauren, we need both voices. I agree with Kim, some writers (ink or not) suck. I agree with Jim, there isn’t a lot of good narrative travel in the blogosphere. But there’s some great travel talking.
One thing that hasn’t been brought up is that, simply, everyone needs an editor. (Those who don’t think so usually need it the most.) But the blogospere isn’t set up for that—another way that quantity of content will continue to trump quality. Why bother with quality? Trish said it: It’s about the readers. At what point did we decide readers didn’t deserve quality. You get what you pay for.
And for the record, I start blogging next week. I look forward to the freedom everyone else has been enjoying.
Cheers, Spud (singluar)

Marcy Gordon 11.03.09 | 7:26 PM ET

Trish—I think you are inferring more than I am implying.

What is “unfair” about saying travel sites guide the reader in regard to editorial viewpoint? Unfair to who? All published content by sites such as World Hum and others are making editorial choices on behalf of the reader. (And some make choices on behalf of the advertiser.)

When I read the New Yorker or AFAR (since we are talking about travel) or any other print or online publication, I am self selecting that brand and identify in some way with it’s editorial content as something I find value in. I could set up feeds and follow individuals but it’s impossible in terms of time and energy to follow and read everything posted/published on travel.

If you went to Target, or Macy’s or Nordstrom’s to buy a shirt and you walked in the store and found every single shirt produced in the world, that would be a great selection indeed. But it might take years to find what is right for you.

Or you might have a personal shopper edit out the millions of choices for you based on what suits you best. That’s similar to what editors do. If you agree to let a third party choose content based on how well it suits your needs, taste, and style, I consider that as being guided. Who is being treated unfairly in that equation?

Then again you could go the Gary route and make your own shirt. I for one have no desire to do my own PVC plumbing.

You say it’s not about the editors or writers—that it’s about the readers. Since you are in the business of helping Travel Writers—“find their voice in the exciting world of online travel journalism”—what exactly do you recommend they do to make it all about their readers?

Gary Arndt 11.03.09 | 7:35 PM ET

Spud is correct to separate the discussion between journalism and travel writing.

That being said, I don’t think the state of journalism is as great as people think it is. Most mainstream news organizations have been outed by people in the blogosphere again and again for poor or no fact checking. Where was the media during the run up to the Iraq war? The Dan Rather fiasco? The outing of ACORN?  Most news outlets seem to be repeating information than digging up information now. The 24 hour news cycle has created an atmosphere where they need to talk about anything, and it has lowered quality. The story on 60 Minutes Sunday night was basically an infomercial for the MPAA. There was no other side presented and no followup on the claims made in the piece. It was shoddy journalism.

Watergate is often brought up as an example, but that was 40 years ago, and Bob Woodward has been publishing his best investigative stuff since then in the form of books, not newspaper articles. Books, whether in paper or electronic, will still be around. Heck, lots of bloggers today make money from selling ebooks, so there is clearly a market for it and you don’t need publishers to do it (but that is another discussion)

I also agree with Spud that having editors are good. However, I don’t think they are as essential as they once were. I know I have had spelling/grammar and factual errors slip past me in some of my blog posts. My audience usually points out the mistakes I make and I will correct them (leaving the original comments pointing out my error up). This might seem sloppy compared to the workflow process of a major publication, but it is a heck of a lot cheaper and easier. Unlike like paper, I can fix any mistakes I make. You can’t recall a newspaper.

The readers will make up their own minds for what they want. As always, they will vote with their feet (or eyeballs in this case). Quality is in the eyes of the beholder. In the long run, I think quality will rise to the top. Right now we are in a big disruption and there is a lot of confusion in the market, but that wont last forever. That is why it is important for travel writers to establish a presence online and build a name for themselves, even if they are still relying on work from publications.

I also think there is a big problem with advertisers right now, or more specifically ad agencies. While money is leaving print, they don’t know how to deal with blogs. This too will sort itself out as people become more comfortable advertising online and learn what to do.

Marcy Gordon 11.03.09 | 7:44 PM ET

By the way I think Rick Steves got where he is today not by appointing or anointing himself as a leader in the travel category, he got there by—dare I say it—-his readers!

Boomergirl 11.03.09 | 7:58 PM ET

Spud Hilton nails it- good editing. That’s what’s missing. I’ll never forget hanging out with an ed friend of mine from Cleveland. We were up at my family cottage eating cereal. She was reading the back of the cereal box and sure enough, she found a typo. Once an ed, always an ed. Not enough of these folks in among “citizen journalists”. Pity!

Mike Barish 11.03.09 | 8:51 PM ET

Unfortunately, too many of the new media travel writers have a voice than is more narcissistic than informative. Rick’s statement that Spud “likes a travel story that gives a place a personality profile, written by a writer who shares his experiences there in a way that tells more about the place than the writer” speaks to the heart of my point.

Many bloggers write as if readers will automatically be interested in who they are. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t self-absorbed writers in the land of MSM, but, in theory, they have editors who return their work with notes.

I am a firm believer in the importance and potential of new media. But it’s up to each individual writer, whether in a blog or when submitting to Spud’s section at the San Francisco Chronicle, to generate thoughtful work in a voice that is accessible and interesting to a broad audience.

Dave 11.03.09 | 9:03 PM ET

I feel like I’m late to the parade here! 

@Gary - yep, I agree with most of what you said (again)

@Marcy -
“I find many travel bloggers are just churning out content without regard to audience. Sure anyone can tell their story to their friends and family, but good writers have a wider audience beyond their inner circle.” 

As a guy who churned out content almost daily for 15 months while traveling around the world, you’re right, I wasn’t aiming it at anyone in particular, BUT each post and my blog was optimized for search engines so the people doing related keyword searches would find relevant content.  Makes sense, right?

@Lauren - “Don’t know about y’all, but I’m finding plenty of good narrative travel blogs out there. “

Me too!  So much so that I simply can’t keep up with it all which sucks.

@Trisha - “It’s NOT about the newspaper or magazine, it’s not about the editors or writers.  It’s about the readers.” 

So true, which is why I’m trying to gear my contributor-content on GoBackpacking toward topics barely covered in traditional media like Couchsurfing. 

@Spud - “But the blogospere isn’t set up for that—another way that quantity of content will continue to trump quality. Why bother with quality?”

I care about quality.  After 3 years creating a travel blog, I opened it to contributors and you bet I’m going to spend time making sure the quality (at least in terms of spelling/punctuation/grammar/layout/topics) is up to par with expectations for myself. 

WordPress is certainly flexible enough to make the whole submission process easy and there are tons of multi-author blogs that run off of it.  Just look at the whole Matador Travel Network as an example.  Yes, many bloggers starting out might not know what they’re doing (I certainly didn’t), but many who stick with it will find themselves learning month to month and year to year, and not just about writing but editing, web design and internet marketing.

Bob Berwyn 11.03.09 | 9:55 PM ET

Great thread, nice to NOT see a flame war. In response to one of Gary’s comments, some of that reverse publishing is already happening.

I edit the travel page of a small daily in Colorado (see it online at and I recruited several travel bloggers during the past six months. Every now and then, I’ll compile some of their posts, edit them properly and publish them in the print edition of the paper.

Along those same lines, I’m using blogs that I wrote during an October trip as the backbone for a series of print stories for the Summit Daily and to pitch to mags and newspapers (any editors out there interested?)

There are some kernels of good ideas in those blogs that I think will work well in a more refined story, with more context, narrative and flow.

But there was also something viscerally satisfying and immediate about writing short posts on a Blackberry bouncing along in the back of an Albanian bus, or while watching contestants in the Miss Greece contest wrestle with squids while riding the ferry to Corfu.

In one case, I wrote a post at 2 AM squeezed in the bottom berth of a crowded six-person couchette on a train from Brindisi to Naples ( This was after sampling several cups a brand-new Italian wine from a family vineyard and helping my girlfriend put on the Navy uniform of one of the guys in the sandwich shop for an impromptu photo shoot. Shortly before boarding the train, my 11-year-old son called me, on his way home from school: “Daaad, I need a new iPod. Mine broke.” My mind was whirling, so excuse the typos.

It was the first time that I’ve posted regular blogs during a trip (I still used a notebook and pen extensively) and I’m starting to think of the blogs as online notes that complement the notebook.

One thought comes to mind with regard to the original post and the citizen journalist comments. Maybe if there were more paying gigs for travel writers, there would be less citizen travel writing. I have mixed feelings about this. I’m an environmental and government reporter, and I cringe when I see some of the blog content on some of the topics I cover, wondering how they can get it so wrong.

On the other hand, I’ve seen print newspapers make the same mistakes, and the same goes for the travel writing genre. I’ve seen some egregious errors in printed newspaper stories, and in travel blogs, so I don’t think it’s the medium. In this case, as Spud says, it’s the editing that’s key.

So those are my comments as a writer and editor. As an avid reader of travel content,  I say let the best stories rule, wherever they are.

Spud Hilton 11.04.09 | 2:55 AM ET

Small point of clarification, since I’ve been quoted on it several times now: When I talk about “everyone needs an editor,” I’m not really talking about spell-grammar-etc. so much as content. Everyone needs someone else to provide a “reality check,” to say: “I don’t follow your logic” or “You could say the same thing in 10 words that you just said in 30” or “Dude, you’re being a narcissistic twit. Write more about the place than about yourself.”
Yeah, spelling-grammar-etc. are important (and being ignored at an alarming rate), but the reality check is more so. (I’ve had to beg the reporter working for me to not sugar-coat her feedback. If it sucks, I want to know it.)

Spud Hilton 11.04.09 | 3:13 AM ET

On a separate note: While I have not found a lot of quality narrative travel storytelling in the blogosphere, I would love for someone to prove me wrong. I want to run great travel stories in the paper (and online) and I don’t care if they originated at a blog. Feel free to send URLs of stories that meet the standard (more about the place than about the person) via DM to @SpudHilton. Quality storytelling transcends media format.

Keith 11.04.09 | 9:56 AM ET

I find the discussion in the comments section fascinating. I get the feeling from the article and comments that there’s quite a bit of snobbery and attempts to differentiate the ‘professionals’ (journalists) from the ‘wannabes’ (bloggers) involved. At the end of the day, I believe it’s the readers who decide what they like and don’t like to read. Some may be looking for factual content whilst others may be looking for an experience. The only thing that matters is the opinion of the reader of how the facts are presented or how the story is told. As the types of readers are so diverse, I think there’s room for everyone to do their own thing. The readers decide. In Bob Berwyn’s words (above): “As an avid reader of travel content,  I say let the best stories rule, wherever they are.” Spot on.

Eileen Smith 11.04.09 | 9:56 AM ET

@ almost everyone: YES.

The insistence of “real” journalists (oh, how this dead dog has taken its beating re: blogger vs. writer) that bloggers aren’t, can’t and don’t (inserted lauded exemplification of skill set here) as well as edited journalists continues and will continue until we deconstruct it ourselves. The fact that the lauded skill set is a certain kind of edited, terse writing with often little or no personal connection to the reader necessarily prizes the trained and edited journalist over the blogger. But if we turn the equation around, and prefer people with stories to tell and the kind of attention-grabbing personalities that make them “friendworthy,” then the bloggers have it, and the journalists come up wanting.

The whole argument reminds me of when, as a first-year law student I puzzled over the arcane and laborious “case method” in which students read 60 pages of facts and opinions to come to the conclusion: the law says you may not use killing force to defend an uninhabited dwelling (for example). It seemed a much simpler proposition to read the moral of the story first, and then wade through the morass. But no. In the American legal educational system, this is the way legal knowlege has been handed down. And I wondered why. And then it struck me: My professors had suffered through this same Socratic method, top-down, tome-upon-tome torturous learning experience. And so they passed their legacy down to us. 

The connection is that journalists, I suppose (perhaps like law professors) feel that they have suffered for their craft. They have studied long hours and trudged 20 miles through the snow uphill both ways to get their stories. How can a bunch of ageless, faceless, non J-school-educated bloggers (insert disdain) crop up out of nowhere and dare to diffuse information freely and on with their own point of view?  They might ask, “How dare we exercise poetic license if we haven’t earned it?”

To quote Fatboy Slim, “because we can.” Nothing is obligating me to zip to your online story (I’m an expat and cannot get print sources easily, otherwise I would, because I believe in supporting publications) and check out your latest trip to the Maldives, and you are likewise not obligated to read bloggers’ alleged navel-gazing. In the offing, you’ll miss discussions and practical tidbits, philosophical wanderings and information and the occasional smashing photo. Quality will vary. But the quality of printed stories varies as well. And what speaks to you may not speak to me, as Trisha states, great writing is determined by the reader.

And in the interest of full disclosure, a week before graduating from law school I had to perform home orthodontics, pulling a permanent retainer from my mouth with a pair of needle-nosed pliers because it was cutting into my lower lip. So sign me up for citizen-led whatever. You call it folly, I call it ingenuity.

Gary Arndt 11.04.09 | 10:02 AM ET

@Spud With respect to finding good storytelling, I am working on a new site that will do just that. Plow through hundreds of blogs every day to find the best content out there. I hope to launch it on January 1. This is one of the biggest problems online. Sifting through all the stuff to find things which are good.

I agree that most people would be better with an editor, just as they would be better with a tech person, advertising staff, etc. That is a luxury most people can’t afford. None of the posts in this discussion were edited, nor did they really need to be. The crowd can serve as an editor of sorts. It might be as good, but it is in almost all cases good enough. Given the direction the industry is heading, “good enough” seems fine for most people.

Gary Arndt 11.04.09 | 10:06 AM ET

Errr, the above should read “It might NOT be as good..”

I should have had an editor :)

Bob Berwyn 11.04.09 | 12:36 PM ET

@Gary, I’m not so sure about “good enough.” That scares me a bit. I don’t think we should settle for good enough.

You’re right that it’s a luxury for most people to have an editor, and that’s too bad. The energy between a good writer and a good editor can be magic and the dialogue almost always improves the final product. A good editor can pick out the best ideas and say, “Hey, this is good, maybe this should be your lede, and then you can transition into this ... maybe add some service info here, some historical context there, and use this part as a conclusion.”

As an alternative to an editor, bloggers can have a friend or professional colleague read their stuff and give feedback. A second set of eyes never hurts.

@Ellen, I agree, it’s a bit of a dead dog, as there are now many writers that cross genres. Not all “professional journalists: express disdain. And you’re right, the voices are different. I have to make a conscious effort to switch from AP style to a storytelling voice, and I’m not always successful. That said, many of the skills I’ve developed as a reporter make me a better travel writer. There are some things about mechanics and story structure that just make a better story, whether you’re a blogger or a reporter.

It could be fun to put some blogs and some “traditional” (for lack of a better word) stories side by side on a web site and let readers comment. In some cases the line can be very blurred and I wonder how many readers would be able to tell the difference.

@Spud, thanks for the invite to send links to blogs. For some reason, Twitter won’t allow me to DM you, but I sent a couple of links to your sfgate email.

Trisha Miller 11.04.09 | 12:48 PM ET

@Marcy - I think you missed my point, which was that what one person thinks is the “best story on a topic” is not necessarily what any given reader thinks is best, or what they were seeking.  It’s someone’s (editor’s) subjective opinion and what they CHOSE to publish.

It goes hand in hand with my second point, that travel narrative is not the end-all, be-all of travel writing.  While I enjoy being entertained by good travel narrative, to conclude that it’s the “best” type of travel writing is to ignore what a significant percentage of travelers/readers WANT.

What is unfair is to attempt to redefine travel writing (and there seems to be a movement afoot, primarily made up of new travel writers, to do just that) as only consisting of travel narrative, and toss everything else into the category of “travel talking”.

When you do that, you do a great disservice and disrespect to MANY long-time traditional travel writers who DO give their readers what they want.  You’re forgetting that many travelers want INFORMATION, not entertainment.  They want GUIDES.  They want REVIEWS.  They want OPINIONS.  They want to find DEALS.

My site encourages writers to give readers what they want.  I don’t advocate any particular style of writing, because every writer has to do that for themselves.  Some will become essayists, and that’s great.  Some will become journalists, and that’s great too.  But it’s ALL travel writing.

@Spud - thanks for clarifying your position.  I am much relieved. You are redeemed in my eyes and once again a pretty cool dude, for an Editor. :)

Michael Yessis 11.04.09 | 12:58 PM ET

Great conversation here, everyone. Sane, meaty, interesting. Thanks.

@Lauren, @Dave, @Bob: Please feel free to pass along some links to those good narrative travel blogs you’ve been seeing. Part of our goal at World Hum for the last eight years has been to find those can’t miss travel stories and share them here, and we plan to do a lot more of that. And, on a selfish note, I just love to read great narratives.

Narratives are, as Joel Achenbach called them in a Washington Post story last week, “the original killer app.” It’s a terrific piece, and relevant to this conversation. Check it out:

Marcy Gordon 11.04.09 | 1:11 PM ET

@ Gary I look forward to the launch of your new site guiding readers to the best travel storytelling content out there.

@Trish- Sorry you misunderstood my comment on narrative to be a dismissal of all other types of travel writing. I was merely lamenting the lack of narrative available online, not it’s superiority to other forms.

With the launch of Gary’s new content site and your encouragement of travel writers out there it looks like all of us readers will be in for a real treat.

Marcy Gordon 11.04.09 | 1:38 PM ET

Oh but wait. I fawned too soon. How will @Gary’s editorial selections jive with @Trish’s view that it’s the readers who decide what’s good, not the editors? I can’t wait to see how this all shakes out.

Jim Benning 11.04.09 | 1:38 PM ET

For the record, I’m certainly not trying to define travel narrative as the only kind of travel writing. As a freelance writer, I wrote and sold way more service-oriented travel articles than travel narratives. As coeditor of World Hum, I’m sure I’ve written way more blog posts than essays or service-oriented stories.

As a reader and traveler, I enjoy all kinds of stories and blog posts.

I just see that the blogosphere does some kinds of travel journalism better than others. Nothing wrong with pointing that out, is there?

But this is all evolving fast, and it could all change tomorrow. That’s the beauty of all this—and it’s why I transitioned out of more traditional journalism back in 2001 to launch World Hum.

Oh, and I agree with Gary and Rick that curating will be key in the future. We’re doing more of that than ever at World Hum—in fact, that’s exactly why this column that Rick wrote was published here!

Gary Arndt 11.04.09 | 2:03 PM ET

@marcy There are two different editorial roles you are mixing. Editing an individual article (the strict editing role) and selecting what makes it to print (curation). Not to try and self promote something that doesn’t exist yet, but my new site will be all about the later (curation) and not the former (editing). In the process of coming up with the idea for the site, I explicitly went out of my way to avoid being another mutli-author blog like World Hum or Matador because they do a good job at what they do already. I didn’t see a need for yet another multi-author travel blog.

I approached the problem as an independent travel blogger and asked myself what I’d like to see in a site. The goal will be to promote, provide exposure, and hopefully drive traffic to travel blogs which otherwise might never get on anyone’s radar. The trick is finding and wading through all the content on a daily basis. I am currently following the feeds of 232 travel blogs and I expect that number to probably double by the time the site launches.

Marcy Gordon 11.04.09 | 2:14 PM ET

@Gary- Read back through my posts and you will see that I have been commenting about editorial viewpoint all along which in this instance is curator role, not line editor. I applaud your ambitious project, sounds like my example of trying to find the right shirt.

Jim Benning 11.04.09 | 2:16 PM ET

I agree. I look forward to your site, Gary. Sounds like a welcome addition!

Lauren 11.04.09 | 2:40 PM ET

The immature teen that still lives inside me wants to scream “Anarchy Rules!” in response to this great comment thread.

When I started my website, I refused to call it a blog because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone who had the expectation that I would be “blogging” - which at the time I perceived as putting up posts reporting back on what I did, where I went, and what was ever-so-awesome immediately after I had the experience and with an alarming frequency for someone that writes as slow as a snail. I considered writing an art, and I wanted to use my travel website as a motivation to practice an art I am compelled to do.

How alarming was it for me then when people I don’t know started reading and later, telling me to write more often! Once I went two weeks (which I mostly spent on an island with no wired power that amazingly still had generator-run, slow internet) without a new post and many assumed I would never, ever post again. Boy, were they mad.

I consider art something that takes time - time to practice, time to edit, time to sit on and see if it still is impressive after a good night’s sleep or twelve. For me, writing is an art. Literacy plus practice isn’t enough - there is a gift for writing just as there is a gift for painting. Just because you blog about travel won’t make you Hemingway, or Jeff Greenwald for that matter! That doesn’t mean bloggers can’t be artists. They absolutely can. Starving artist…starving blogger. At the end, we’re all eating the same ramen.

Trisha Miller 11.04.09 | 6:25 PM ET

@Marcy My point is that there is no need for it to “jive” - there is room on the internet for all of it to exist under the umbrella of travel writing. 

@Jim for the record, I didn’t imagine you were trying to redefine travel writing - you’ve built a great site on a particular premise that works well, and I’ve never heard you express anything other than respect for other styles of writing or writers. 

I love Gary’s idea and will look forward to reading whatever he chooses to publish, for the same reason I read WorldHum regularly, because I also like good writing.  His will be yet another stop on my daily jog around the blogosphere.

I simply love the fact that the internet has allowed us the freedom to find whatever we want to read, instead of what someone else decides we can read.  If that’s citizen journalism then I’m all for it.  I’m not opposed to curation, there’s a place for that too.  As long as the flow of writing is not controlled by a select few curators, as the newspaper industry was for so many years.

So yes as writers we can lament the death of a medium from which we earned a living, but we should also be rejoicing a new medium that brings more opportunities.

Gary Arndt 11.04.09 | 6:28 PM ET

I’d like to point one thing out…..

The biggest difference between traditional media and the internet is feedback. We can have a discussion like this on the web, but you can’t have one on a newspaper. A lot of traditional journalists aren’t used to engaging with their readers.

The one person who hasn’t said anything is the author of the original article: Rick Steves. In fact, I’m sure he has no idea that this is discussion is even taking place.

Claire Walter 11.04.09 | 7:42 PM ET

There’s good editing and there’s bad editing. There’s fact checking and there’s fact wrecking. Let me just provide three examples of the latter that have happened to my work for large, well-respected publications.

I once wrote a travel story for a million-plus circulation magazine about Tulsa and Oklahoma City into which a New York editor inserted the sentence, “Both cities enjoy a balmy year-round climate.” S/he must have looked at a map and concluded, “They’re about on the same latitude as L.A. and San Diego. It must be pretty nice there all the time.”

I wrote a piece for a national ski publication after gambling was legalized in three Colorado mountain towns. My lead was, “In 1992, Colorado voters approved limited-stakes gambling in three mountain towns.” There is nothing wrong with that sentence, but a NY editor changed it to, “In 1992, voters in three Colorado mountain towns approved limited-stakes gambling.” Nothing wrong with that sentence either, except that mine was factually correct and the editor’s change made it incorrect. That 1992 vote was a Colorado state consitutional ammendment.

Just a few months ago, in a food story, I wrote about the growing popularity of bison. An imaginative California editor added, “and bear.” Huh!

My byline appeared on all three stories. Editors with whom I’ve worked for a long time know me to be an accurate writer. Some others think they know better and randomly make a correct fact incorrect without bothering to bounce the copy back to ask. Please don’t simply assume that it’s the writer who has messed up.

Claire @

soultravelers3 11.04.09 | 7:51 PM ET

“But would you want to put something as important as the public’s right to know (the whole public, not just the techno-literate) solely in the hands of dabblers?”

Excellent discussion and I love this question, Spud Hilton (wow, what a fabulous name!). I get your points, but must also admit that I no longer always trust traditional, mainstream media in journalism or travel writing. My 82 year old mother is one of the few people I know who reads delivered papers & watches news on TV ( and I’m in my 50’s!).

I don’t want to lose great journalists and what they bring to the table, but I would like to lose much of the constraints of corporate owned, big time media that works against the journalist/ travel writer and the public as well. I think one of the reason big media is in a melt down is because corporate money/special interests has corrupted it and many have lost faith. I think “citizen journalist” is a step to greater freedom, collaboration and connection as well as a breath of fresh air!

Not only did big media miss their duty during the start of the Iraq war, but they have missed it completely in doing their part to expose the corruption between “banksters”/wall street and US Gov’t that created the global financial crisis.Where were these stories when we needed them, long before the crisis? They were mostly online or in non traditional places.

For instance, we sold our dream home in Santa Cruz in 2005 at peak and mostly got out of the dollar, to travel as a family on an open ended world tour,  partly because we were warned (mostly by astute bloggers) about the coming collapse of housing and the dollar. We did much of our research online.

Without meaning to, we became trend setters proving that travel is different today in an age where one can work and school anywhere. 70% of families dream of extended travel & we show them how through words, photos, our youtube videos (over 3 million views!) and social media! Slow travel is much cheaper than most media portrays and we travel the world luxuriously on a tiny budget for much less than we lived at home!

Good thing I didn’t pay attention to big media (very editorially influenced by real estate & mortgage co. advertisers then). Time magazine had a cover story about what a great time it was to buy a home, the week we sold! Sadly, all the people we know that were listening to big media status quo, and bought then, are under water or foreclosed.

I see similar things happening in travel in big media and even very high end blogs. I don’t think it is an accident on how big the wealthy cruise industry etc., has grown in the last 10 years, despite being the least sustainable of all travel. With Buffett and Gates heavily invested in railroads as they prepare for peak oil, one can see the writing on the wall for these humongous floating cities as well as airlines & how travel is destined to keep changing in our challenging times.

I think there is a real need for all kinds of voices and the readers DO vote for what is quality to THEM by where they put their attention. The top blogs in travel are rarely the best written blogs, but they are all meeting the needs of their readers! Just as “Chron”  readers feel they know Rick Steves, my readers feel they know me ( similar to all bloggers as it is about relationship). I think more than anything today, people want a personal connection with someone they trust.

Yes, I could certainly use a editor (ha-even on blog comments!) but I write on the move as we travel the world- mostly overland, with a bouncing kidlet at my side ( & lefty pecking for the next year due to a recent injury). For today’s audience-writing is only ONE of the key ingredients. I know that might be blasphemy for those that hold travel writing as sacred, but it’s the new reality.

Some times you can actually find out what you need,  be touched and thoroughly entertained by a “dabbler”!

Spud Hilton 11.04.09 | 8:08 PM ET

Someone in this discussion said the only people who lament the demise of traditional journalism are the people who make money at it.
My answer is two part: a) It’s just not true, but it makes a convenient, pithy statement; b) because the general public (not just the techno-literate) won’t know what they’re lost until it’s gone.
The good news: It’s not gone, or even close to dead. More than 107 million Americans don’t just read a Sunday newspaper, they PAY for it. So while I only have 1,000 or so Twitter followers, who don’t pay to read my posts, I have a quarter of million (600,000 individuals, based on stats) who do.
Let’s not even get into how many people PAY to read-watch-hear Rick Steves. Which might be why he’s not participating here. He’s too busy talking elsewhere about the rest of the world.
Seems like a good idea.

Gary Arndt 11.04.09 | 8:23 PM ET

As you know, what people pay for a paper isn’t even close to enough to make a paper stay afloat. Most of the money papers traditionally made came from classified ads, and that has been decimated by Craigslist. Likewise, when someone buys an ad in a paper that has a circulation of 600,000, nowhere close to 600,000 people are guaranteed to see the ad, let alone act on it. With ad spending online you know exactly how well it has performed and can only pay for people who act. Newspapers will never be able to do that. I am pretty sure that all 600,000 people who subscribe to a newspaper do not read every page, every day.

This isn’t about stuff being free online or people being willing to pay. You are right, people are willing to pay for content. The problem is that the revenues papers get from subscriptions can’t pay for the same infrastructure that you could afford with classified ad and other ad revenue.

This whole debate is fundamentally an economic one. Talk of editors is great, but if you can’t afford an editor the point is moot. The bigger question is how you get content out the door with a reduced staff and lower costs. Bloggers are working under than environment because they’ve never known an alternative.

...and yes, pretty much all the voices in the public debate on the demise of traditional media who lament it are working in traditional media. It isn’t just a pithy comment.

Bob Berwyn 11.04.09 | 9:22 PM ET

Are there commonly accepted definitions we can use to frame this discussion? Where does a blog end and where does “traditional” travel writing start? I ask because I really do think the lines are blurred. For example, I’ve used past newspaper stories that first appeared in print as content on my blog site. Are they now blog posts, or are they something else? As noted in a previous comment, I’ve also edited blogs to be used in a print newspaper travel section.

This evening, I’m working on a 1,200 word op-ed piece the Denver Post asked me to write about forest health and pine beetles. I’m planning on combining material from reported news stories I’ve written on the topic, combined with material from “pure” blog posts and also from op-eds I wrote on the same subject for my little mountain-town paper here in Frisco.

Are we arguing over a boundary that’s vanishing even as we write these comments? Do we need to maintain a distinct line? If so, why?

I know I’m not alone. I’m pretty sure that Rick Steves also multi-purposes content. I think (and I could be wrong) I’ve seen excerpts from his recent book posted online. Does that make them blogs?

Seems there should be a way to make all this work for us — as travel writers, editors and readers — rather than fighting about who does what better.

I’m not sure exactly what that is for everyone else, but for me it means combing through blog posts from recent trips and trying to shape them into narrative travel stories that tell something about the places I saw and the people I met. I’m happy with the blogs because I enjoyed writing them and I think they gave some real-time context. I’d also like the satisfaction, and the paycheck, that comes with getting a well-crafted narrative published in the written realm.

@soultravelers, I’ve read and enjoyed some of your blogs. Your mistrust is only partly justified. Many news reporters and other journalists at papers large and small work diligently every day to write accurate stories about their beats. Despite your examples, I’d still argue that a good newsroom, with a good editor, gives the reporting credibility. Just think of all the wild exaggerations, inaccuracies and outright lies floating around in the blogosphere—wow! Careful when you tread that ground.

@Gary, just to expand on your points, I’ve traveled to several countries recently that have a vibrant and healthy newspaper culture. In Buenos Aires, for example, the newstands are full of a multitude of papers and magazines. I’ve often wondered why newspaper culture still thrives in some countries, apparently with some economic success. I know it’s most pertinent to those of us living and working in the U.S. but I don’t think we can look in isolation at the state of U.S. newspaper culture alone.

This also goes partly to soultravelers point about corporate homogenization and control. It’s my belief — and I can’t back this up yet — that part of the reason newspapers still thrive in some other countries is because they aren’t all controlled by a few big corporations.

I just started working on a story about this, did some interviews with some journalism profs to get the ball rolling, and am researching contacts in other countries. Any ideas on this topic are welcome, by the way.

Haven’t decided if I’ll post it as a blog or print it in the Summit Daily—probably both:)

And that reminds me, while many larger newspapers are struggling, some of the smaller community papers I’ve written for in Colorado have done OK, even during the recent recession. A friend of mine and former photographer at the Summit Daily recently was hired as the online content guy for the Durango Herald, a small newspaper that is stepping into the digital realm. There are some different models out there that could help shed some light on the newspaper industry malaise and maybe we could even cook up an antidote. As much as I love the blogosphere, it would be a shame if newspapers disappeared. There’s plenty of room out there, lots of potential readers.

Just as you point out that some “traditional” media types are lamenting the decline, I find that it’s the new media types expressing unwarranted (IMO) Schadenfreude at the demise of printed instruments, and that’s equally disturbing to me. I believe in the long run there will be a synthesis. I recently read somewhere (sorry, can’t remember the particulars) that some daily papers will start offering daily online content and a weekly printed product.

I’m hoping for plenty of positive ideas on how to combine the best of both worlds to advance the public interest and uphold the watchdog role of media, and also to the benefit of writers, since that’s how I earn a living. I’d like to respectfully suggest that internal bickering among different media types is counterproductive to those goals.

Carlo Alcos 11.04.09 | 9:49 PM ET

This reminds me a lot when I used to work in a union and we went on strike. The union was fighting for things that were fought and won for decades ago, but refused to understand that the landscape had changed in a major way. These were old school people. It was a huge headache, inconvenienced a lot of people (including me who had to be a part time bell hop to bring in extra cash), and in the end the company won. Why? Not because they had more resources, but because they understood the world today and were progressive.

The bottom line is you can’t tell people what to read or how to read it. If the trend is that readers are moving away from print/professional journalism, well, better get on the bus and figure out how to evolve. It’s a pretty big waste of energy to have discussion after discussion about pro journalists vs. citizen journos between writers and editors, when the readers don’t really care about any of that.

Just find a way to give them what they want and where they want it.

Gary Arndt 11.04.09 | 10:05 PM ET

If there is schadenfreude it is because we are looked down on with statements like the one that started this: comparing citizen journalist with citizen dentists. This wasn’t the first comment like this and it wont be the last I’m sure.

The difference in my mind is a business one. The written word is the written word no matter where it appears. The fact that it is in print or online doesn’t really matter. The big difference is that of the business models. Journalism isn’t dying, the business model behind journalism is dying.  THAT is the crux of the issue. Give me enough money to hire writers and editors and I’ll produce something of similar quality to a newspaper.

Anyone can now publish to the world. Spud spoke of the 600,000 subscribers of the SF Chronicle. I have a friend who does webcomics who has 2,500,000 read his comic every month.  Unlike a newspaper’s numbers, all of those people are in fact reading his site.  I, by my self with no help from anyone else, have an audience about 1/10 the size of the SF Chronicle subscription base, and it is growing every month.  I assure you my costs are no where near 1/10 of theirs and 100% of them are reading about travel.

This is all about economic models changing. Its about money.

At some point in 2010 I’ll be covering my costs and be making as much money from blog as a normal travel writer. I am not alone either. The number of travel bloggers who are making a living, or are close to making a living is growing, and there are many people who are doing it part time. We don’t need a staff to sell ads, expensive printers, offices, support staff, or almost all of the overhead a newspaper needs to run.

If businesses and livelihoods weren’t threatened, this would all be a non-issue.

I’d like to see newspapers (and magazines and TV) to start thinking of how they can work with bloggers, rather than just looking down at them. As Spud noted, newspapers do still in fact exist and I’m sure they will be around, if in print or online, for the rest of my life. Heck, AM radio is still around. 

They should use the new business landscape to their advantage. As I noted above, the incentives of a blogger and a freelance writer who is just looking for a check are totally different. I’m sure the same is true of Rick Steves. I’d bet he doesn’t write columns for the money so much as he does to promote his brand. A blogger would probably take a reduced fee for an article in exchange for a link to their blog. In addition the blogger could probably provide a minor boost in traffic if their readers were pointed to the article.

I’m sure there are a bunch other possibilities. Pete Cashmore of Mashable is now providing content for Perez Hilton has been on several celebrity gossip TV shows.

I hate to use a cliche like “thinking outside of the box” but that really what is required.

Spud Hilton 11.05.09 | 1:07 AM ET

There’s a difference between “all the voices in the public debate” and “the only people who lament.” It’s an important distinction and I’m glad you changed your position, Gary. I think we can agree there are millions of folks who aren’t as thrilled as you seem to be about weakened newspapers who have never taken a check from Hearst or Gannett or NYT.
Thanks for clearing that up.

Spud Hilton 11.05.09 | 1:14 AM ET

And for what it’s worth, the fact that adverts pay the bulk of the bills does nothing to diminish the fact that our print readers are still willing to pay to read our writing.
Now, back to real work.

Marcy Gordon 11.05.09 | 1:19 AM ET

@Gary You have moved on and are ready to be the change in a crumbling print society clinging to the past. But living on the bleeding edge of technology can be deceptive. It feels fast when you are in it. Everyone on this thread is in it. But outside the spaceship things are not moving so swiftly. For now the audience is not that large and even this thread is limited in scope, the conversation carried on by just by a handful of people that have a keen interest in the topic.

I was the Director of Marketing for the online reservation system OpenTable when it launched ten years ago and you would not believe the push back that was encountered by restaurants unwilling to adopt the system and give up their paper based reservation books. Now ten years later it is still cranking along and just went public. The people inside the company knew it was great and revolutionary system.  We were certainly drinking the Kool-Aid (because that’s what start-ups drink) but people/customers do not change at the same rate of technology.

What’s the point of this? I don’t know, but I’m sure someone here will comment that I missed the point and my point was not their point just to make a point.

As Scoop Nisker would say—” If you don’t like the news go out and make some of you own.” And I think you Gary are trying to do just that. Hopefully there will be a neo journalist (citizen or otherwise) around to report the story and get the facts straight.

Power to the people. Less control more freedom of choice. (cue DEVO)

Boomergirl 11.08.09 | 8:50 PM ET

“And for what it’s worth, the fact that adverts pay the bulk of the bills does nothing to diminish the fact that our print readers are still willing to pay to read our writing.
Now, back to real work.”

“They are still willing to pay to read our writing.”  That sums it up for me. I have no problem with posting my own content online but what bugs me are those who provide good content free of charge to others. If you’re not in business to make money, why are you in business?? I am also tired of those who constantly whine about seasoned writers. Seasoned writers have track records. They produce stuff worth reading so, I am keen to know where they land if their outlet(s) die. Why? ‘Cuz their editorial weight is worthy of checking out.

pelu 11.09.09 | 6:14 AM ET

stimulating, enriching debate, going on here. I cant recall appreciating any piece on travel writing moe in recent times.

pelu 11.09.09 | 6:22 AM ET

Very stimulating debate going on here. And I can’t recall appreciating a piece on travel writing more in recent times.

Henry Pelifian 11.15.09 | 3:46 PM ET

In an ideal world your statement would be appropriate:

“As we lamented the cost to society of traditional journalism morphing into blogs and amateur internet postings, Spud compared “citizen journalism” to “citizen dentistry” or getting a “citizen plumber”—do we really want to dispense with the professionals in trying to understand our world through news reporting?”

Unfortunately, the professionals in journalism, especially television reporting and television journalism allowed our government to invade two countries, displace millions of people, kill and maim hundreds of thousands, cause the death of several thousand American military personnel for our security without adequately questioning their facts, motives and competency to undertake such a mission called war and its aftermath. 

The analogy of comparing journalism to dentistry and plumbing is inaccurate.  Using that logic it might be appropriate to announce that many of the American the electorate should not vote because they have insufficient professional experience in history, politics and elective office. 

Maybe the advent of technology that allows more views and voices in our society is a positive development despite all of its professional shortcomings.  Frankly, for the country our two party system appears to be a disaster despite all the professionals in them.

Angela 11.30.09 | 3:44 AM ET

I don’t appreciate citizen journalism, and I don’t think everybody can be a journalist. It’s a profession that implies studying, researching and working very hard. Unfortunately just beause there are more people able to write than those able to make brain surgery, there is the belief that everybody can be a journalist. However, I do think citizen journalism was born due to the fact that skilled journalists are not employed because 1. Often media employ people more thanks to their mutual connections (of whatever nature, be it friendship, favor, etc.), 2. This never-ending recession.

I think the crisis in the media world is especially due to an increasing distrust people have toward mainstream outlets. Reading many articles, it’s crystal clear that they are covering interests and agendas, and today people have certainly more technical savvy than before and can reach out information from different sources, drawing quick comparisons.

In travel writing is the same, people travel, and when a journalist writes a piece about a place that doesn’t comply with reality or is too exaggerated in some aspects (I’ve read too many!), readers notice that, and are rightly disappointed.

Of course journalists have no special observing powers, they are just trained for work, as well as other professionals. Unfortunately they don’t observe that much anymore and many travel blogs are more trustworthy, maybe because they have no interest in saying something that is not true.

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