Lately the travel blogosphere has been debating up a storm over the issue of ethics. Well, at least it started with that. Gawker posted a story about NY Times writer Mike Albo taking an all expenses paid trip to Jamaica, sponsored by Thrillist and Jetblue. The NY Times has strict rules prohibiting their writers from accepting any freebies as such.
Thomas Kohnstamm – author of ‘Do Travel Writers go to Hell’
A Debate on Ethics
Did that create a wave? Hell yeah. It’s fired tons of response from travel writers/bloggers on twitter, and all over the internet. Some bloggers have been firm on their stand against freebies and press trips, while others have got lots to defend – how would they make a living otherwise? Who will pay for their travelling expenses then? Do they have to pay to go to work?
Three months ago, while on assignment for V!VA Travel Guides, I was told not to reveal my identity as a guidebook writer in order to get an unbiased take on the hostel/restaurant I was writing about. There was this once when a tour operator inquired. When he learned that I was including his business in a guidebook, he changed his attitude altogether (yeh it was obvious) and proceeded to offer me a drink and even a free biking tour, to which I graciously declined. Would I have written the same review without the freebies? It definitely changed my views on it – the result: an honest write up of his tour operator – excellent equipment, well-trained guides and a hypocritical owner.
Matador Network recently published a fascinating piece, ‘Do Freebies Undermine the Honesty of Writing?’, provoking many interesting responses and discussion (surprise surprise!). On the other side of the coin, Gadling headed for the direct ‘yes to freebies’ stand, ‘Free Press Travel: Necessary…and Certainly not an Evil.’
While I’m not taking any sides here, if you ask me – I don’t give a hoot. I don’t have a care in the world whether your trip was sponsored by the tourism board or whether you paid for it with every dime you have – it’s the story that you write at the end of it that matters. One of my favorite writers, Pam at Nerd’s Eye View, had an interesting take on Press Trips and Writing A Good Story.
Somewhere amidst the debate, the key point gets forgotten. The critical point that sparked all these discussions – is not how you paid for it, or who paid for the trip – it is the story at the end of it. I’d say – stop judging people on petty issues and start focusing on the big picture.
A Debate on Publicity Stunts
Then came the social media cruise where a bunch of travel bloggers were invited on a Caribbean cruise. Bloggers would then tweet about their cruise experience. The free press trip, as a surprise to many, turned sour. Last weekend, it turned into a name-calling, lashing session on Twitter (Read more on #twethics). Yes, while I was out exploring the Spanish countryside, the biggest names in the travel blogging world had nothing better to do but lash at each other in front of the whole world.
While I missed out on the action (I’m glad I did), I really don’t want to be part of this huge debate that has immensely converted into a big ugly mess. As how Pam reports on BlogHer:
What was meant to be a fun adventure, an opportunity for the host to use social media to promote their services, turned into an object lesson into how not to use Twitter. The issue at hand — a totally valid one — was the environmental and social impact of cruising. Vocal critics of the industry used the hashtag to promote an anti-cruising agenda. So far, so good, but the discussion quickly turned to personal attacks, defensiveness, and an absurd one-upping around who’s a "better" traveler.
Although I seriously think the environmental impact of cruising is totally out of the point – this social media cruise is only what.. 1% out of the millions of people who go on cruises each year? – I digress. So what did the people involved get out of this pissing match? Publicity!
Leigh at The Future Is Red has written an insightful post on Blogging For Publicity: Watch Helplessly as Travel Blogging Jumps the Shark. She’s the one who sparked this post I’m writing, and also a friend I’d discussed this in length with. Several months ago while I was travelling through Argentina, we’d bonded over a wonderful evening soirée and our conversation topic unknowingly moved to travel blogging. We both share the same thoughts on travel blogging and certain phenomenon we see on the net frustrate us both.
Someway or another, last weekend’s lashing session on Twitter turned into some form of attention-grabbing tactic for other bloggers/twitterers who had no sort of connection with the matter. They seized the opportunity to gain some fame. I’d say it’s a despicable self-promotion channel, but hey who’s judging?
In fact that’s how some money-making bloggers made it big. Sadly, writing style and good photography are secondary these days – it’s how you publicize your blog that matters. As judgmental as I may sound, certain travel blogs that rank tops in traffic have attributes that understandably lead to high readership. While some, there’s much to be desired.
Can We Stop These Stupid Travel Fights?
While I’ve always thought of travelling as a medium of opening up someone’s mind, it’s amazing how many people who are self-acclaimed travel experts be so narrow-minded as to belittle another person’s travelling style. BootsnAll published a list of Stupid Travel Arguments (And Why We Should Stop Having Them) – might be useful to some of us.
As travel bloggers, shouldn’t we be more open-minded, having seen strange sights, lived out of our comfort zones and encountered foreign cultures? Instead, last weekend’s online brawl seemed to prove otherwise.
Be it Albo who was judged for his unethical ways of accepting a paid press trip, or the name-calling bloggers involved in the Twitter #followmeatsea discussion, who are we to judge?
Isn’t anyone tired of all these travel fighting? Enough already, get on with your lives.
Read more here:
- NYT Nitpicker: Why not give Mike Albo a break?
- Gadling: Free press travel necessary… and certainly not an evil.
- Miss Adventures: Of freelance writers and junkets
- Matador: Do ‘No Freebies’ Policies Undermine Honesty in Travel Writing?
- The Future Is Red: Blogging For Publicity: Watch Helplessly as Travel Blogging Jumps the Shark.
- WildJunket: Why We Travel