“Print is dying!” “Producing free content on the internet is devaluing the work of the paid journalist.” The familiar tales of woe surrounding the printed press which have b
“Print is dying!” “Producing free content on the internet is devaluing the work of the paid journalist.” The familiar tales of woe surrounding the printed press which have been bandied about for the last few years are of increasing concern. Particularly within the world of travel journalism.
Once regarded as a highly prestigious career where one could travel the world and write beautifully crafted prose about far flung corners of the world, travel journalism has undeniably changed over the last few decades. While the advent of the internet and various other digital outlets may, on the face of it, have rendered the traditional art of travel writing obsolete, it may be premature to wave goodbye just yet.
Genesis of writing career to the internet
A self-proclaimed ‘vagabonder’ and travel writer, Rolf Potts, has become one of the biggest contemporary travel writers. Although writing for traditional newsstand and bookstore media, Potts owes the genesis of his writing career to the internet and as such, views it as a positive development for the travel genre.
In an interview with travel writing website Matador Network, he said the internet “allows an immediacy of reportage” which can’t be garnered from print media: “some of the stories I’ve written for Salon and Slate went live just hours after I lived them.”
“Plus, through my website, each story becomes part of a greater narrative of my accumulated wanderings. Twenty years ago, an interesting magazine article about someone’s journey might have been read, enjoyed and quickly forgotten; now, someone who reads my stories can link to my website and read 70-80 more stories from other parts of the planet,” he added.
Can the internet be trusted?
That’s the thing with the internet: people want information and they want it quickly. Readers are accustomed to uploading their own pictures, tweeting and generating their own stories as short snippets. A lot of people enjoy this medium and find it easier to interact with by sharing pictures and asking questions. As such, perhaps this is the only way to grab the audience’s attention today.
But with an ever deepening sea of information flooding the internet, is it really something that can be fully trusted? With sites like Tripadvisor often coming under fire for its fake reviews, do users really want to wade through all that information trying to make an objective assessment? It is often said that the trustworthiness of digital media is being eroded by such content. Furthermore, what’s the point in paying a professional travel writer to review and write about hotels, restaurants and experiences when hundreds of ‘real’ customers can upload their own content free of charge?
Not the end for travel journalism
With print revenues rapidly decreasing, one writer was offered just £200 to write a 1500 word article on El Salvador for a major national newspaper. And that payment wasn’t just for the write up, but the whole trip too. No wonder some fear that decreasing budgets will mean deteriorating content as writers work faster to produce more and are tempted to accept sponsorship, thus blurring the line of unbiased assessments.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean the end for travel journalism which appears in print. Duncan Craig from Lonely Planet Traveller believes that the issue of trust has become paramount. He said: “An authoritative, respected and independent voice has never been more critical, offering readers that single refreshing cup of water from the Niagara of information and opinion.”
The bar has never been set higher, with readers often being as well travelled as the writers and editors and having the ability to write and photograph their experiences, “outlets must strive to prove their expertise and sustain their relevance. That means digging deeper into a destination and its characters; looking for the story behind the tourist façade; striving to provide the most relevant practical information; and presenting places and stories in a new or imaginative manner,” Craig added.
Print and digital working in conjunction
But perhaps the print and digital world can work in conjunction to maximise their potentials. Apps and the internet are great for functionalityand interaction, while long-form journalism is a reading experience. The digital world can provide information, solve problems and assist with trip planning, print can add depth to this by providing the stories and experiences beyond the basics. It can invoke the imagination and allow readers to escape.
But for print journalism to survive, it needs to be augmented by an online presence, with video content and live blogging, for example. Ultimately, we all want information and there are many who still enjoy the immersive world of a well written travel piece. Social media and digital content must form part of any coverage and merge with print somewhere along the line in order to both to maintain credibility and relevance.