12 December 2009

Editorial independence - sightings are rare in travel journalism

thumbs up, thumbs down

There's an interesting conversation over on Jeremy Head's blog at the moment about travel providers turning to travel bloggers for editorial coverage. Jeremy invited a guest, Tom Power from Pura Adventura, to post his thoughts on the subject and it has provoked a large number of comments.

One of the issues raised is the old controversy about editorial independence. The debate is always particularly intense in the field of travel journalism because the cost (of travel) creates an inter-dependency between the journo and the supplier, and because obvious examples of that independence being exercised are thin on the ground. How often do you actually see an article tearing into a resort or tour operator for bad service? It's pretty rare. Usually 'independence' is exercised by an editor not printing a stinky article written by one of his/her journos. Who needs the aggro...or litigation?

In fact it is so rare, examples have quite an impact when you run into them... which coincidently, I did yesterday (and I'm rather smugly pleased about it).

I've been cataloguing some of my old radio programme tapes for the BGTW archive at the University of Surrey. I was listening to one of them and ran into two examples in the same edition (Classic Travel Guide, Classic FM, 8 Feb 1997).

The first was a journalist reporting on a very luxurious Italian resort hotel. The hotel was fine, the problem lay with its clientele.

"Never before has a more sour-pussed, charmless, stuck-up, spoilt, snotty-nosed, ungrateful bunch of lira-drenched Italian millionaires been assembled in such luxurious and idyllic surroundings, simply to prove that there are some people on this earth for whom paradise just isn't good enough!" (Listen)

Eeek! I remembered, as I listened, the alarm bells going off in my head when I first heard that! And I remember deciding: 'Ouch! This might hurt a bit, but I'm going to air it'.

In the event, there was little fuss. The hotel and their PR couldn't get very steamed about it because the journo had also recorded and included in his piece, one of their staff, in an un-guarded moment, corroborating his thoughts...

"They are so rich that they are always pissed off. I don't know why" (Listen)

...which is probably why I decided to play it to just under 1 million listeners.

The second example came moments later in the programme, in a feature by me about a Swiss ski resort, in which I referred to a popular mountain restaurant...

"Sadly, because everyone wants to eat up there, the restauranteur and her staff have become somewhat arrogant, and in our case yesterday when we dared to swap tables, unbelievably rude! So you eat there at your peril" (Listen)

So it does happen, sometimes, and its rarity gives it a little added potency.

Does anyone else have any other examples (to dilute my self-serving examples)?



2 comments:

Melissa said...

Be fair, Alastair, I am nice a lot of the time because I want to be nice. When choosing hotels to review for guides, for instance, I do quite a bit of homework before going to try and ensure that I target places that are going to be suitable rather than wasting my time going to places I wouldn't want to list. So it isn't terribly surprising if they eventually get a good write-up. I just want the opportunity - from the PRs and the editors alike - to be mean if necessary, both about hotels and whole countries and not have my copy yanked because people only want aspirational stuff on the travel pages.

onliner said...

Absolutely right, Mel.

...and we shouldn't forget also, that the absence of critical reviews is partly due to the nature of travel. Travel is mostly fun, enriching, enthralling and exciting. The experience is so overwhelmingly good, everybody wants to travel and/or make a living out of writing about it! The balance is stacked in favour of a 'thumbs up' review.