Thinking about the numerous ways travel journalism—and journalism in general—has changed in just the past five years makes me dizzy. The landscape is unrecognizable.
Magazines and other media have embraced new platforms like Facebook and Twitter that didn’t exist a generation ago. But staffs are getting leaner.
Many former staff journalists are entering the already crowded freelance pool, and those who are fortunate enough to still have a full-time gig — myself included — are being asked to do more with less.
Travel writers today need to be able to show editors that they are conversant, if not expert, with the techniques of this new generation and they should take advantage of opportunities for reduced-rate trips and media packages where available to help cut costs.
Here’s what I mean…
** Travel Writing is No Longer Text. It’s Text with Videos, Pictures, Facebook, and Twitter
At a spring 2010 Society of American Travel Writers editors meeting, an editor from Budget Travel magazine said she would reject any pitch that didn’t include a web component – pictures, videos… anything that might attract an online viewer to the publication’s website.
Not all publications feel this strongly about it. But providing photography and/or video may soon be an expectation, rather than a nice bonus. And, at least for now, the ability to leverage those skills is a good way to separate yourself from the pack.
It may also be a way to negotiate for a higher fee.
At my publication, Westways, we encourage writers to take photos and submit them with their manuscripts. It’s not a requirement, but we pay an extra fee if we use them. That represents a savings to us compared to what it might have cost to assign a photographer to the story.
And those who can take photos should take plenty of them. The more choices a freelancer can offer a designer, the greater the likelihood that a photo will get used.
** Use the Resources Provided by Tourist Boards, Convention Bureaus, and More
Press trips are still plentiful as convention and visitors’ bureaus recognize the need to get their messages out to an ever-expanding media world. These are typically free or reduced-rate trips offered to writers on assignment or freelancers looking for new story ideas.
Except for the very largest publications, magazines and newspapers don’t typically have the budget to pay for writers to explore the world anymore. Publications like mine rely upon media and press trips to foot the bill for freelancers and staffers looking for new stories.
Pay attention, take notes, and be on time if you land one. An editor does not want to hear from a publicist that the freelancer he sent on a trip is a laggard.
** Write Less: Shorter Stories Sell
While there is still a market for long narrative pieces (and I hope there will always be), the fact remains that people have less time to read stories of this type and that short-and-sweet blurbs are simply more effective for people reading on smartphones and other hand-held devices.
It is also unrealistic to think that an editor will assign a long-form story to a stranger. Pitching short blurb-style stories, however, is a great way to develop rapport with an editor and prove yourself reliable.
Perhaps a longer story could be pitched as a series of blurbs, or vice versa. A freelancer who can think and write in terms of “screens” rather than pages might catch a harried editor’s attention.
*** Despite all of these changes, there is still no substitute for a writer who can tell a story well, within a specified word count, on deadline, and with minimal typographic and/or factual errors. That’s a commodity that will never get old. Just sayin’.
[Editor’s Note: For more advice from Al on how to pitch your travel story to an editor and land your first (or thirty-first) assignment, check out his latest post on our website, here: Advice on Pitching Travel Stories to Editors, by Al Bonowitz, Editor Westways Magazine
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