The digital future of travel writing
Over the last week I’ve been in engrossed in reading about online journalism. A few key events have shown how the way we follow news has completely changed, and I’m thinking it’s now the turn for travel publications to follow suit.
Information overload, you may think, and there’s a lot of academic pondering. You might even say all this talk of news organsiations and their digital distribution theories is the stuff of the future… or is it the hard truth as one journalist mused in a tweet during the conference (below).
But then a fire broke out in Soho, and suddenly all of this online activity debating takes a step nearer. It might not be that far fetched. Always quick on the blog post, Adam Tinworth tells us to ignore the fire, look at the number of people filming…
I then came across this video. It’s a recording of Twitscoop – a real-time tag cloud that reveals the most popular words being used over Twitter. See how quickly ‘Soho’ grows in size.
Why does this all matter?
We’ve crossed a line. People want their news live, and want it quickly. Readers/audiences are now used to snapping pictures, uploading them, tweeting. It’s replaced texting. If a large part of the general public (or more specifically the iPhone generation) are the ones helping to generate news, as short snippets, perhaps this is the way they now want to receive news or other media. It might just be the only way to grab their attention.
Before it was a case of going where the audience is to push your news offering, via links, eg. Facebook/MySpace/Twitter/blogs. But now, news should now also incorporate this medium. Newspapers are also increasingly using Twitter – and have you noticed how often they now print stories based on who said what in Twitter?
As a result, publications need to not only go where the audience is, but deliver the news in this new format: Live blogging, video, Twitter feeds. This needs to now form part of any coverage, and become merged with print later on, allowing the best of the web to come through.
It may be seen as dumbing down, but the reality is that a lot of people enjoy this medium, and find it easier to interact with. And it’s not going to go away. Benji Lanyado blogged about this recently, and it was certainly a key topic at the recent Travel tweet-up.
Time to react: Travel writing’s future
So if news is racing towards web 2.0, what about travel journalism? From a news angle, breaking email alerts are a tried and tested winner. ttglive.com for example will send out email alerts for big breaking news, and for other news that goes up, there is the weekly email. There’s also an automatic feed to Twitter that’s worth following. Plus there is live coverage of events via Twitter every now and then, FlickR galleries, and comments on news stories.
But will the desire for live news spread over to traditional travel writing, such as features and hotel reviews? Would readers enjoy live destination blogging? Is there potential for a citizen journalsim approach to colour pieces, live writing during a trip to some far-flung destination, which then helps form, or adds to, the finished printed article?
Online readers, who no longer subscribe to a magazine, or just can’t be bothered to read off-screen (and yes, they do exist), may prefer dipping in and out of a writer’s experiences as they happen, perhaps ask them a question or two? The technology has arrived to support this – a new iPhone out and Apple’s competitors stepping up the game with their own products. Loyalty is boosted, the brand is boosted, and suddenly you have a new army of a faithful readership.
OK, so this sounds a bit extreme. But looking at the video of the Soho fire, and reading the thoughts from a lot of established, experienced, and print-background journalists this past week about where they see things going, perhaps it’s not that extreme.
So after all this talk of news innovation, the next step might just be travel innovation. After all, it’s got everything to feed the fire: interaction, sharing experiences, photography… and a growing audience that is really switched on.
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