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The digital future of travel writing

July 12, 2009

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.

Digital round-up
Some stand-out reads include Mashable’s ‘The Future of Blogging, and web vs print/content charging rhetoric from Benji Lanyado.

Then there was Friday’s News Innovation conference (see video below of intro by RBI blogger Adam Tinworth, who also gave it extensive coverage over at One Man and his Blog).

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).

pic
Soho’s burning
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.

Scroll way down to read comments

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2009 8:22 am

    There are lots of interesting possibilities for travel journalism. But what people want in terms of news and what people what in terms of travel are not necessarily the same thing.

    A live blog of someone’s trip? I certainly wouldn’t bother reading it and I’m not convinced others would either.

    My personal belief is that people go to travel writing for two things: Inspiration and information.

    The first has a certain timeless element about it – it doesn’t really matter if they’re on the ground as it’ll more than likely be read afterwards.

    For information, people are looking for certain details. In a way it’s what the internet was born for. Someone wanting to get a ferry from Malta to Sicily, then head up the coast to Syracuse is looking for ferry timetables, how to transfer from the ferry terminal to bus and train stations, and then bus/ train timetables. They probably want a map of the area around the stations/ terminals too.

    In this regard, my belief is that the future of travel journalism in the digital age is largely about old fashioned donkey work. Provide information, solve problems, assist with trip planning. (I’ve mused about how travel writers can make money writing for the web here – http://www.grumpytraveller.com/2009/07/11/how-travel-writers-can-make-money-writing-for-the-web – incidentally)

    There’s certainly room for new technology, but we have to be careful not to use it for the sake of using it. The audience and message are more important than the medium.

    • matthewparsons permalink*
      July 14, 2009 10:46 am

      Thanks for comment. Totally agree – the web is a resource. That’s the information part.
      For inspiration, is there a difference in following live updates, or reading something? If a writer is good, no matter what medium, they should be able to evoke something in the reader.
      But here’s where the technology helps. Features are heavily cut, and limited in pictures. Online, there’s no limits, and generally when you read something, and there’s a URL at the end of the piece, how often do you make an effort to have a look?
      The audience is there, and is increasingly online. Perhaps the message part is the tricky – getting the balance between bombarding people with updates, and making sure a writer has the relevant followers?

  2. July 14, 2009 10:58 am

    There is room for web 2.0 to track modern journeys, Twitter and Stephen Fry were a perfect unison, for example. Hundreds of thousands of people went along for that ride.

    Now there is one man, Ed Stafford, attempting to be the first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon river from source to sea. This makes facinating reading on Twitter http://twitter.com/amazonwalkers.

    It is a real mix of the oldest human endevour of a great adventure with the latest tech. phenomenon.

    This is not necessarily great travel “journalism” but it lends itself very well to Henry Miller’s adage that “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

    And a great example of the audience and the medium coming together symbiotically.

    Thank you for writing so well on the debate

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