Tuesday, 16 September 2008

#16 – When the destination IS a story in itself

Or when editors need to cover their areas

Here I go, contradicting myself again. Having just said that a destination isn’t a story in itself, I should point out the rare occasions when it is. Be forewarned, however – this doesn’t really apply for those that haven’t already got a good relationship with an editor.

Fancy a story?
If everything goes well, at some point in your career, you will get to the stage when a few editors know you well enough to be able to trust you to write a good piece, irrespective of the destination or subject.
At this stage, with certain editors, you’ll be able to drop a quick e-mail saying: “I’m off to Sicily in a couple of weeks’ time – fancy a story?”
And a lot of the time, they’ll say yes.

Rapport and relationship
Frankly, this is a bad habit to get into. It can work, but only when that rapport and relationship has been built to the point where you are a trusted regular contributor.
And even then it only works when they’re looking to cover a particular area or region.
This works in a different way with newspapers and magazines. For newspapers it’s a case of not wanting to tread over the same old ground all the time. If there’s a fairly large travel section that comes out every week, it only stands to reason that the editor will want to get a reasonably good geographical spread over time.

Caribbean commissions
A classic example of this is one of the papers I work for in Australia. Earlier this year, I said I was planning to head over the Caribbean for a couple of weeks, and the editor was immediately interested. She said that they never got any stories from the Caribbean, and immediately commissioned pieces on four or five islands.
Even then though, I had to give an idea of what sort of angles I may cover in the piece (ie. Watersports, particular hotels, celebrity spotting).

General guide pieces
For magazines – particularly ones focused on a particular country – it may simply be a case of them not having covered a particular region or city for a while and feeling that they should have a piece on it before long.
These tend to be very general guide pieces, or ones with a slight slant. But to be honest, it doesn’t really matter; if a magazine about Australia hasn’t covered Adelaide or Perth for year or so, it’s going to need a feature on Adelaide or Perth relatively soon.

Advertising sales
Be aware that this can often be advertising fuelled – the sales team may want to mine a fruitful area, and doing a feature on a certain destination can help pull in advertising dollars from companies with links to it.
See – I told you that it helps to bear the link between writing and advertising in mind, didn’t I?

Informal pitching – not for beginners
But I do say this rather reluctantly. For a new writer starting out, the informal pitching of destinations you’re going to without specifying a strong angle is a sure-fire loser. Only contemplate it when you have a strong relationship with the editor and you understand the needs of the publication.

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