Saturday, 11 July 2009

#98 - How to make money writing travel guides for the internet

- Or why guide book authors should be using their knowledge online.

Boost income by writing for the web
In tip #70, I attempted to blow the myth that travel writers can't earn money writing for the web out of the water. The portal sites are excellent potential sources of income for individual articles.
But the way to make real money writing for the internet is to create your own travel guide site, and turn it into your primary business.

Guide book author to online travel guide creator
The skill sets for being a guide book author and creating a comprehensive online travel guide are very similar. And with tools such as Google Maps available, there is no reason why travel writers with a wealth of knowledge on a certain destination or subject cannot create themselves a profitable niche on the internet.

Examples and further detail
I have explained this further in a large post at my other site - Grumpytraveller.com. It's my honest belief that any travel writer can do this, and I know many are in the process of doing so. Mike Gerrard and Donna Dailey at Pacific-Coast-Highway-Travel.com are an excellent example of how it's possible to slowly grow a site.
I shall also be discussing this issue on Twitter - http://www.twitter.com/mrdavidwhitley

Saturday, 4 July 2009

#97 - Trying selling travel stories to news editors

Or why foreign news can be a better fit than the travel section.

Which section for the story?
I've always worked on a general theory that a reliable sign of a good travel story is that it will easily slot into another section of a newspaper. For example, one that has a musical angle could be equally valid in the music section; a story about a painter could just as easily be filed under 'arts'.

Cracking the Daily Telegraph
I'm quite a happy bunny today, as I've had my first story printed in The Daily Telegraph. I've pitched plenty of ideas there before, but come up against a brick wall. Along with The Sunday Times, it's probably the most prestigious place I've ever been published. But my story wasn't in the travel section.

Travel story, news angle
I can't think why I didn't think of this before, but I decided to pitch the story to the Telegraph's World News editor. It was a story I'd come across on my travels and it was arguably a travel story with a news angle, but I decided to write it as a news story.

Published quickly
The approach worked - the editor liked the idea, bought the story and it was published within three days of my initial approach. Oh if only all travel pieces went that smoothly...

Out of the way places
It did get me thinking about how many other travel stories I could have taken this approach with. It's particularly useful in out of the way places. In my example, news from Samoa doesn't tend to travel very far. The fact that the country is switching to driving on the left from driving on the right makes for a great story, but because hardly anyone pays attention to what's going on there, it's a story that has barely been written about. OK, it's had a tiny bit of coverage in Australia and New Zealand - but not the rest of the world.

Read the papers, listen to the locals
The experience confirms my beliefs that, for the travel writer, it's worth reading local newspapers, listening to local radio stations and talking to local people about what the current big issues are. There's always almost a story to be uncovered - and one that can possibly be sold to a news section.

PS - Yes, I know Samoa isn't an island; it's a collection of them. That's the joy of sub-editors for you.

PPS - If you want more of my nonsense, you can find me at GrumpyTraveller.com and on Twitter.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Apologies for absence

OK, OK, I know it's been months since I posted. My excuses are as follows:

1. I have been on the road almost constantly.
2. I've had a big pile of paying work to get through, and that comes first. Writing this blog is fun, but in the absence of an absurdly generous benefactor or advertising, it has to come second.
3. I've been working on my new blog, Grumpy Traveller. I'm sounding off on a greater range of topics there - all travel-related - but am running a regular series on travel writer cliches. Any would-be travel writer should avoid them like the plague (see what I did there?). Please come on by and leave a comment on the issues I'm trying to raise.
4. I'm also working on my own top secret web project which probably won't see the light of day for a good while yet.

This said, I will still be dropping in the odd tip here. I won't be posting as regularly as I was in the past, but I'd sooner leave better tips less frequently than to dash out a load of rubbish just to keep up with a self-imposed schedule.

In the mean time, please come along to Grumpy Traveller or follow me on Twitter.

Friday, 13 March 2009

#96 – If there is no travel section, try and create one

Or the entrepreneurial freelance travel writer.

Entrepreneurial attitude
One difference between a mildly successful freelance travel writer and a very successful one is an entrepreneurial attitude. The former category looks to sell work to existing outlets – the latter does this too, but also looks to create outlets.

The difference
It’s that difference between submitting pitches to a travel section of a newspaper and pitching the idea of having a travel section to a newspaper.

Creating a regular outlet
This isn’t quite as outrageous as it sounds. Granted, it takes a lot of chutzpah, and it’s more than likely not going to succeed. But if it does succeed, then you’ve created yourself a regular outlet on the spot.

Why is there no travel section?
If a publication doesn’t have a travel section, there must be a reason for it. Perhaps a travel section wouldn’t be relevant to the readership. Perhaps they’ve tried it before and it didn’t work out. Or perhaps they’ve never thought of it? Maybe they would like to do it, but haven’t got the right person to organise it?

A good proposal
This is where putting a good proposal together, showing a sound understanding of the audience and explaining the potential benefits in increased advertising, could just work. If you can convince someone that they need a regular travel column, and that you’re the best person to do it, you have potentially made yourself a little goldmine.

Blogs and more
The same philosophy applies to blogs, magazine columns, ask the expert regular features or radio slots. Chances are that no-one will bite, but if someone does, you’ve created yourself an opportunity rather than just taking one offered to you.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

#95 – Listen to the local radio

Or getting a sense of the people.

Local radio stations
In a similar vein to Tip #94 (Pick up local newspapers), listening to local radio stations whilst abroad can give an excellent insight into a destination. Many of the reasons are similar – you get to find out about news angles and get a sense of attitudes and priorities.

Sense of the people
But radio is even better for getting a sense of the people – you can gauge what sort of music gets played (ie. Is it reggae, calypso or generic 80s dirge?). You can also get a sense of what sort of people are allowed on the radio – ie. Personality DJs or formal, starched collar, Government-approved announcers?

Phone-in programmes
And sometimes you can strike absolute gold by stumbling across a phone-in programme, where members of the public call in to rant and rave about the issues of the day. They may not be coherent, and they may be speaking utter nonsense, but there are few better ways of getting a sense of local character and opinion. Especially when the DJ starts arguing...

Saturday, 7 March 2009

#94 – Pick up local newspapers

Or looking at things from a local perspective.

Global view
As a travel writer, you tend to develop a global view of things. International news becomes important to you, and you tend to like knowing what is happening worldwide.

Switching perspective
Nothing wrong with this, but sometimes it can be useful to switch perspective. Getting a view of the world from the place you’re visiting’s angle can give a really useful insight into that destination.

Snapshot
That’s why I like picking up a local newspaper while I’m away. There are few better things for giving a snapshot of what a place is like. First of all, there will be stories in there that simply aren’t covered by the global media, such as controversies over tourism developments, national financial problems and disease outbreaks amongst local wildlife.
These often make a good angle for a travel story – you’re essentially covering a news story that hasn’t really broken outside the country you’re in and explaining it to the rest of the world.

Attitudes and priorities
But picking up the newspaper is also good for getting a sense of that country’s attitudes and priorities. How many pages in are the big international stories? Do all the stories start with “a government spokesman has announced”? How professional or amateurish does the paper look? These are all excellent little clues about the destination.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

#93 – Stay at hotels with free WiFi

Or getting more work done for no extra cost.

Meals for one?
When a travel writer is on the road, the evening can often be the most depressing time. It’s when you have to resort to meals for one, and sitting in a bar trying to strike up conversation with someone.
This is somewhat soul-destroying and – depending on how many drinks you have – can be rather costly.

Writing in the evenings
In recent times, I’ve gone for a change of tack. In destinations where I know I’m not really going to be writing about the nightlife and bars, I’ve taken to using that evening dead space for writing things up.

Fresh in the mind
Inevitably, I’ll be able to write stories up twice as quickly during these evenings as I normally would at home. This is often because the story is fresh in the mind.

In-room internet access
But in doing this, I’ll usually need in-room internet access, just for checking the odd detail. And thus I always try and stay somewhere that provides this.

Looking up maps
It is also useful for planning purposes – with in-room net access, you can check out little details, look up places you’re wanting to get to on Google Maps etc.

Free WiFi
The price of the in-room internet access counts too. Some hotels charge outrageously for this, and it can often make financial sense to pay a couple of dollars/ pounds/ euro/ groats more for a place that offers free WiFi. The cost of the internet otherwise can put 10 - 20% extra on the bill. Besides, offering free WiFi should be encouraged, and I like to give my custom to places that do this.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

#92 – Make your editor’s life as easy as possible

Or providing no hassle copy

Words of encouragement
I got some good words of encouragement from one of my editors last week. She said: “I love using your work – I very rarely have to change anything.”

Make the editor’s life easy
But aside for that being a nice ego massage for me, it also hints at a good philosophy to work by. Make the editor’s life as easy as possible, and they’re more likely to use you again.

Word count etc
This means getting the word count pretty much spot on, putting the factbox information in the standardised format, doing the requisite currency conversions and perhaps suggesting a headline.

No hassle
All of this is pretty simple to do, and while none of it will be a dealbreaker, the fact that it can go into the paper/ magazine pretty much as is will help your cause in future. It may not be an immediate thing, but after two or three articles, the editor will start thinking: “This contributor is no hassle – great.”

Thursday, 26 February 2009

#91 – Tie stories in with sporting events

Or why you should check the schedules.

Using events as a hook
This is repeating my previous point about using events as a hook for articles, but it’s one worth emphasising. A lot of people travel to go and watch sporting events, but even more importantly, a major sporting event puts a destination in the news.

Beijing, South Africa and Vancouver
Either way, it’s topical and will generate a lot of interest. Beijing got it last year with the Olympics, South Africa will get it next year with the 2010 World Cup, and Vancouver is already getting it with the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Other events
Other events that always generate interest about the destinations hosting them include obscure countries playing England at football, cricket and rugby tours, Superbowls and World Championships of any sport that gets a reasonable degree of television coverage.

Check the schedules
Given this, it’s always worth checking the schedules and knowing what events are on the horizon in the next year or so. Even if you know nothing about the sport, chances are you’ll be able to sell an article on the destination using that sporting event as a topical hook.

Monday, 23 February 2009

#90 – Resource: In Your Pocket guides

Or finding the local hang-outs.

Sources of information
There are many good sources for getting information on places to stay, eat and drink in a city. The people at the tourist board can usually give a few good ideas, while a guide book will often give a decent selection.

Off the tourist track
Unfortunately, however, these sources rarely veer off the usual tourist track. They’ll give plenty of suggestions for places that many visitors like going to, but not necessarily the places that give a real feel for the town or are local favourites.

Little secrets
And it’s these little secrets that editors want to know about. They make for an interesting story, and there’s a certain cachet to being able to discover a place that most visitors won’t know about.

Needle in a haystack
But how to find them? Well my preferred way is always to stumble across them randomly. I love going into somewhere on a whim. Unfortunately, this is often something of a needle in a haystack approach.

In Your Pocket
One tool that I’ve found really useful when I’ve seen it is the local In Your Pocket guide. These guides have quietly begun springing up all over Europe, and they’re generally written by locals. They give a view of the place from the standpoint of someone that lives there, and the listings are generally both comprehensive and honestly-written.

Interesting places
Amongst those listings, there are usually a few really interesting places that are not covered in the Lonely Planet or tourist board literature. They’re worth investigating.

Free online guides
Best of all, the In Your Pocket Guides are now available for free online (www.inyourpocket.com), so it’s possible to get a list of a few good ideas before you arrive.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

#89 – Revisit disaster scenes

Or why editors love recovery stories.

Cast iron rule?
There’s no cast iron rule about what stories editors will always accept, but the closest you can get to it is that they will always take a piece on a place that is recovering from a major setback.

Two years on...
Travel sections and magazines always have pieces along the lines of “New Orleans, two years on” or Bali, five years after the bombings”. The same applies to anywhere that suffers an earthquake, gets buried by a volcano or suffers massive hurricane damage.

Mumbai and the tsunami
It’ll happen with Mumbai soon enough, and there will be a glut of stories about the areas affected by 2004’s Boxing Day tsunami towards the end of this year.

Strong narrative
The reasons why such stories are liked by editors are fairly obvious. They’ve got a strong narrative, and already have reader recognition due to the catastrophe. Even the casual reader will know what the story is about, and is likely to have a passing interest in how the place is recovering.

Good ingredients for a travel story
These recovery stories are newsy, have strong human interest, and they’re clearly up-to-date. All are good ingredients for a travel story, even if it may seem a little ghoulish pitching it out.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Caribbean jaunt

Posts to this blog may be a little sporadic for the next fortnight - I'm off to the Caribbean for two weeks and will probably have limited internet access during that time. I'll try my best, but if there are a few days between posts, you'll know why.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

#88 – Get away from the desk

Or why being unproductive can be productive.

The guilt factor
One trap that many freelancers fall into (and I include myself in this – I’m terrible for it) is thinking they have to work as many available hours as possible. The guilt factor comes into play – surely if I’m not working, I’m selling myself short?

Hours at the desk
And, with this attitude firmly ingrained, they’ll spend as many hours at the desk as possible, staring at the computer screen. This inevitably leads to procrastination.

Plodding
In fact, what happens is that, by dedicating so much time to work, you do as much in that time as you would in half the time under pressure. You plod rather than burst onto the page; you get distracted and draw the whole process out painfully.

Think counterintuitive
Sometimes it is best, therefore, to do the counterintuitive thing. Instead of hunching over the laptop trying to force some inspiration out, it can be better to stop altogether. Go out, do some shopping, go for a walk, have a swim, watch a movie – something completely detached from work.

The great recharger
That break or day off can be a great recharger. When you come back to the task, you’ll probably have a lot more enthusiasm and zest. Personally, I find that a lot of my best ideas come when I’m not working – they’ll come from nowhere while I’m doing laps at the pool or walking in the Peak District. And I know it works much the same way for other freelancers.

Monday, 16 February 2009

#87 – Send copies of your article to PR people who help you out

Or smoothing the path in less than a minute.

Why PR people assist travel writers
When PR people assist travel writers, they don’t do it out of the goodness of their own heart. They’re sorting out itineraries, organising complimentary hotels and arranging meals because they are expecting coverage.

Lack of coverage?
When they get that coverage, they have done their job. If they don’t get coverage, the clients (such as the hotel or tourist board) start questioning whether they’ve employed the right PR people. Unfortunately, these helpful PR people aren’t psychic and often they won’t know that your article has come out.

Notify the PR person
This is why it’s always good practice to notify the relevant PR people when any articles that they helped out with come out. I always try and send a weblink or notify the PR chap(ess) that the magazine is on the shelf. It doesn’t cost me anything to do so, and it helps maintain a good relationship.

Less than a minute
From their end, it’s incredibly helpful, and they’re far more likely to help you out again in future. For something that takes less than a minute, dropping a line to say “the article’s out” is an incredibly effective way of smoothing the path for future trips.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

#86 – Don’t become a blog tragic

Or don’t forsake the shop for the shop window.

Earning significant money from blogging
I am prepared to accept that there are some people out there who make a significant living wage from blogging. But compared to the number of people that have blogs, they are in such a tiny minority that they may as well not exist.

Blogging community
Yet there is a whole community out there that seems to exist for blogging. There are people that seem to spend a huge amount of time writing their blogs, commenting on other people’s blogs, discussing the nuts and bolts of blogging on forums and Twittering drivel every few minutes.

Luddite
Call me a Luddite, call me a naysayer, but I think this is a horrendous waste of time. And that time could be better used doing paid work. As I have said before, there is a shop window effect to having a blog, but when you spend all your time dressing your shop window, you’re ignoring the customers that are in the shop.

Reaching the masses?
Another thing to be aware of is that most of your blog’s readers will be other bloggers. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but don’t try and kid yourself that you’re reaching the masses as a result.

Blog or Facebook?
In many respects, I see maintaining a blog as another form of procrastination. It’s the equivalent of hanging out on forums or playing Scramble on Facebook three hours a day in a vain attempt to top your best score (guilty as charged, your honour).

Better off working

Yes, it’s a potentially useful marketing tool, but you are better off working. There’s a fine line between spending a few minutes a day updating your shop window and being sucked into a world where your time is spent StumblingUpon, Digging, Twittering and constantly exchanging comments with other bloggers.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Example of previous tip

Forgive the arrogance here, but I thought I'd give an example of my point from yesterday's tip. I've pasted below what was my first major piece published in a travel publication. I still think it's one of the best I've ever written. Why? Because I've written about the people at the destination as much as the action itself.

In this instance, the people watching the dolphins were arguably more entertaining than the dolphins were. My piece starts off by focusing on those people, their behaviours and their reactions. To me (and luckily the editor in question), this elevated the piece above the bog standard write up about Monkey Mia.

I hope you agree, and can see the point I'm trying to make.

Feeding the dolphins at Monkey Mia

Amid the cooing and screeches there is, apparently, a dolphin. Yes, that's it. Look between the big man's arm and the woman with the hat's camera. You see it? That little silver flash? In the water, about eleven o'clock?

After about three minutes of tilting your head, squinting, jumping up and down on the sand it finally comes into view. Well, a bit of it does. Could be the head, could be the back, but it's definitely a dolphin, and that's what everybody is here to see.

The fundamental problem with tourist attractions, of course, is that they attract tourists. When that attraction is a couple of tiny marine mammals, there is only so much viewing space. When it's a long day's drive away from Perth and most people have come to see just one thing, then they will fight for that space as if a predator has entered their lair and is trying to eat their children.

Consequently, during the first dolphin feeding session of the morning at Monkey Mia, the main wildlife available for watching is fully clothed and armed to the teeth with photographic equipment.

This is not to say it's not entertaining, however. Where else can you see a 17-stone man with a shaved head attempting to barge his way past a couple of ten-year-olds in order to get closer to the cute little critter?

Then there's the frenetic middle-aged Japanese man, trousers rolled up, who must have completed a marathon by the end of the feeding. He's running from one side of the scrum to the other, up the pier and back again, attempting to get a better shot but too polite to ask anyone to move slightly.

The pod of bottle-nosed dolphins that call Monkey Mia home (or at least their favourite café) has been visiting since the early 1960s. They are quite accustomed to human contact and according to the feeders, actively enjoy it. They are wild and free to eat where they like, but they stop by the beach for breakfast and a frolic in the shallows 99 percent of the time.

In order to ensure that the VIP guests don't become dependent on the beach feeds, the marine biologists and merry volunteers that feed them adhere to strict rules: No feeding after 1pm, no more than three feeds per day and no more than a third of the necessary fish intake. This ensures that the dolphins spend their afternoons doing the things that dolphins have to do, rather than stalking humans.

Whilst the first feed of the day, unless you've bulldozed your way to the front and petulantly snatched the bucket off the member of staff, can be a disappointment, things get much better later on.

Most of the tour buses disappear shortly afterwards, their passengers having got what was in the contract, but perhaps not quite what they were expecting. For those that remain, the second and third feedings are far less crowded and a magical experience. Yup, it's definitely a whole dolphin out there this time.

It's impossible not to be enchanted by them. Even to the most cold-hearted cynic, Flipper is undeniably cute and graceful. To see him come up to the beach to eat from a human hand will bring out the sentimental, gooey side in anyone.

Your chances of being picked out from the crowd to handle the morning meal are in direct proportion to your chances of successfully auditioning for the lead role in Oliver Twist. Sweet, photogenic children have an automatic advantage and whilst there is obviously a bit of grudge-bearing going on amongst the weather-beaten adults, the reaction is worth being shunned for.

Holding the fish tentatively, as if the recipient is a saltwater crocodile about to savage her arm off, Little Orphan Annie begins to smile with ecstatic glee as the dolphin takes it. She looks around as if to say: "Did you see what happened there? Did you? Can we take him home, mummy?"

It's an altogether more satisfactory experience. It's shared amongst a small community rather than observed from an uncomfortable perch above the masses. It's the difference between stroking your beloved dog's tummy as it rolls over, wagging its tail, and giving a passing glance to a stranger's poodle whilst walking down a promenade. And, no matter how much you moan about how long it took to get there, that alone is enough to justify what is a joyfully unique moment.

Details:Monkey Mia is a day's drive (850km) from Perth. Alternatively Skywest Airlines fly to Monkey Mia from Perth for $196.
Accommodation is available at the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, ranging from backpacker dorms ($22 a night) to beachfront villas ($229 per night).

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

#85 – Observe your fellow travellers, not just the scenery

Or why people watching can create new angles.

Involving people
Most of the best travel articles have some sort of character in them. They involve people as well as the destination. And often the people to include are the ones that are sharing the experience with you.

Observe the people with you
A lot can be added to an article by observing the people with you. What they say, their behaviours, reactions and expressions can add invaluable colour to a story. It gives a real sense of place, and takes the reader to the scene.

A new angle on a much-covered attraction
This is particularly the case at attractions that have been covered hundreds of times before. A story about going on a tour of Westminster Abbey, for example, is probably not going to sell. A story about a tour of Westminster Abbey where tourists are behaving badly has a bit more to it.

Take note

So when taking notes, take note of what people say and do as well as what you’re supposed to be enjoying. It could pay off in the long run.

Monday, 9 February 2009

#84 – Invest in appropriate clothing

Or why you’re more productive when you’re comfortable.

Worst trip
One of the worst trips I ever did was when I went to Bratislava, Vienna and Brno in early January. The temperature was hovering around the minus six degrees Celsius mark, and I was really not prepared for it.
I had a coat, but was lacking gloves and a hat. I only had thin socks as well.

Wrong mindset
Needless to say, I was freezing. And I didn’t do nearly as much as I hoped to do, purely because I was freezing and couldn’t wait to get inside to the relative warm. And what’s worse, when I was in that relative warm, I was so happy to be warm that I wasn’t in the mindset to take notes on bars, restaurants or hotels.

Lesson learned
I didn’t sell many articles on the back of that trip (if I recall it was just one, plus a couple of snippets here and there in round-up articles). That’s not to say I won’t sell any more at some point down the line, but I did learn my lesson.

Suitable clothing for various conditions
I have since invested in suitable clothing for various conditions. I have an enormous coat, a hooded fleece jacket, hats, gloves and comically big socks for cold conditions. I also have zip-off trousers and light cotton clothing for warm conditions, including a lightweight, mosquito-proofed, long-sleeved shirt for jungle terrain.

Comfortable with surroundings
It sounds silly, but it really does help. If you’re feeling comfortable with your surroundings, you are likely to do far more and be in the right mindset for gathering stories.

January 2009
All I need to do is compare and contrast this year’s early January trip. I spent four nights in Munich and Salzburg, and got plenty done during the day even though it got down to minus 14. So far it’s six stories sold, and I think there will be more to come. This can’t all be put down to a scarf, hat and gloves, but there’s certainly something in it.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

#83 – Milk annual events for all they’re worth

Or the joys of recycling.

Time of year
Ah, it’s this time of year again. Valentines Day is in a few days’ time, then there’s St Patrick’s Day next month and Easter following along soon afterwards. To the ordinary person, these are just part of the calendar. To the travel writer, all should be goldmines.

Recycling
I, for one, will be recycling a few pieces related to all three. A piece on the least romantic locations will sell for Valentines every year, a story about the St Patrick Centre in Downpatrick will always be welcome just before March 17th, and any pieces related to the Easter story are an easy pitch as soon as the chocolate eggs come out.

Travel editors love topicality
It’s not rocket science – stuff like this will always sell. As I’ve mentioned before, travel editors love something topical. The key is to make a mental note when you come across something that may fit the bill. It might not sell immediately, but it probably will later on.

Apply to all annual events
The same theory applies to Hallowe’en, Christmas, the Oscars... pretty much anything that occurs every year and gets plenty of media coverage. So if you go to a destination where an Oscar-winning film was shot, has a reputation for being haunted or has a link to St Nicholas, chances are you’ll be able to use the material again and again.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

#82 – Never quote taxi drivers

Or avoiding the man in the cab with the gift of the gab.

Taxi drivers in travel articles
Taxi drivers must be the most quoted people in travel articles. If you were to believe everything you read, it would appear as though taxi drivers across the world are overflowing fonts of useful information.

Pithy lines
Strange, isn’t it? The taxi driver manages to come up with such a pithy line; one that almost sums the destination up in a neat little bundle of humour and insight. What a stroke of good fortune for the travel writer – to get such a sage quote so unexpectedly.

Where are these taxi drivers?
Unfortunately, I have never met a taxi driver like this. In fact, 90% of the ones I have come across aren’t from the city I’m in, appear to have little more than a rudimentary knowledge of its streets and speak only tiny fragments of English. What am I doing wrong?

Making up quotes
Actually, I do know what I’m doing wrong. I’m not making up quotes from fictitious characters in order to put a bit of pep into my article. That’ll be the problem.

What do editors think?
And if I can see that 95% of all taxi driver quotes are blatantly fabricated, then chances are that most editors will think the same way. Seeing a taxi driver quote, therefore, is likely to raise a red flag and set the alarm bells ringing. If the writer has made that up, what else has he or she made up?

Bad reputations
It doesn’t take a genius to work out where the train of thought goes from there – and it’s not good for any writer to get a reputation for passing off fiction as fact.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

#81 – Initial research into markets for travel writing

Or raiding the newsagent.

Lists of web publications
For those just starting out on the freelance travel writing journey, there is a temptation to shun common sense when it comes to finding outlets for your work. Many will trawl the web for lists of publications, or sign up for ridiculous sites that pay a feeble pittance.

Ignoring the most obvious source
This is really ignoring the most obvious source of potential outlets. I would advise anyone looking to break into travel writing to get out of the house and head to the biggest newsagent’s shop in the area. Once there, flick through any magazine and newspaper that has a travel section, and buy it.

Expensive initial outlay
Yes, this is an expensive initial outlay, but it’s worth it. You instantly have a library that you can refer to. It’s possible to see what sort of articles the publications print and how long the articles are. You can also see individual sections that may be good to initially pitch for – these are often not as well defined on the web.
Sometimes it is best to start with the obvious rather than scouring for needles in a haystack online.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

#80 – Read the press kit

Or take something in before it goes in the bin.

Half a rainforest
I often say that I hate press kits. This isn’t quite true – what I hate is the amount of them that I am given and expected to carry around with me. On some trips, it will feel like every place I visit is intent on giving me half a rainforest (plus cap, pen, T-shirt and DVD) to fit in my already burgeoning bag.

What is a press kit?

For the uninitiated, an explanation is perhaps in order. A press kit is material given to a journalist by a tourist board/ attraction/ hotel. It is supposedly filled with lots of useful information about said destination/ attraction/ hotel, but they vary dramatically in quality.

Good press kits
The most useful ones are tailored to journalists and cover new angles, openings, potential storylines and lists of interesting information. They’ll also have a map. Some editing will have gone on, and it will be merely a reasonably large pile of paper.

Bad press kits

The least useful ones pack in every glossy brochure that has ever been printed about the destination – all clearly aimed at the tourist rather than the journalist. They feature lots of nice pictures and next to no useful information. Oh, and they also come with gifts such as items of clothing you’ll never wear, bulky local delicacies that will never be allowed through customs and something ridiculously inappropriate like a paperweight.

The hotel bin
At least 90% of these kits, both the good and bad ones, will end up in a hotel bin. Sorry chaps, but there’s no way I’m lugging that lot around with me. If I really want it, I shall ask you to e-mail the document over when I get back home. This isn’t to say I don’t read what’s in them, however.

A job for the evening
I always try and make a point of looking through the press kit, usually in the evening before dinner or when I get back in at night. This is partly because I’m a bit weird and find it quite relaxing, and partly it’s because it’s worth it. There are almost always two or three good story angles to be found within them.

Applied skim-reading
I won’t read through every word – it’s very much an exercise in applied skim-reading – but I’ll usually manage to glean enough inspiration for things to go and check out the next day. It’s time well spent – just ditch the t-shirts and paperweights.

Friday, 30 January 2009

#79 – How to make money from a travel blog

Or thinking “shop window” rather than “advertising platform”.

Reasons for starting a travel blog
People start up blogs about travel for many different reasons. Some want to share their travel experiences with the world, some blatantly can’t find anyone to pay for their witterings and thus put it online so that it can be read by two men and a particularly bored dog.

Blogs of professional travel writers
Of the professional travel writers that keep a blog, they generally fall into two categories. Some are excellent travel writers that like a space to share their thoughts on things, and aren’t trying to make money from it. An excellent example is that of Lara Dunston’s Cool Travel Guide – she’s a writer I have a huge amount of respect for, and she uses her blog as both a vent and an opportunity to draw attention to things that editors don’t necessarily go for.

Commercial enterprises
Others (such as Traveling Mamas) are clearly commercial enterprises – the purpose is to make money through advertising, affiliates etc.

Monetising a travel blog
I am the wrong person to ask about monetising a blog. This blog makes me a laughably feeble amount of money, and this is the nature of the beast. Regular subscribers to a blog are the ones that are least likely to click on advertising – they come for the read.

Travel planning equals clicking and booking
To make money from a website, it is best to put together a comprehensive travel planning site – the visitors to such a site will be looking for specific information and to book things. They’re far more likely to go to a couple of pages then click through on an advert.

Who is the reader?
A travel blog is highly unlikely to give a significant return in this way. But the key thing is not where the reader goes afterwards, but who the reader is.

Contact from editors
In the last week, I have been contacted by two editors who read this blog. Both have offered me some work (and some rather interesting work at that). I also happen to know that a couple of other editors I have not worked for read it – they have contacted me and told me. Alas, one doesn’t have a freelance budget and the other works in a field that I know nothing about. Even so, it can only be good news.

Shop window rather than advertising revenue
And this is why I have come to realise the real value of having a travel blog. It’s not about getting the traffic or advertising revenue - although that’s certainly a nice bonus if your readers are so inclined – it’s about giving yourself a shop window. And if people like what they see in that shop window, they may just come and ask you what’s for sale.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

#78 – Make use of the active present continuous

Or strapping the reader into the rollercoaster seat.

Disclaimer
A word of warning here. Not everyone will agree with this, and some editors will possibly regard it as the worst piece of advice in history. But I think the active form of the present continuous tense really lends itself to travel writing.

Demonstration
I’ll demonstrate rather than try to explain. Here are two examples of the same intro. Which do you think reads better?

Example one
The huddle was so tight that a scrum could have broken out at any minute. A 17-stone shaven-headed man attempted to barge his way past a couple of ten year olds in order to get a closer view. Other kids tested the shoulder of their weary parents in a bid to get a height advantage.

Example two
The huddle is so tight that you half expect a scrum to break out at any minute. A 17-stone shaven-headed man is attempting to barge his way past a couple of ten year olds in order to get a closer view. Other kids are testing the sagging shoulders of their weary parents in a bid to get a height advantage.

Report vs running commentary
I prefer the latter. Others won’t, but I think it has the advantage of taking the reader to the situation and making them feel they are a part of it. Example one is a report of an incident, example two is a running commentary on an incident in progress. It’s the difference between watching breaking news of a major event and a sober studio analysis afterwards; the live match versus the highlights package.

Adding zip
Keeping writing in the active makes it more arresting - it’s more dynamic to read. And using the present continuous straps the reader into the rollercoaster seat rather than allowing them to look on at a distance. This technique isn’t always appropriate, but I feel as though it adds zip to a travel story and offers a better sense of place.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The Glamour of Travel Writing

Not so much a tip today as an insight into the life of a travel writer. I wrote this piece for Ninemsn.com.au a while back. I thought I'd republish it here, as I think it serves as a superb put-off for anyone thinking that the life of a travel writer is all glamour...

Sunday
Day spent trip-planning. Have articles to write on Spain, France, Monaco and Morocco and somehow have to pull them all together in one trip. This involves interminable negotiations in three languages I don't speak with five separate tourist boards, booking flights from odd airports at ungodly hours and praying that it all comes off. Please let the tourist boards offer me free hotel rooms and please don't let them fill every minute of the day with guided tours of really boring places that no-one would want to read about.

Monday
Currently researching a guide to James Bond film locations across the world. Getting the info on where is easy enough, the problem is needing to know what happens in each film. And that means watching every single bloody Bond movie, all 21 of the buggers, in the space of a fortnight. Today it's Licence to Kill and The Living Daylights.
Conclude that Timothy Dalton was a somewhat underrated 007, then set about finding out exactly which place doubled as the Mujahideen hideout in Afghanistan. It's Morocco, apparently.
Google my own name, partly to see if anyone's printed my stories yet and partly out of sheer vanity.

Tuesday
I've been putting it off for ages, but at some point I'm going to have to write that 2500 words on a stunningly average Italian city that I felt about as much affection for as I do for rocket salad.
Just a few vitally important things to do first ... like read every newspaper on the Internet, do some shopping, clean the bathroom, watch the entire fourth series of Peep Show on DVD, Google my own name seven times, book a random flight to Lithuania. Damn. How did it get to 7pm?
Watch Roger Moore mug his way through Octopussy and The Man with the Golden Gun.

Wednesday
My editor wants a piece on wacky theme parks around the world. I hate theme parks, haven't been to one since I was 12 and don't know of any suitably crazy ones offhand. This, naturally, means a whole day of typing vaguely useful phrases into search engines and hoping something good comes up.
This is our dirty little secret — half the time we're not jaunting off around the world seeing weird and wonderful places, we're hunched over a computer, copying everybody else's lists.
Bear this in mind next time you see a piece on the world's Top 10 Beaches or Luxury Hotels. The writer has probably been to two or three of them at best. And on the menu tonight, Moonraker. No, I just can't do it. There's a line and that line is Moonraker.

Thursday
Just about finish writing about a place I went to six years ago, have virtually no memory of and took no notes about. It's a triumph of vague, flowery description, cheap jokes and meandering tangents that really have nothing to do with the place.
Pack in a blind panic and rush to the airport. Once there, realise I've left my coat, gloves and hat at home and my flight and hotel details in my coat pocket. Desperately phone a friend, begging him to hack into my e-mail account and tell me the names of the hotels and the e-ticket reference number.
Finally arrive in Bratislava at about 11pm. It's minus six degrees, with a wind-chill factor of minus 13. Feel like crying and wonder if there are any shops open that might sell big coats and furry hats. There aren't.

Friday
Wake up at 6am in the hotel that still thinks it's 1962 and the Communists are still in charge. It really is the most ugly, repulsive Soviet-era monstrosity imaginable and has service to match. But it's cheap and so am I.
Powerwalk aimlessly in the direction of the train station in order to get to Brno in the Czech Republic. Get there with seconds to spare, internalising my anger towards whoever makes Slovakian signposts.
Spend much of the day in Brno looking for the technology museum, which appears to be hidden behind a barrier of tower blocks and dual carriageways. After three hours of fruitless hunting, I give up and retire to an Internet cafe. Have been offered a freebie jaunt to a hotel at a business park in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. That's as glam as it gets...
Spend a bit more time Googling my own name. Anything to avoid having to go back outside into the Siberian blizzard for a look around the castle. This is my karmic payback for that freebie villa in the Cook Islands, isn't it?

Saturday
Arrive in Vienna, a city I've never had any previous affection for. Haven't lined up anything in advance for once, so I'm freestyling like a proper traveller. Decide to go and annoy the woman at Tourist Information by asking if there's anything "weird" I can go and see. She looks puzzled and then suggests the Haus der Musik, while handing me a mountain of leaflets.
This is part and parcel of the job. It's no good writing about Vienna's musical heritage, lovely architecture or famous dancing horses. They've all been covered in staggering depth before. My job (well, it is if I want to make any money out of it) is to find a new slant.
Mercifully, the leaflets are far more useful than the woman. How can you possibly respond to a request for weird attractions and forget to mention a Funeral Museum? There are a few more along the same absurd and bizarrely specific lines, too, so the whole day is spent hopping between wacky museums. And a more fabulous, career-affirming day I couldn't wish for.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

#77 – Make the most of your own knowledge

Or selling common sense to where it isn’t common sense.

Expertise?
As a travel writer, I am something of an all-rounder rather than a specialist. I know some places quite well (and Australia very well), but I’d hardly call myself an expert on anything. This doesn’t mean that some of my editors don’t think I’m an expert, however.

Australian knowledge
I sell a lot about Australia to Australian publications, but there are also publications in the UK that will come to me as an expert on Oz. I’m not really that knowledgeable, but my knowledge of the country is vastly superior to that of most people (including the editors). I might not have the absolute inside line, but it’s good enough for the purposes.

Budget airlines in Europe
Similarly, I write a lot about Europe for Australian publications. And a lot of what I’m doing seems like common sense to me. For example, I’ve just done a piece on budget airlines in Europe and where to look for the cheapest flights. Many Europeans will already know this – but not many Australians do.

Common sense?
The same applies to pieces I’ve done on the vagaries of the British train system. Most people in Britain know to book trains online in advance or face exorbitant prices. Aussies don’t, however. What may seem common sense here isn’t common sense there. I don’t need to be an expert on the UK rail network – the basics that I do know are enough to make me SEEM like an expert through Australian eyes.

Applied logic
This is a logic that can easily be applied elsewhere. Americans probably don’t know the best ways to find cheap car hire in the UK. New Zealanders probably don’t know anything about budget airlines in Canada. South Africans probably have zero knowledge about getting good value taxi fares in Dubai. A local in each of those destinations can easily appear to be an expert by explaining what is common knowledge in their home town, but a mystery on the other side of the world.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

#76 – How to find anniversaries

Or how to avoid being a history sponge.

Historical information
In my previous tip, I suggested using forthcoming anniversaries as a hook to hang destination stories on. But of course, you’ve got to find those anniversaries. And not everyone has a brain that soaks up historical information like a sponge. I’m not bad for it, but I’ll concede that I don’t know which year the Panama Canal was built in (for example) without looking it up.

Sheep-like travel publications
The first method I would use is to read other travel stories. If Paper X is running a piece on the 100th anniversary of the building of the Incredible Bongo Towers, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve missed the boat. Travel publications can be a bit sheep-like, and once one decides a place is a ‘hot’ destination, others will follow. In this situation, you can always pitch a similar story to Magazine Y or Website Z.

Year searches on Wikipedia
Another useful source is Wikipedia. Simply bung in a year (say 1909 or 1959 for anniversaries this year) and a list of events that happened then comes up.

Date-a-Base
The best resource I have found, however, is the Date-a-Base from Ideas4writers.co.uk. It’s pretty darned comprehensive and while it doesn’t point the story ideas out to you, it’s fairly easy to come up with some after reading through it. It costs GBP4.99, but I’ve found it an extremely worthwhile investment.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

#75 – Use anniversaries as a hook

Or the joy of nice round numbers.

Travel editor difficulties
One of the difficulties of being a travel editor is creating a reason for running a story on a certain destination. In all honesty, there’s no real reason to run that quite nice story about flea markets in Paris – it’s just personal choice. And frankly, it doesn’t matter which issue it goes in – it’s hardly topical, is it?

Anniversaries and topicality
So editors love to have something topical. They like to have stories on places that are in the news, and they often end up running things related to anniversaries. Look out over this year, and you’ll see plenty of stories with tenuous links to some anniversary or other.

From Galileo to the Berlin Wall
I should know – I’ve got commissions to write about some of them. It’s 400 years since Galileo Galilei invented his telescope; it’s 200 years since Charles Darwin was born; it’s 90 years since the Nazi party was founded and it’s 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down.

Nice round numbers
In all honesty, most of these are not that significant, but humans buy into anniversaries in a big way. If it’s a nice round number of years since a major event, people will always find some excuse to celebrate it. And travel editors are interested in what people are celebrating. Thus 1,000 meandering words on the lovely English town of Shrewsbury suddenly takes on more urgency when Charles Darwin was born there 200 years ago.

Keeping track
As a writer, it’s always worth keeping track of anniversaries that are coming up. If you can get in there before everyone else starts writing about them, you’ve got a high chance of making a successful pitch.

Monday, 19 January 2009

#74 – Notebooks vs recorders

Or making record time...

Recording devices
One of this blog’s regular readers, Ms Lucy, makes an interesting point:

“Just wondering, do you ever use a recording device, besides the notepad? Someone suggested this to me recently, and I'm not sure whether I'd feel self-conscious using this...Then again, so many people walk around talking to themselves on their 'blue Tooth'...”

Conducting interviews
My answer is that I do own a recording device, but I rarely use it. When I do, it’s for conducting interviews – it means I’ve got an accurate record of what has been said, and it allows me to listen properly to the interviewee without having to concentrate on scribbling everything they say down.

Listening to recordings
Even then, I’ll rarely listen to the recording afterwards. I’ll generally only require one or two quotes, and I generally recognise what these will be at the time and write them down.

Braying into a mobile phone
But for other circumstances, I think it’s best to just stick to the notepad. Firstly there’s the self-consciousness aspect. Secondly, I’d put someone walking around a museum talking into a Dictaphone in the same category as those arseholes that bray constantly into their mobile phone throughout a train journey.

The process of writing notes
I also find that the process of writing the notes is important. For some reason, writing something down makes it sink into the memory. In a way, I’m writing notes so that I don’t have to read them.

No fast forwards and pauses
Most importantly, using a notepad instead of an electronic recording device can make for massive time savings when it comes to writing the piece up. Why? When it’s recorded, you’re constantly having to fast forward, rewind and pause because we talk faster than we write. You also have to listen through to get all the information and check that it’s the bit you want.

Quicker with the notepad
Compare that to a notepad: it’s all there in front of you, you can flick to the bit you want without having to skip around to guess the right time and everything is spelt out. Do you really want to have to spell foreign word while you’re talking into your mechanical aid? It’s far quicker with the notepad, and far more functional.

Friday, 16 January 2009

73 – Read the rest of the guidebook

Or angles from elsewhere.

The bits we read

Most of us will only use the part of a guidebook that covers the place we’re going to. OK, we might read the front section about the history and culture as well, but we’ll generally not bother looking at the areas we’re not going to.

Cover to cover?
Guidebooks are not designed to be read from cover to cover, but for the travel journalist it pays to read the sections that aren’t immediately relevant to you. This for a few reasons:

Comparison point
Firstly, it gives a more rounded view of the country as a whole, perhaps offering a comparison point to the place you are going to. Secondly, you’ll probably find a place that you may wish to go to in future (and could maybe fit into the planned trip).

Round-up stories
Thirdly, and most importantly, you may discover some good angles that can be used for round-up stories down the line. Even better, they may spark ideas for those stories.

Do it in down time
I’m not going to pretend that this is an exciting task, and this is why I do it when I have nothing else to do – sat on a train, waiting for a meal to arrive when I’ve got the traditional table for one, on the plane...

Brilliant story angles
I’ve done a bit of all three today, and have been idly flicking through the Germany Lonely Planet. Amongst the brilliant story angles I’ve uncovered are a theme park at an old nuclear power station, the world’s oldest youth hostel and the German Occupational Health and Safety Museum. There’s a good story each one, and I may try and work them into a trip for another time.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

#72 – Respond to rejection with a new idea

Or striking while the iron is lukewarm.

Being rejected by editors
For the freelance travel writer, having your ideas rejected by editors is all part of the package. It happens all the time and always has. The key thing is how you respond to that rejection.

Response to rejection
The response for some writers is to take the rejection of one idea as a rejection of all ideas. They will write the publication off, thinking they have no hope of being published there, and will not pitch any more ideas.

Negative responses as a positive
Other writers do it the smart way and see that rejection can be a good thing. It is far better to get a response from an editor than none at all, even if that response is in the negative. If they have taken the trouble to respond, then you are doing something right. OK, so they didn’t like the idea you sent, but that’s not to say they won’t like another one.

Send another idea
So why not send them another one pretty much straight away? You’ve clearly got the editor’s attention, so you may as well strike while the iron is at least lukewarm, if not hot.

Voice of experience
The second one may not get a positive response either, but there’s probably no better time to send it than after the editor has just taken the time to contact you. I speak from experience on this – I’ve got a lot of work through quick follow ups to rejections.

Victory from the jaws of defeat
On another note, when that acceptance does come through as a result of this method, it’s tremendously satisfying - even more so than normal. There’s nothing like snatching victory from the jaws of defeat to improve the mood.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

#71 – Keep your notepads

Or trading off an eyesore for information.

Spring clean
This is another one that may seem ridiculously obvious, but I am amazed at the amount of writers that will have a spring clean and throw out their notepads. As far as I’m concerned, a writer should never do this.

Information and memories
The notepads may be an eyesore, they may take up lots of space, but they also store vital information and memories.

Shelf of notepads
At home, I have a shelf that is packed full of little notepads. It looks incredibly untidy and chances are that I will never refer to most of them ever again. But I do know that if I dispose of them, then sod’s law dictates that the information in them will come in handy.

Refreshing memories and names of restaurants
Just the other week I had to dig out a four year old notepad to refresh my memory of a place. On other occasions I’ve had to use an ancient, tatty-looking one to dig out the name of a restaurant or the odd bit of information.

Information to hand
Neither was a dealbreaking situation where I would have lost the job, but I was sure glad to have those notepads to hand. If I lost them, I’d be devastated, and there’s no way they will go in any spring clean.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

#70 – Websites that pay for travel writing

Or how to earn money by writing about travel online.

Websites that will accept your travel writing...
The good news is that there are many websites that will accept your travel writing. The bad news is that most of them will expect you to provide it for free, or will pay such a pathetic amount that it’s almost an insult.

...But not pay for it
I’m not going to dignify these sites by listing them. Suffice to say that any site that needs to advertise for travel writers usually hasn’t got enough money to pay them much (if at all). There are hundreds of these sites, most run by a couple of individuals trying to start up their own travel site and wanting lots of cheap content. Some mean well, paying a small fee and hoping to be able to increase their rates as the site grows. Others are clearly out for what they can get.

Travel writer internet forums
What I do find pathetic is that there are writers out there that will fall over themselves to get published on these sites. There are writer internet forums brimming with people who are ecstatic about getting their piece online at WorldTravelGadaboutFunTravel.com (or something like that). Some will even be raving about how they got paid a whole $20 for it.

Well-meaning idiots
These people may again be well meaning, but they’re idiots. For that money, they may as well just put the story up on their own blog. It’s much the same; you’re published, and you’re paid bugger all.

Look for websites that aren’t travel sites
While I would say that all websites are worth looking at when it comes for paid work (after all, there may be some exceptions to this sweeping generalisation that pay very nicely), there is a good general rule to apply. There are plenty of websites out there that pay relatively well, but these usually aren’t travel sites. Most people go to them for something else.

Newspaper sites and portals
It’s obvious that these sites have money because they’ve got a lot of content and a big company behind them. I’m thinking in terms of newspaper sites (Guardian.co.uk pays the same for online articles as it does for print articles) and web portals. Look for general lifestyle sites/ portals such as MSN, internet providers like AOL or Virgin Media, TV company sites such as Sky and even mobile phone companies like Orange.

Money for freelance content
All have big sites that have travel sections, but the travel section is a small aspect of their business. I’ve not approached all of these (and there are many more in the same vein), but I’d wager that they’ve all got money to pay for freelance content. And they’re far better places to hunt for paid work than HaplessWannabesOnTheirHolidays.com.

Monday, 5 January 2009

#69 – Write down all of your story ideas

Or how not to forget flashes of inspiration.

Great ideas are money
The title of this entry may seem ridiculously patronising, but it’s a point worth emphasising. Many great ideas are lost because they’re not written down. And losing great ideas means losing money.

Flash of inspiration
It’s easy enough to do. A flash of inspiration occurs when you’re least expecting it – it’s a brilliant plan, but by the time you’ve got back home, you’ve completely forgotten about it. Sometimes it comes back, sometimes it doesn’t.

Use a notepad to write down brainwaves
When I’m on the road, I always make sure that I reserve a few pages at the back of every notepad for writing down any potential story ideas that may come to me. Some of these will be linked to what I’m supposed to be doing and the sites I’m specifically going to see. Others may be silly little things that I see which spark an idea for a round-up article or opinion piece.

Noting down ideas in a file
Then when I get back to my computer, I make sure I note all of these ideas down in a file. Most of them will come to nothing, but enough do come to fruition to make it worth it. It also means that I have a big database of potential stories to look through if my creative juices aren’t exactly flowing one day.

Small notepad in pocket
I also keep a small notepad in my pocket at all times for this purpose. I might be out for a walk, visiting family or going to the shops, but if something comes to me I can make sure it’s not lost by writing it down. It may seem ridiculous, but it’s so easy to forget that brainwave when you’re distracted by something else

Thursday, 1 January 2009

#68 – Travel Writer Resources: Travmedia

Or getting PR people to do the research for you.

Getting story ideas
One excellent source of story ideas is Travmedia. The premise is quite simple: it collects press releases from tourist boards, hotels, tour companies etc from all over the world and stores them in one place. This means travel writers can have a look through and see if there’s anything that interests them.
Of course, there’s an awful lot of crap in there, but the useless bits of self-promotion are usually easy to spot a mile off and can happily be ignored.

Getting PR people to do the research for you
But the best aspect of Travmedia is the ‘Journalist Alert’ function. This comes in extremely useful when doing research for a feature you might not know too much about. Just type in what you’re after, and it gets sent out to all the tourist boards, PR agencies, tour companies etc that subscribe. And most of them do subscribe.
The PR people will then usually come back a few days later with some ideas that may fit your query.

Sparing use of Journalist Alert
The Journalist Alert should only be used sparingly, however. There are many PRs out there that will leap upon every opportunity to flog and plug their products. And they’ve no compunction about doing so when the subject is completely irrelevant.

Hotel pests
Almost every time I’ve used the Travmedia Journalist Alert, I have been besieged with e-mails. Some are very helpful, but other just make me angry. I’ll have been very specific in the request, to the point of saying: “No shoehorning in irrelevant hotels and tours – they will not be used”. And, unsurprisingly, the hotel pests still send a long missive through.