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Power and responsibility

15 December 2011

There’s a firestorm over on David Whitley’s industry-leading travel blog Grumpy Traveller, where he savages bloggers involved in the ongoing Visit Jordan social media campaign that’s been running all year (2011).

David’s post is here, but also read the comments – they’re a fascinating glimpse into the travel blogging mindset.

After what I wrote there, Nathan Midgley followed up with this. Then a business journalist writing about the Visit Jordan campaign emailed me for my opinion. I thought I’d lay things out here.

Visit Jordan’s strategy has considerable merit.

Here are some sweeping generalisations for you. Jordan is a difficult destination. It’s hot and dusty, and a bit underdeveloped. It’s in a war zone. Not many people have been there – word of mouth doesn’t yield much info. You have to be tough to get around, and you have to like scrambling over ancient ruins, cuz there isn’t much else. The people are nice enough, but it’s not exactly a Land of Smiles. Women need to watch out. Tread carefully around cultural issues – people are easily offended. And watch your wallet.

Rubbish, isn’t it? But that’s where I think ordinary folk are coming from. They simply don’t know. For years, I’ve been bellyaching about the lack of information out there on Jordan.

So a campaign which delivers a large quantity of first-hand experiences, in text, pictures and video, to an audience already primed & softened up to the delights of travel makes sense. Over a year you could realistically expect mainstream media around the world to run perhaps 30 separate print features on travel to Jordan in total. Maybe 50. That’s a lot of eyeballs, sure, but it’s also a lot of dead ends. Bloggers can deliver hundreds of posts, as well as FB & Twitter coverage, that – I’m guessing – have way more trickle-down impact than MSM. By plugging closely into a SM-savvy market, you could potentially spark the holy grail for every tourist board – Positive Word of Mouth Worldwide – without having to spend millions on Incredible India branding or sumptuous Malaysia Truly Asia ads.

Nayef Al Fayez – former director of the Jordan Tourism Board (i.e. the overseas promotional arm) and now Minister of Tourism – is a smart guy. He travels constantly. He listens to people. He knows how Jordan is seen around the world.

And he knows that whereas half of Jordan’s tourism is package holidays booked through a tour operator, that leaves half which is effectively independent and unmeasurable. For a DMO to be able to talk directly to consumers and be believed has inestimable value.

So, aside from the danger of firehosing the web with Jordan content rather than dripfeeding under controlled conditions, JTB’s strategy is basically sound. The problems come, I’m afraid, from the bloggers.

Much has been made of the fact that blogging shatters the old journalism model, by allowing writers to be their own publishers – Alastair McKenzie, for instance, makes that point here.

That’s power – a lot of it. Blogs which attract tens of thousands of visitors, and bloggers who have tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and/or Facebook, are as powerful as publishers. That’s why PRs and DMOs (and advertisers) are wooing them.

But they’re unedited. Unregulated. Untrained. Unqualified. Unaccountable.

That can be positive. They can publish things mainstream media wouldn’t touch – wacky ideas, marginal destinations, tangential encounters. But, let’s face it, they don’t. A handful of notable exceptions aside, travel bloggers just churn out the same old crud. They swan around like wide-eyed first-timers. There’s no insight. There’s no pre-trip research. There’s no post-trip reflection (heaven forbid: publish and move on). There’s no understanding of the economic strategies which brought them to the destination. There’s no sense of perspective. To put it bluntly, there’s no journalism. It’s all just words, words, words. Me, me, me. So we end up with the immortal “Jordan is the Canada of the Middle East“.

As David Whitley so memorably said, the last thing the web needs is more stuff on it.

Because they don’t know any different, bloggers are putty in the hands of the PRs…and it’s a short distance from that to the iambassador marketing programme embraced by Visit Jordan, and queried by Jeremy Head.

JTB’s tactics have let its strategy down. Quantity of material is the driving force, but quality has been underestimated. Quality really matters, if Jordan is to break out of its standard historical/cultural package tourism model and diversify into potentially lucrative niche markets. And, incidentally, those markets go beyond tourism: they have the ability to slowly – but clearly – define Jordan’s uniqueness to the world. This is soft power. It’s absolutely vital to the national interest.

But that won’t come if the country spends money hosting people who can only deliver “Jordan is the Canada of the Middle East”, regardless of how big the audience for that message is.

Bloggers are in a uniquely privileged position. Most of them, though, still view travel as holiday, rather than work, and they view themselves as being in a community rather than as being communicators. That’s not good enough. With power comes responsibility. Responsibility to the destination, sure, but above all to the readership. Show us something new.

Be better.

 

Disclaimer: In the last 12 months I went twice to Jordan. In the three years before that I was there 7 times. I’ll be there 3 or 4 times in 2012. Sometimes I’m hosted by the tourist board, sometimes I’m not. If you think that means I’m jealous because I wasn’t invited to take part in the 2011 blogger programme (thank heavens), good for you.

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. 15 December 2011 11.18am

    You’re just jealous :)

    One thing I’d like to know regarding all these Jordan blog posts is how many people are actually reading them. It’s easy to give figures about how many visit the site overall, but how many people – that aren’t fellow bloggers – have actually read the specific Jordan post?

    The way blogs oten work is that a few posts count for a disproportionate amount of the traffic. I’m not sure the Jordan posts will be the ones attracting those disproportionate amounts of eyeballs.

  2. 15 December 2011 12.38pm

    A few random thoughts on the Jodan thing:

    1) I wasn’t invited to Jordan. I went on my own dime back in 2009. I have no skin in this game. My primary motivation for going was Lawrence of Arabia.

    2) Given the nature of events in the Middle East this year, using bloggers I think was a reasonable strategy. They offer an immediacy that you can’t get in print. You can’t wait 6 months if riots are happening in Egypt now.

    3) Much of the community’s reaction to is comes from the fact that we all follow the same people, so to us, we are seeing the same things published everywhere. If you are not in the echo chamber however, you probably will not notice it. The same effect makes me go nuts reading about yet another 20-something backpacker going to Thailand.

    4) I don’t fault people for experimenting with the iambassador program, but personally I’d never join it. There is some fine line between having trip costs covered and getting paid directly for content that I dont’ want to cross. I’d put up banner ads perhaps, but I wouldn’t want to get paid for posts to promote a place. I don’t think they are bad people for doing it and I am curious to see how it turns out.

    5) As a blogger, I think there are advantages to being contrary. If everyone is doing Jordan, there are benefits to not doing Jordan. You can’t stand apart from the crowd if you are just doing what everyone else in the crowd is doing.

    6) People with writing backgrounds tend to evaluate bloggers based on what they have been taught good writing is. There is an element of truth to that, but they underestimate the importance of “me me me” in developing a personal brand. The goal isn’t to create the exact same sort of pieces which have been put in magazines and newspapers for years. I am a publisher first. The only reason I can think why people would pay attention to me is because they are interested in my thoughts, opinions, etc. If they aren’t, they can just go read Travel + Leisure.

    7) I’m not putty in the hands of PR. I have a business background and I know damn well why they do what they do. I don’t think any blogger is as ignorant as you think they are, either.

    8) “Unregulated. Untrained. Unqualified. Unaccountable.” I’m accountable to my readers. My qualifications are determined by my readers. My training comes from 5 years of travel, several thousand blog posts and over 100,000 photos. God help us all if there is ever regulation.

    The whole point of the internet is that there are no gatekeepers. The fact that some editor likes you doesn’t make you qualified or trained, it just means an editor liked you. The public now determines who wins and who loses.

    The notion of training and qualifications is an old media way of thinking that there is an elite who should be the anointed ones who can disperse information to the masses. It doesn’t work that way anymore.

    I’ve found that most travel writers share a similar race, similar political views, similar education level, similar college majors, and similar economic backgrounds. The fact that some people are doing it different isn’t a bug in the system, it is a feature.

    I’d actually agree that the vast majority of travel bloggers are not that interesting, take poor photos and aren’t very good writers. That is the nature of the beast when there is no barrier to entry. Look at a long tail graph and you’ll see that the number of winners in any online system is going to be very small.

  3. Stuart permalink
    15 December 2011 12.54pm

    Excellent post.

    The GoJordan hash is pretty special.

    https://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23GoJordan

  4. Eddie Taylor permalink
    15 December 2011 1.04pm

    A truly outstanding summation of the issue, Matthew… and one that quietly answers the outraged and overly-sensitive comments on David’s original post.

    Jordan, as we both know, is an extremely seductive place on first visit, with almost everything other than the Treasury’s facade coming as a welcome surprise – not least when displayed on a carefully choreographed press trip that avoids issues of poverty, protest and the twin seas of corruption and mis-management that threaten to swallow up this apparent idyll.

    Unfortunately, the issue isn’t restricted to travel bloggers. Plenty of professional journalists, not least the Guardian’s perennially misinformed Gemma Bowes, get the country wrong, serving up all-too-easy assumptions on Muslim society and the adolescent affection the people have for the royal family.

    Indeed, it’s not even restricted to travel. I’ve lost count of the “serious” articles about the escalating problems for King Abdullah – Palestinian majority, Muslim brotherhood, East bank tribes, Ma’an – that simply recycle decades-old half truths in the guise of insight.

    Jordan is a wonderful country on first view. But travel writers, any writers, have a duty to their audience by looking again. And again.

  5. 15 December 2011 1.22pm

    I have nothing to say except spot on Matthew.

  6. 15 December 2011 1.44pm

    This is a really smart summary of what’s going on here, and from someone who clearly knows about the place. (Disc.: I don’t.)

    I’m also interested to read Gary’s reply, specifically these:

    > There is some fine line between having trip costs covered and getting paid directly for content

    Thing is, that really *isn’t* a fine line at all. It’s the line between journalism (or critical engagement of any type… *exactly what the original spirit of blogging was*) and marketing. You instinctively know that, clearly, which is why you don’t get involved. It isn’t a fine line. It’s a very important line. Perhaps the *most important* ethical line for any commercial writer, and there’s never an excuse for forgetting that.

    > People with writing backgrounds tend to evaluate bloggers based on what they have been taught good writing is. There is an element of truth to that, but they underestimate the importance of “me me me” in developing a personal brand. The goal isn’t to create the exact same sort of pieces which have been put in magazines and newspapers for years.

    You write as if bloggers invented the “me, me, me” style of travel writing. In fact, that style is older than even journalism. Laurie Lee, Eric Newby, Martha Gellhorn… heck, even Herodotus were prone to a fair bit of “me, me, me”. The issue isn’t first person narrative, personal brands, or whatever. It’s the quality of the output, which is determined by the professionalism of the input.

  7. 15 December 2011 2.07pm

    Some brilliant ideas here – thank you everyone.

    @David: Indeed; who’s reading this stuff? I think everyone wants to know.

    @Gary: Who wins, who loses – winning & losing – must admit I’d never thought of travel writing in those terms before. Training & qualification (not that I have either) isn’t an elite mentality at all – it’s about taking those who have raw talent and giving them technique so they can fly. For their benefit and ours. Quality means we can all be winners, if you like.

    @Eddie – a telling comment, thank you. Jordan can indeed be a tough nut to crack. I know – I’ve been trying to crack it for years ;-)

    @Donald – spot on. But you mentioned the P word. I’ve already demarcated the (clear) line between blogging and journalism. Don’t tempt me with professional/amateur too! ;-)

  8. 15 December 2011 2.09pm

    “But they’re unedited. Unregulated. Untrained. Unqualified. Unaccountable.”

    Yeaph… We bloggers and social media guys & gals are so dumb, ignorant, not to forget naive!

    Seriously… That there are always the same people, non-travel bloggers, who use every chance to write negatively about travel blogging and the travel community, was annoying so far, but gets more & more amuzing.

    I would recommend to find out more about the people’s background first, before you do statements like these.

    I would also recommend to stop comparing blogging to journalism. It’s “Same same, BUT different”.

    I totally agree with you “With power comes responsibility.” That is something many (not all) journalists & publishers should think about as well. I know that newspapers are full of advertorials & press releases. Strange way of showing responsibility…

    Especially as we all know how media does influence people.

    The bloggers who take part at the iAmbassador project don’t see a blog trip as holiday. A blog trip is fun, yes… Nothing wrong with that, but it’s work. If someone says that travel bloggers see blog trips as a holiday, then I can only answer, that this is a complete wrong assumption and that this person have no idea of blogging at all. I’m talking about full time blogging, not as a hobby. But the chances for hobby bloggers to get on a blog trip are also not so high.

  9. 15 December 2011 2.20pm

    I wrote the piece Jordan is the Canada of the Middle East. I will be the first to say I am not a journalist at all. I don’t call my self a writer or a travel writer. I am a traveler and I have a blog and people like to read about my perspective of what happens when I show up in a country.

    I spent 14 months traveling through Latin America, I did not do any research about any country I visited, I showed up and learned along the way. I have an approach to my blog and my writing that my readers enjoy and connect with. I am not trying to be anything more than I am – and I am not a travel journalist.

    The day that piece went live and you told me on Twitter that the people of Jordan were disappointed with me I invited you to comment on the post to give a more informed view. You told me life was too short.

    I’m not a journalist I’m a girl with a blog. My readers enjoyed it and I stand by it.

  10. 15 December 2011 2.29pm

    Hey @Melvin – glad to hear I amuse you. That means we’re both laughing.

    @Ayngelina – thanks for stopping by here, and credit to you for commenting. What you say is revealing and enlightening. I appreciate it.

  11. 15 December 2011 2.52pm

    Right. I’m calling BS now. Melvin says: “That there are always the same people, non-travel bloggers, who use every chance to write negatively about travel blogging and the travel community, was annoying so far, but gets more & more amuzing.”

    These people who ‘use every chance to write negatively about travel blogging’. Where do they do so? On travel blogs. What you are doing is essentially saying that anyone who doesn’t follow your narrowly-defined model of travel blogging is not a travel blogger.

    Sometimes when people say something is crap, it’s not about jealous, protectionism, defensiveness or not understanding, it’s because that something is genuinely crap.

    I don’t actually agree with Matthew that every piece about Jordan has to show a lot of knowledge about the country. There’s room for wide-eyed first timer pieces. But at least make them good ones – make them useful, illuminating, entertaining, whatever. Just don’t make them pretty much the same as the ones that everyone else is pumping out.

    If you think every blog has its own self-contained readership and there’s no crossover between them, you are deluded. It’s not just people within the industry and sat on Twitter all day that will be getting sick of reading hundreds of unimaginative, tedious pieces about the same destination in quick succession – it’s your audiences too.

    And stop going back to the “well kinda the same thing happens in the mainstream media” argument too. It’s mixing up medium and message. Just because it does happen doesn’t mean it should happen.

    If, as so many claim to be doing, you are running a business, then perhaps you should stop and think about how you’re running it. In no other industry would everyone churn out pretty much the same thing and hope to stay in business – surely you should be looking for points of difference; to offer something the others aren’t offering; to do it better. You know what – that means competing; it means identifying what’s good and what’s bad. There’s a finite audience for mediocre (and I’m being kind) travel content. If you’re going to keep splashing it out, then you should probably be looking at taking that audience away from other providers of mediocre travel content.

    Alternatively, you can keep cheerleading, screech the “let’s all be positive about the crap each other is churning out” message as loud as you can and wag your fingers at anyone with the audacity to question the wisdom of what you’re doing. Up to you.

  12. Eddie Taylor permalink
    15 December 2011 2.56pm

    Melvin and Ayngelina,

    In a way, you’ve underscored Matthew’s argument… Undeniably, you have every right to commit to whatever you like to your blog. You can write iambic pentameter about the goats on the King’s Highway if that’s what takes your fancy. You can upload charcoal doodles of Jerash if you feel the need. And your readers, however many of them there are, might applaud your innovation.

    The point isn’t whether or not your entitled to do it, the point is whether a resource-poor country such as Jordan is well served by engaging the peddlers of such blogs in their overall tourism marketing strategy – which is of increasing importance to the nation’s economic health.

    If the result of a “bloggers trip” is a series of fact-lite, first-impression sketches of tour itinerary bullet points – Dead Sea, Petra, something that looks like a souq, a bedouin tent – then it is hardly unfair to suggest that the investment is returning modest dividends.

  13. 15 December 2011 4.09pm

    Well I’m not a blogger or a writer I’m just a travel agent. And I’ve been reading the posts, including some guy called Mr Whitley, and it’s made me laugh. He’s a funny guy (think Goodfellas). But on a serious note I think this is not a bad idea. In fact with a bit of tweaking it could become a great idea.

    Now travel agents have been having familiarisation trips (fams) for years. About 8 or 9 years ago the trend came in for mass fams. Taking away 200+ agents to visit a country or territory. What soon became clear from feedback was hearding 200 folk from Cairns – Uluru to Sydney in one week was counterproductive.

    So they spilt 200 agents into 20 groups doing 20 different routes. All meeting together at the end. It was smart. It meant there was a greater coverage of the country plus you had learnt a lot more at the end where everyone did workshops on where they had been and their impressions. Believe me when I say it worked.

    Now Jordan doesn’t have Australia’s budget, but the idea of getting away from a gringo trail and getting travellers/bloggers out to the less visited parts of a country strikes me as sensible. If only because it cuts down on repitition…which can be an issue shall we say.

    One other thing – is it just me or is Jordan a really photogenic country?

    I’m watching with interest

    Cheers Stuart

    ps. Gotta love a comments section that quotes Herodotus

  14. Nathan Midgley permalink
    15 December 2011 4.18pm

    Thanks for the mention Matthew. One quick thought: if the project had stayed within the orbit of the bloggers they invited, it would never have crossed my radar. Usually when marketers invest in a blog-heavy campaign they aren’t just thinking about the quality of first-order output, but about the second-order discussion it generates. The blogger pack covers off the rinse-and-repeat tourist trail stuff, that prompts a more nuanced take from more experienced voices. I’m second-guessing Jordan here, but that could all have been factored in… though they might not have wanted it *quite* this acrimonious.

    I liked this:

    “Quality really matters, if Jordan is to break out of its standard historical/cultural package tourism model and diversify into potentially lucrative niche markets. … Those markets … have the ability to … define Jordan’s uniqueness to the world. This is soft power. It’s absolutely vital to the national interest.”

    If you’re not careful you’ll turn the perennial journo/blogger tickle-fight into a debate about something interesting. Bravo.

  15. Oliver permalink
    15 December 2011 5.02pm

    A wise man once said . . .

    “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

    C.Darwin

    ps – his book is pretty good too.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Origin-Species-Natural-Selection-Editions/dp/0486450066/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1323968510&sr=8-3

  16. 15 December 2011 5.03pm

    A while back, someone asked me for feedback about the result of a blogger blitz on a destination.I know the place well — I’ve been there uncountable of times on extended stays. My response? Not very interesting, really, the posts, splattered across a series of blogs didn’t reflect anything I couldn’t learn by cracking a tourist brochure. Plus, the coverage was repetitive — clicking through to another blog didn’t get me anything new.

    “Wrong!” I was told. “It was great.” The client was pleased with the traffic, there were x thousands of pageviews and retweets and and and. I summarize, of course. That person’s definition for what’s successful and mine are in really different, aren’t they?

    So:

    Does Jordan consider the program a success? If so, why?
    What does Jordan (or any destination) look for in selecting the participants?

    I wonder if it’s not a two sided sword. High traffic bloggers are attractive to destinations purely because of their saturation potential, right? Sophisticated readers care a lot about quality material, and when you’re an expert on a destination, it’s especially offensive to see the same vanilla content. But the suits behind a program like Visit Jordan may be dicey on risky content — they might intentionally be avoiding bringing writers who create the kind of work you advocate for. I don’t know, I just wonder what the threshold for risk is on that side.

    Mind you, this doesn’t excuse laziness or cowardice on the part of participants, they’re not, after all, being paid by the CVB to produce work FOR the CVB. Or are they? I don’t know that, either.

    Related: I recently had a proposal for a CVB to support my travel for a story turned down because it was “too niche.” I turned down a trip to go to Jordan earlier this year — not through this campaign. I was so bummed about this. I REALLY want to go to Jordan, to see Petra, of course, but for other things too. I feared that I would reach nothing but bored readers. “Jordan? AGAIN? Et tu?” I just couldn’t do it. Not now.

    And forgive me, I keep telling this very short story, but it warrants retelling. I talked to an editor at a Worldwide Well-Respected Travel Network about market saturation. Said editor’s choice quote? “If I see another blog post about Jordan, I’m going to shoot myself.”

  17. 15 December 2011 7.04pm

    Aw, Matt, what’s wrong with ‘Jordan is the Canada of the Middle East’? The JTB is probably glad for that tagline. I thought Ayngelina’s post was sweet, and it’s that firsthand “I went there and it wasn’t terrifying” testimony that is useful. Maybe it’s a little flip, but it will be a relief to hear for a lot of travelers.

    And I like reading newspaper travel stories, but I decide where my next trip will be, it’s usually on the basis of someone’s personal recommendations. So JTB is smart to capitalize on that. Sure, some of it might be vacuous–but then so is some print journalism.

    I really appreciated your earlier post countering the “off the beaten track” Jordan as being (duh) Petra.

    That points to the main hazard of JTB’s dealing with potentially less-experienced travelers–these writers don’t all have the perspective to realize Petra is as on-track as you get.

    But that wasn’t the gist of Ayngelina’s post.

  18. 15 December 2011 7.52pm

    Overwhelmed – thanks everyone for a great (and totally unexpected) debate.

    @Stuart – “the idea of getting away from a gringo trail and getting travellers/bloggers out to the less visited parts of a country strikes me as sensible.” Yes indeed. But Jordan needs to take baby-steps. Although it has a decent second rung of sights, the third rung probably couldn’t really handle global attention…which brings us back to my point about product diversification on the ground before SM promotion thereof…

    @Nathan – absolutely right – the very fact this post has garnered the attention it has speaks volumes about unforeseen consequences in SM strategy. As for the soft power/national interest line – tbh that’s the real issue for me. I care more about Jordan than I do about travel blogging. Eddie Taylor (who’s pretty much half-Jordanian himself btw) made the same point two comments above yours.

    @Oliver – a gnomic comment, but I okayed it anyway.

    @Pam – you ask lots of VERY relevant questions. I really, honestly hope Visit Jordan will step in here and help out with some answers.

    @Zora – great to see you here. As for ‘Jordan is Canada’, in the time-honoured phrasing, you’re entitled to your opinion ;-)

  19. 15 December 2011 7.56pm

    I think that as a lot of the criticism of the Visit Jordan (VJ) social media campaign has come from travel journos, it’s easy to dismiss it as part of the tired old, irrelevant travel jouno vs travel blogger chestnut. However that’s convenient cover for bloggers and avoiding the issues.

    To me it seemed like a hijack of Twitter with pals incessantly retweeting each other’s stuff on very similar topics.

    I have a sinking feeling that the VJ campaign will be declarted a big success, based on metrics such as (supposedly) reaching the hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers of all the bloggers taking part. But were all these followers all logged into Twitter, glued to every #GoJordan tweet? How many of these folowers are other travel bloggers or members of the travel industry?

  20. Panete permalink
    15 December 2011 7.58pm

    Oh come on guys get over it already!

    All I see here are a bunch of bright people that have taken a good idea and bring it together. They get promotion of their websites by giving exposure to posts that have already been published a while ago; earning some money and helping fellow bloggers in the process. What’s wrong with that? oh, I know, that it wasn’t your idea. You look like a group of kids looking at other kids that are about to eat a big piece of cake and crying when realizing that they haven’t even been invited to the party.

    Embrace change!

    If you don’t stop wasting your time ranting about it these people are going to eat you alive and spit the bones. Later don’t say you were not warned.

  21. Panete permalink
    15 December 2011 8.10pm

    @Karen – Do you think that what Jordan tourism board is looking for is for those tweets to reach only other travel bloggers? Of course you don’t need so many tweets for that, you probably read everything before the tweet even gets to you.

    It’s not the travel bloggers who bring bread to the country, the regular travelers/vacationers do. You are not the target, you are the medium. And that’s why this campaign is going to be a huge success and why you should stop complaining about it and adapt for it, because when Jordan starts to see the outcome, other countries are going to join in.

  22. 15 December 2011 8.26pm

    @Panete Of course VJ wants to reach regular travellers/vacationers. However I’m not convinced that strategies such as Twitter overloads are the best way to reach that target audience.

  23. Eddie Taylor permalink
    15 December 2011 8.48pm

    @Panete

    “You are not the target, you are the medium. And that’s why this campaign is going to be a huge success…”

    Sorry, but you’re speculating. There’s simply no way you can know; indeed, tourist numbers (for a number of factors) in Jordan have been abysmal this year. A few favourable lines in either a travel blog or the New York Times magazine is hardly a game-changer in the face of regional instability and a government that has inflated every cost the visitor is likely to face, whether it’s entry visas or day passes to Petra.

    Again, the issue isn’t blogging. Blogging is just a means of delivering words, it’s not a distinct skillset that delineates one group of writers from another – as this debate on professional journalist Matthew Teller’s blog is neatly demonstrating.

    The issue is the efficacy of JTB’s identification of and engagement with self-publishing travel journalists (as I’ll call them to avoid terms that may be considered pejoratives!)

    Simply having a lot of people writing about a country – nice weather, Petra’s amazing, Lawrence of Arabia, tea – isn’t the same as transferring actionable knowledge about it, especially as so many of the resulting posts are interchangeable surface impressions.

    More words doesn’t mean a great deal when the vocabulary used is so limited.

  24. Shaney Hudson permalink
    15 December 2011 8.59pm

    @Panete….. oh God! No Visit Jordan cake! I haven’t been invited to the party! I better run, or I’ll be eaten alive and my bones will be spat out if I don’t watch myself!

    Thanks for the warning, but I think most people here (who have distinguished, full-time travel writing careers both print and online) are raising decent comments and critically engaging with their peers in the industry. Good questions are being raised, ones that deserve more valid answers than the you’re just jealous! mantra, questions that look at the benefit for a country that is financially struggling and whose people are relatively poor, as well as the potent ethical considerations of being directly paid by a tourist board to write (something that has been raised and spoken about in regards to this campaign but not clarified?). These two issues alone are bigger concerns than the blogger putting a dime in their pocket.

    I’ve been reluctant to engage in this discussion because there is more I can learn from it than I can contribute. One of the best things about Matthew’s blog is that he genuinely not only knows this destination, he also actually gives a damn about it and it’s people and has taken the time to carefully consider the issues affecting the country. It gives him authority and a greater perspective than most of us (myself included) to look at the issues facing the country and this campaign. His concern is with the benefit to the country. Yours is with the benefit and reputation of the bloggers.

  25. 15 December 2011 9.32pm

    I’ll just chime in again to say that the very fact the JTB has _thought_ of this relatively creative and forward-thinking idea gives me hope for tourism there. And actually makes me want to go there more. (Still haven’t been. Partly because I already thought of it as the Canada of the Middle East. Kidding, kidding.)

    Compare it to Egypt’s tourism program, which is so incredibly one-track and ossified, and just involves producing very expensive TV ads that in no way reflect reality And then that attitude is reflected on the ground in Egypt, with the goal so patently being to get money from tourists, with no other follow-through. It’s really sad.

    Whoever up-thread pointed out that this campaign isn’t for us, the travel writers, anyway is perfectly right. The goal of the campaign isn’t to keep magazine editors entertained–it’s to build up a little word of mouth and general zeitgeist-y buzz so next time someone’s thinking of taking a trip to a new and interesting country, they think, “Oh, yeah, Jordan…I keep hearing about Jordan…” Saturation works–the specifics in a way don’t matter quite so much…much as we writers like to think they do.

  26. Oliver permalink
    15 December 2011 9.56pm

    It is interesting, reading from afar the comments the blue corner and the red corner make. In particular, the large number of inaccuracies about this campaign with JTB and what it entails.

    Shame the same care for facts in regular travel writing hasn’t been taken in this case.

    The travel blogging community don’t hate travel writers. They are just baffled about why there is so much hatred. If anything I’d go so far as to say they very much respect your industry and your qualities, I certainly do as I can’t write for shit.

    Yet it does it appear that travel writers have so much against travel bloggers. A lot of this seems to be made on assumptions.

    A lot of those have been made with regards to this JTB + iAmbassador project.

    I was once told that to assume is to make an ass out of me and u.

    You guys crack on and complain, discuss, hate amongst yourselves. It doesn’t make the travel bloggers that bothered. It reflects poorly on you, not us.

    After all, they are busy trying to make money. . . are you?

  27. 15 December 2011 10.22pm

    Oliver. The red and blue camps are entirely in your head. The writers vs bloggers nonsense was surely dispensed with as an argument a long time ago. The old school/ traditional/ whatever you want to call them writers/ journalists weighing in to the argument are, almost without exception, ones that have embraced online. Most have blogs, many earn substantial percentages from online work. Are they travel bloggers? Possibly. Depends how obsessed you are with labels.

    We’re part of your industry, Oliver. We might not be in your clique, your self-defined community, but we’re all part of the same thing. We probably agree on more things than we don’t agree on; but we do disagree on some things. That should be something to be embraced; no industry can survive without differing approaches and opinions. Perhaps you should try embracing them rather than dismissing them as the hate-filled rants of dinosaurs. The “blogger (as long as it fits my definition of blogger) = good” is far too simplistic, and will be massively damaging to our (yes, not your) industry in the long run.

    And I don’t think any of the comments above are really to do with the iAmbassador project. They’re about noise and sound quality. No-one really cares about the iAmbassador project. Sorry to break it to you.

    PS. “After all, they are busy trying to make money. . . are you?” Take out the ‘trying’ part, and, yep, spot on.

  28. Stuart permalink
    16 December 2011 2.40am

    I’m no hater. I just think some elements have not been thought through — at all — as evidenced by the gojordan hash that’s been pumping out a link a minute for the last three hours.

    It’s called criticism. You learn from it.

  29. 16 December 2011 3.38am

    I found your writing well-balanced, thought-provoking, interesting and a stimulus to action … I seldom get involved in these debates, not because I dont have opinions but because either I don’t feel strongly enough, I’m too lazy to comment or don’t want to get involved in an argument … I’m with Ayngelina – only at my age I’m a woman not a girl ;-) I travel ceaselessly (in mind, body & spirit however naff that may sound to others) and blog because I love writing.

    This debate is inspirational in many ways – Im one who tries to see the best in things as there’s enough crap in the world anyway, and it’s focused me on developing my craft – writing – whilst observing & learning from others who do it better. Being able to recognise the merits and downsides of the experiences that blogging brings is a valuable insight … thanks to all for reminding me.

  30. 16 December 2011 9.09am

    Thank you again, everyone, for a brilliant debate.

    @Zora – you haven’t been? Shame on you! And yes, you’re absolutely right: the JTB deserve plaudits and admiration for devising the strategy – JTB is not just a regional leader in the M.East, but (as shown by their online influence, invariably listed in the top 5 or 10 tourist boards) a world leader too.

    It’s just like @Stuart says – a few elements need refinement. And, as @Shaney noted earlier on, constructive engagement of the kind that’s (mostly) been shown on this page, supportive but critical, should I hope be welcomed by both parties.

    @Zoë – kind words much appreciated, thank you.

  31. 16 December 2011 9.35am

    > I don’t think any of the comments above are really to do with the iAmbassador project.

    Well, actually, my irritation is, kinda… at least, as far as I know anything about it. (Which is only by reading the online pitch for it, though these comments stand as a general point anyway.) But it’s not because I “hate” bloggers. I was a “blogger” (though not in travel) before any of these travel blogs existed, AFAIK. I don’t say that to claim some idiotic precedence, but to emphasize that (as you say, David) we’re all pretty much part of the same industry. I write online journalism, I write print journalism, I write commissioned books and ebooks, I write apps “entrepreneurially”, I even write the odd opinion piece on my own site for free (I’m a blogger!). The medium is irrelevant. That’s not lots of industries. It’s one.

    And it’s precisely *because* I consider many of these “travel bloggers” my peers that I give a shit when they cross what, for me, is an ethical red line.You can write editorial. You can write marketing. When the destination is the client, you’re writing the latter. You can’t claim one is the other, or you’re cheating your readers, and (in the long run) screwing us all.

  32. Shaney Hudson permalink
    16 December 2011 10.32am

    @Donald I have to agree with Donald about crossing the line. There’s a big difference between being hosted and getting paid by the destination to write- something that still needs to be clarified, and I’ve seen a few people dance around when asked.

  33. 16 December 2011 11.05am

    Questions for @Donald and @Shaney (and anyone else). Does it matter if you cross that line anonymously? If I write pure, untainted, self-funded copy under my own name, then fawn over DMOs and travel corporations under a pseudonym, is there still harm being done? Or does the mere existence of gushing paid-for content under ANYone’s name – even fictitious – cause damage? To whom? And if so, how about gushing copy that has no byline at all, so is effectively in-house puff? Surely that exists already, and always has done…

  34. 16 December 2011 1.03pm

    @Shaney Just to make sure that there are no miss-understandings. Matthew said in one of his comments, that he is not talking about the VisitJordan & iAmbassador project here, even if he starts his whole post and names it (strange, but maybe just by coincidence?).

    I really don’t want to get into a journalist – blogger blah blah blah, as this was discussed so many times already. But it seems that some journalists / travel writers likes that topic and start all over again & again. If I’m wrong, please let me know and show me a post where a blogger started a discussion like that in a post. I personally would prefer to work together and see no problem to do so.

    The travel bloggers who were invited by the Jordan tourism board in the last year and also the iAmbassador group never got paid to write an article. I was actually never asked to write something by any tourism board and I’m sure I can speak for all travel bloggers here. The editorial control of each post is very important and it’s very important that it stays like that, as that’s what the readers expect of a blogger.

    Up till now I see advertorials (complete articles for advertisung purposes) and PR texts only in newspapers and magazines.

  35. 20 December 2011 6.55pm

    I think we’re talking about two different issues in this thread.

    1) “Pay to play,” a.k.a. paying a stipend or free to a travel blogger in return for coverage:

    This raises questions about objectivity in the coverage, but then again, so does accepting a press trip or working for a publication that runs advertising. At one end of the editorial spectrum, there are publications like CONSUMER REPORTS that are funded solely by readers, and at the other end of the spectrum, there are publications and Web sites (such as free tourist magazines) that use content supplied by advertisers. There’s no universally-accepted dividing line along that spectrum between “ethical” and “unethical” or “objective” and “under the influence.” Traditional editors and writers (and I’m one of them) might lift an eyebrow at the notion of stipends in return for coverage, but from a reader’s point of view, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    2) “Marketing partnerships” such as the iambassador scheme that Jordan’s tourist office is using:

    The participating bloggers are putting their personal brands or reputations to work for Jordan’s tourist board, acting as freelance publicists on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Is this unethical? The answer to that depends on what kind of disclosure accompanies the promotional tweets and posts. But I think a more important issue is whether the bloggers are risking a loss of credibility with their readers, with PR people who are leery of such “marketing partnerships,” and with editors of mainstream media (and no, “mainstream media” isn’t just a synonym for “print”) who could be useful sources of publicity, links, and freelance opportunities down the line.

    One thing we should keep in mind is the fact that most bloggers don’t consider themselves “journalists” and shouldn’t be expected to obsess about appearances. At the SATW Editors Council meeting last May, the travel editor of a major newspaper explained that the paper’s rules on press trips, comps, etc. existed because newspapers live in a “glass house.” If investigative reporters for a paper’s news section take the mayor to task for accepting a junket to Elbonia, the paper doesn’t want the mayor to be able to turn around and say “But your newspaper’s travel writers accept junkets, so how dare you question my ethics?” Self-published travel bloggers and other independent Web publishers don’t have to worry about the “glass house” issue, so it’s both naive and unreasonable for J-school professors or newspaper editors to dictate what such independent bloggers and publishers should or shouldn’t do.

  36. Hal Peat permalink
    23 December 2011 9.04pm

    @Matthew – :”@Gary: Who wins, who loses – winning & losing – must admit I’d never thought of travel writing in those terms before. Training & qualification (not that I have either) isn’t an elite mentality at all – it’s about taking those who have raw talent and giving them technique so they can fly. For their benefit and ours. Quality means we can all be winners, if you like.”

    If you’d never thought of it in those terms before then presumably you’re also blessed in never having had to read or hear what he expounds ad nauseam at tbex/tbs events and anywhere else he/panete/oliver/melvin are unfortunately given the forum real or virtual to do. I do note that these repeatedly vaunted other credentials of being a past wunderkind in the biz world that he and a certain other blogger icon always haul out every few months are somehow to be taken as an incontestible criterion for producing content of value? Oh wait, it’s only other people’s training and credentials that are always questionable. IOW, what you’re asserting here will go flying right by Them as usual, since quality has nothing to do with their type of zero sum mentality that sees only value in those who as Whitley points out “belong to their clique”.

  37. Oliver permalink
    23 December 2011 9.33pm

    whats TBS?

    is that another clique for travel bloggers to join and behave corruptly? If so I’m in.

  38. Hal Peat permalink
    23 December 2011 10.13pm

    Oh sooo sorry for the typo, that should have been TBC. No one really cares what you join, as long as you stay in your own corner instead of infecting other organizations where writers you hate on do belong like SATW, but hey – ask Arndt for a recommend if you’re interested in that one too – it’s known as saying one thing and joining another.

  39. 25 December 2011 10.08am

    @Durant – interesting comment, thank you. My sense is this comes down (again) to the question posed by David Whitley in comment 1 – who’s the readership? As you yourself noted on Kevin May’s recent Tnooz post following up the same discussion, there’s a case for marking a distinction between ‘bloggers’ who are writing for themselves and/or friends, family & other bloggers, and ‘publishers’ who are writing for a general readership (and, perhaps, trying to make money at it).

    Link here:
    http://www.tnooz.com/2011/12/23/news/travel-bloggers-time-to-stop-navel-gazing-and-get-on-with-the-job-please/#comment-1402591

    But it’s yet another terminological subdivision… Sigh ;-)

Trackbacks

  1. About THAT Jordan piece | Grumpy Traveller
  2. Everyone’s a Critic, Especially Me | nerd's eye view
  3. And Now for Something Completely Different: 7 Reasons to Slag Off Jordan | The Working Traveller

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