Image: Taken by Kayla Wratten
As travel journalism is rapidly evolving due to digital convergence, globalisation and citizen journalism, the quantity of travel sources available is becoming more significant than the quality of the writing. Mainstream audiences are logging on to amateur blogs for a surplus of inspiration from photo-stories with limited text, dismissing the thorough articles displayed in the travel section of newspapers and in magazines such as National Geographic. The newsworthiness of this topic is apparent as it is important in terms of being current to the evolving state of journalism worldwide, is informative and, considering that there are two clear perspectives, contentious. Additionally, it is vital that travel journalists understand that they should embrace the online society, or risk losing readers who are adapting to the concepts of convergence, globalisation and citizen journalism.
Top Travel Mag vs Top Travel Blog Readership
As the number of amateur blogs being published climbs higher and higher, the number of sales of traditional travel magazines being published sinks lower and lower. The graph shows the difference between the gradually declining print circulations of the National Geographic magazine versus the rapidly inclining readership of Nomadic Matt, the number one travel blog on the internet worldwide, according to indicators from Alexa, SEMRush, Domain Authority, Page Authority, Compete and SimilarWeb. (Jeffery 2016) There are a plethora of explanations lurking behind these statistics, including the concept of media convergence. This idea refers to the digital technology which allows users to share content across a range of online materials, from iPhones to tablets, in order to maximise the number of devices through which we can access information. (Turrow 2009, p. 210) Harvard Business School professor, David Garvin, said in a talk on the downfall of the familiar yellow-boarded travel brand that “the iPad basically didn’t exist two years ago, and now it’s a core platform. Digital delivery of content to the cell phone didn’t exist a few years ago, and now it’s everywhere. You go six months, and it’s two generations.” (Silverthorne 2011) Quick and simple accessibility through digital media platforms is not the only alluring aspect of blogs over books, as with media convergence comes the penniless price of reading or running a blog versus the rising cost of purchasing or publishing magazines. There are many more pros and cons between the two methods of presenting travel inspiration.
As displayed in the data visualisation, the positives of travel blogging far outweigh the benefits of travel magazines, while the disadvantages of the digital world shy in comparison to the lengthy list of cons associated with publishing print media. As such, the only solution in sight for magazines to maintain their readership is to embrace the online world, which means converting from their traditional style of quality writing to the production of a large quantity of photo stories following a blog format. National Geographic CEO, John Fahey, said “Our magazine was very academically oriented, text-heavy with very long stories … (the) solution was to make the stories shorter, make the language more accessible, include more photographs and illustrations.” (Kwoh 2012)
Images: Taken by Kayla Wratten
Another concept which radically affects how travel writers create and curate their content is citizen journalism. The development of the internet has offered average, everyday people without journalistic qualifications the opportunity to transmit information and report news on a global scale. (Rogers) Anybody from anywhere in the world who owns a device with access to the internet has the power to create a blog and post their personal opinions. While this may sound like an opportunistic minefield, the result is a stream of unauthoritative, inaccurate and under-researched articles. The quantity of citizen journalism blogs is booming even though the quality of the writing being published is, in some cases, untrustworthy and lacking credential. Despite being the author behind the number one travel blog, Matthew Kepnes agreed, saying “We just don’t know if we can trust travel blogs.” (Nomadic Matt, 2016) On the other hand, there are no essential qualifications that are required to become a citizen travel blogger, considering that the types of articles being produced generally rely and centralise on personal experience. In fact, citizen travel blogs are beneficial in terms of granting people free access to information on a wider range of stories from around the world, which is made possible as a result of the concept of globalisation.
Globalisation is the process through which online media technology enables users to circulate ideas and ideologies around the world, allowing people from different countries to virtually interconnect with one another (Flew 2007, p. 3). This concept is particularly significant in regards to travel journalism as it has opened the floodgates for people to get an insight into another culture, not just through words but also through visual imagery. An example is the current usage of live streaming on the social media platform, Snapchat. (Snapchat) Ordinary people, who in this instance could be referred to as citizen journalists, can upload 10-second snapshots of their day from anywhere in the world and submit it to a Snapchat Live Story. The video below is a snippet of a Live Story from Gothenburg, Sweden.
The team behind the recognisable yellow ghost select a handful of videos to be compiled in a segment that can be viewed by any Snapchat user from every country around the globe. This is a direct insight into the future of travel journalism, as while the quality of the video is neither professional nor authoritative and stems from citizen journalism, the quantity of the short 10-second material that is provided is refreshing and engaging to contemporary audiences. What’s more compelling? Reading a thousand words on a piece of paper as you try to visualise a place you’ve never visited, or watching a live stream coming directly from the people who live there, documenting their country and providing you with a clear depiction of the location? I think we all know the answer to that one.
All of the evidence presented thus far demonstrates that travel journalists need to respond to the changing media landscape by transferring from publishing lengthy articles to blogging short stories heavy with visual imagery. However, the traditional platform of travel lift-outs in newspapers is surprisingly remaining afloat among the tsunami of travel blogs. Travel writing in print media is still managing to thrive as it is distributed on a large scale through three Australian newspapers. (Hill-James 2006) There is no doubt that as a result of the changing media landscape, the travel lift-outs will gradually decline.
Penny Watson is one of the most highly respected freelance travel writers in Australia, contributing to a plethora of publications across a multitude of media platforms. (Alliance 2013) Watson has written for newspapers, including the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s daily broadsheet The Age, and online outlets such as the Lonely Planet. (Watson, 2016) The journalist constantly first-hand witnesses the affects digital convergence, citizen journalism and globalisation is having on the future of travel journalism, and believes that “…travel stories certainly will change…” depending on whether the author is writing for the platform of print or online. “There will be more room for both longer and shorter forms as both areas are driving print at the moment, without much space for in between,” Watson said. (Personal interview 2016) She agreed with the statement that online media is becoming more popular than traditional versions of travel writing, both for readers- as the content is bite-sized and easily accessible- and for the writers themselves, as publishing online allows for faster pay rate. Nevertheless, the established travel writer said her favoured style of writing remains in the traditional format.
The future of travel journalism is a landscape that is rapidly evolving as a result of a plethora of modern concepts affecting readership. The issue of whether the developments are improvements or detrimental to the genre of writing is a contentious issue. Nomadic Matt summarises both sides of the argument, saying that “There is a big discrepancy in quality. Travel blogging doesn’t go into the factual depth that you see in traditional print journalist … (however) many bloggers are excellent writers and approach their websites and writing with the same integrity, honesty, and research that many print journalists and travel writers do.” (Kepnes, M. 2016) There is no doubt that when it comes to the future of travel journalism that the quantity of photo-heavy blogs is overtaking the quality of writing being produced. Will this have a positive or a negative effect on travel journalism? Ultimately, the answer lies in your personal preference.
1. Alliance. 2013. “Penny Watson-Freelance Journalist & Travel Writer.” Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.alliance.org.au/oldsite/travel-writers/penny-watson- freelance-journalist-travel-writer/view-details
- Cruz, D. 2014. “Digital vs. Print: Which is Better For You?” Accessed April 20, 2016. http://associationmediaandpublishing.org/sidebar/Digital-vs-Print-Which-is-Better-For-You
- Flew, T. 2007. Understanding Global Media. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Infogr.am.com https://infogr.am/app/#/tracklogin
5. Jeffery, S. 2016. “Top 100 Travel Blogs.” Accessed May 6, 2016. http://nomadicsamuel.com/top100travelblogs
- Kepnes, M. 2016. “Is Travel Blogging Real Journalism?” Accessed May 6, 2016. http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/is-travel-blogging-real-journalism/
- Kwoh, L. 2012. “National Geographic Explores Digital Future.” Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.wsj.com/articles/
- Piktochart.com https://piktochart.com/
- Rogers, T. “What is Citizen Journalism?” Accessed April 29, 2016. http://journalism.about.com/od/citizenjournalism/a/whatiscitizen.htm
- “Live Stories.” Accessed April 29, 2016. https://support.snapchat.com/en-US/ca/live-stories
11. Silverthorne, S. 2011. “Reinventing the National Geographic Society.” Accessed April 29, 2016. http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/reinventing-the-national-geographic-society
- Turow, J. 2009. “A world of blurred media boundaries.” In Media Today: An
Introduction to Mass Communication. New York: Taylor and Francis Publishing.
- Watson, Penny. Personal phone interview. May 25, 2016.
- Watson, Penny. 2016. “About Me.” Accessed May 25, 2016. http://www.pennywatson.com.au/pennywatson/About_Me.html
Raw Data References
- Top travel blog and top travel magazine readership Infogram
- Pros and Cons Piktochart
Prices of National Geographic magazine.
Information on benefits and detriments of blogs and magazines.
- Weekend Circulation Graph
Hill-James, C. 2006. “Citizen Tourist: Newspaper travel journalism’s responsibility to its audience.” Accessed April 20, 2016. https://core.ac.uk/download/files/310/10885003.pdf