Blogging as Content Marketing:
You Will Be Assimilated

This is absolute navel gazing insidery about content marketing/state of the travelsphere BS. If you’re not part of this scene, you probably want to skip this. My alternate recommendation? Read my friend Doug Mack’s post about getting health insurance working in properly in this country, An Open Letter to Congressional Republicans From a Guy With a Gaping Hole In His Side. It’s sarcasm filled, but it’s also deeply personal, and I might have worn out some keys on my keyboard pounding “HALLELUJAH!” in response. Doug for Insurance Pope. No peace until it happens.



The Borg: Captain Jean-Luc Picard, you lead the strongest ship of the Federation fleet. You speak for your people.

Capt. Picard: I have nothing to say to you; and I will resist you with my last ounce of strength.

The Borg: Strength is irrelevant. Resistance is futile. We wish to improve ourselves. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service ours.

Capt. Picard: Impossible. My culture is based on freedom and self-determination.

The Borg: Freedom is irrelevant. Self-determination is irrelevant. You must comply.

Capt. Picard: We would rather die.

The Borg: Death is irrelevant.


About a year ago, maybe longer, I was invited on a press trip. “You’ll write about the resort, right?” said the PR rep.

“Here’s the typical stuff I produce when I’m on a trip,” I said, sending a package of samples. “Almost always, I cover the accommodation as part of that, but you know what? I need to have more than “It’s a nice resort” for my story, and until I’ve been there, I can’t say what the coverage would look like.”

They rescinded the invitation. I was too candid, I could have been a bit more diplomatic. I understood exactly why they pulled me — they were, essentially buying advertising and might not get it. I genuinely had no hard feelings.

It doesn’t always work this way. Prior to my last hosted trip, I told the rep that I had no assignments and I don’t commit my blog before I’ve seen the destination.The rep said, “That’s cool, we know what you do. We just want to show you the place, we think you’ll love it and want to write about it.” This approach is a little unusual but not unheard of. I’ve been lucky to do a few sponsored trips — from basic no frills camping to five star luxury  — where the only requirement is “Just write about your experience. We invited you because we like your work.” Beyond the basic fact check, my travel sponsors haven’t touched the work I produce as a result. But payment in travel for guaranteed coverage is more common with bloggers.

Much earlier in my career, an airlines offered to cover my flights if I’d list only them as the air provider for the destination. I felt less circumspect when that didn’t come through. Even if I’d wanted to do that — I didn’t — it would not have worked with the guidebook publisher. “Really? Only ONE airlines goes there? REALLY?” I said no.

I’m in a similar situation with an invitation right now — a PR rep recently asked me if I’d cover a specific service. “Highly likely,” I said, “but you have to understand — the final copy is not up to me, it’s up to my editor. He’s the boss.”

I’ve heard different versions of this requirement to cover specific things, it’s not unusual, and my answer is consistent:  No guarantee. I’m not saying I won’t do it, only that I reserve the right not to if it doesn’t fit my editorial guidelines. Those guidelines might be externally imposed, or they could just be my own bar for what warrants inclusion on my blog. I recently turned down a content marketing campaign from a hipster menswear company. The money was decent, but it’s simply not related to what I do. They can buy an ad, sure, but to put that stuff in my content makes no sense at all.

When I’m paid to write for a publication, the final content isn’t my call. If the editor doesn’t like what I’ve said about the resort or the destination or the service, they may cut it. No ink. I wrote about Hawaii regulary for an editor who said, “If it sounds like you’re shilling for the destination… just don’t. We know that stuff when we see it.” This remains the voice in my head, even when I’m writing for this insignificant little blog. “Just don’t.”

New York Times: Travel Blogging Today: It’s Complicated

I’ve been receiving fewer blogger press trip invites lately — why would PR spend money on me when they can spend dollars on someone who’s willing to produce exactly the content they want? My PR profile has probably been updated to say “This one’s too independent. Just don’t.”


Right now, the best way to make money in blogging is in content marketing, or in current jargon, “native advertising”. There are lots of definitions of what this is, but the wolf underneath is that it’s advertising that doesn’t look like advertising. There are a handful of organizations that are capitalizing on this model — they will find bloggers and pay them to write about a destination on their personal sites. They will share each others work and fill Twitter with a PR approved hashtag.

Capital: WSJ Editor says Native Advertising is a “Faustian Pact”

Wait. Let me get this out of the third person so it’s easier to digest. If I were a candidate, the organization would say to me, “I will pay you a day rate. All of your travel will be covered. In exchange for this, you will produce the following items for your blog, your Twitter feed, and your Facebook account.” There’s an alternative:  “I will pay for your travel. While you are there, you will produce the following…” The result is that I write a bunch of stuff that looks like it’s work I’d do on my own, but it’s actually pay for play work. I’ve never been asked to participate in one of these pay for play initiatives. Shocker. I know.

Bloggers are contracted to do specific work on their own sites — I’ve heard tell that some get as much as 300 USD daily, plus all travel expenses. They typically disclose the terms of the travel — “This trip was paid for by…” — but I’ve yet to see the terms of the content called out — “I was paid to write about this topic.”

There are those who will “tailor content to your needs” (as seen on an blogger’s media kit) or “create content to meet your destination’s marketing goals” (overheard from a online publisher at a conference).  If you attend a blogging conference, you’ll be shown some big numbers from these types of initiatives and told they indicate success. You may or may not be able to extract meaning from these “lies, damned lies and statistics” (as often attributed to Mark Twain). Especially shrewd — and I’d argue, cynical — business types have found a way to charge on both ends of this equation — taking money from bloggers to teach them how to take money from PR.

What’s the risk of PR not getting the write-ups they want? Not much. There’s a contract for specific content that both parties agree upon. The broker who finds the bloggers gets paid, PR gets what the coverage they want, bloggers get an adventure and sometimes some cash. Good business, right?


I chatted with a travel blogger friend the other day. My friend was rattled because PR companies had been telling the writer what to cover — and what not to cover. This blogger has a contract, it’s not with the PR company. Things are getting muddy, it seems. Is there an increasing expectation that the blogger’s job is to amplify the PR department’s message?

Lockergnone: Are Bloggers Being Bullied by PR?

My friend’s story is a bit extreme; my own is probably more common — offers rescinded, or rather, not made at all. And in case you think I’m being naive, I’ll happily share with you that my traffic remains consistently unimpressive, though I will swear to you under oath that it is 100% organic — my site has no hidden pages designed to capture search terms or to hide links, I have never purchased Twitter followers or Facebook friends (all common traffic gamer tricks). What you see is exactly what you get.

If you look over there on the side bar, you’ll see some of the places my work has been published. Missing? My best paying market, one that’s invisible to most people who see me online, but kind of a dream for a lot of travel PR. I write a quarterly travel column for a publication that’s targeted at wealthy, healthy retirees. Thing is, if you look at me only as a blogger, I’m kind of a bust.


Years ago, when things were just picking up for travel on the web, Conde Nast Traveler flew me out to New York to cover an awards ceremony. My flight was diverted to Chicago because of a system failure. I learned later that what happened was kind of a big deal, but at the time, I had no idea how serious the situation was. I snapped photos and blogged about the incident when I was finally in my New York hotel room.

A while after this incident, I was called to be a witness in a post-traumatic stress lawsuit against American Airlines. I have no love for AA, but the landing was not traumatic, the cabin did not fill with smoke, people were not screaming and crying. In fact, it was so non-traumatic that when I saw the fire equipment racing towards our plane on the O’Hare runway, I did not realize it was for my flight. And take note — I was seated in the window seat in an exit row. You know what I did not do? Open the emergency exit door.

The lawyer for the woman filing the PTSD case asked me a lot of questions — she tried to suggest that I was not very observant. I tried not to laugh. She said something else that I thought inscrutable at the time, but am now beginning to understand. “Isn’t it your job,” she asked me, “to promote air travel and destinations?”

“First of all,” I said, “I fly coach and I hate it. I think of it as a necessary evil to get from place to place. If I could take the train to Europe, I would. And secondly, no, that’s not my job. I’m not a marketer. I write stories about travel. That’s my job.”

Annenberg: Editorial or Advertorial, What’s the Difference?



About a year ago, I left a blogging conference with a nagging sense of unease. At that conference, I had two conversations that left me concerned about the creeping redefinition of what bloggers do. The first discussion was about an exotic and expensive destination a blogger wanted to go to. I’d been, and I started to talk about how it was possible to do this trip in a surprisingly affordable way.

“Oh, no,” the blogger said, cutting me short. “I’m not going to pay for it. Absolutely not. I’m going to find a luxury sponsor, I shouldn’t HAVE to pay for it and I’m not going with a budget carrier. No way.”

The other conversation was about an idea I’d been kicking around, I was trying to get a sense of if it might generate the right kind of interest. It was for a travel writing workshop — I’d partner with a destination who would foot the bill for travel and accommodations. We’d blog about the destination while we were there. It would be a hands on “press trip content that doesn’t suck” workshop done in real time. I was asking a well established blogger if this was interesting.

“Would I get paid for my time?” said the blogger. I was speechless, a situation that does not happen very often.

I get bogged down in this nonsense something terrible because it’s happening all around me, held up as examples of success (meet the puffer fish, he looks bigger than he really is!) and published in insipid posts (here we are with cocktails in the golden hour light!) splattered across popular blogs.

I see content marketing taking over my social media feeds too. I’m not going to lie, I get blue when I see people who are old friends shift their online personas to include punctuation that looks like it came from brand robots. If I wanted regular information from a travel brand, I’d follow the brand feed. “We’re breathlessly excited about our #travel to #destination with #brand #triphashtag!” Yay you. Unsubscribe.

Jimmy Fallon: #Hashtag with Justin Timberlake

These conversations, the shift of focus, have had me demoralized. I volleyed back and forth between feeling like a failure because I’ve not cashed in on the dominant model and being angry that the dominant model devalues so many things that are important to me. Other times, I’m frustrated by the fact that I don’t fit — my values are traditionally journalistic (disclose, fact check, put a firewall between advertising and editorial, etc.), but my medium is all new school (blogging, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). It’s only recently that the fog has started to clear. Why? Because I’m beginning to realize that this stuff, this marketing strategy and branding and content partnerships, this is all irrelevant to what I do. It doesn’t line up with my goals in the least.

Content marketer, public relations, brand ambassador, search optimization strategist, native advertiser, awareness consultant… none of these things are my job. Increasingly in this landscape, bloggers are acting like it’s their job and opportunistic PR reps are capitalizing on that attitude. We didn’t get here alone, we’re being told — in conference rooms and closed forums and workshops — that it is our job, it’s how we become successful. On the whole, we don’t question it.

But I’ve never been easy with the presumption that because I’m a blogger, I must be a marketer too. I’m not. Marketing travel is not my job. I don’t want that job. My job as a blogger is exactly what I told that lawyer: It’s to write stories about travel. Sure, you can hire me to write marketing content — I’m a hired gun by trade — but you can’t hire me to write it for my readers on Nerd’s Eye View. I’m confident that no one is reading this thinking, “You know what I need from Nerd’s Eye View? More commercials.”

I don’t know what you think your job as an independent blogger is, but mine is to write stories about travel. I know I’ve inverted the metaphor here, but anything else is irrelevant.

Must read on Vela: Backpackers in Paradise


Capt. Picard: Reports of my assimilation have been greatly exaggerated.

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30 thoughts on “Blogging as Content Marketing:
You Will Be Assimilated

  1. I’m clapping my hands for you, Pam. I really appreciate how candid you’ve been in this post and I couldn’t agree with you more.

    As a blogger, the one thing that really makes my skin crawl is how these all-marketing-all-the-time blogs are touted as “the successful ones” or so we are told at conferences. I believe we need a new definition for what success is. Or at least those of us who disagree in this marketing status quo need to have the strength of character to redefine what success looks like to us, just as you’ve done here. Then shout it from the rooftops.

    All that being said, I do believe there can be a happy medium. There are small handful of bloggers out there that make it work while keeping true to their unique brand. Although, I rarely notice those folks taking press trips…

    • I think the happy medium comes when the goal for *both* partners includes putting readers first. Additional goals are all fine and well, of course. Of course. But if the reader isn’t the first checkpoint, then I don’t want that content in my diet.

  2. I can so relate to everything you said, except the part about being invited on press trips. I must be way more independent than you, because I haven’t gotten invited anywhere … ; )

    I’m done with trying to make a career out of travel writing and photography. Sure, if someone loves my work and wants to send me on assignment to do my style of work, fine, but that whole PR thing just makes me gag.

  3. As usual, I agree with a whole bunch of your points but not all of them, and your well-networked, experienced and somewhat insidery perspective is a bit lost on me, which is good because it means I always learn something when reading your “inside baseball” posts.

    In particular, though, I was confused by the way you defined native advertising, or sponsored content, as “it’s advertising that doesn’t look like advertising.” That is not always true and is quite subjective based on what an individual expects advertising to look like. The scenario you describe with bloggers being paid to write content on top of their comped (and presumably disclosed) travel but not disclosing that the content itself is also paid for isn’t native advertising it is…. illegal, right? According to the FTC, shilling for a business when an undisclosed payment is involved is violating their regulations.

    Native advertising can be done well, it can be fully-disclosed, and it can even be very effective if it is information a reader enjoys and gets value from. And with digital display advertising click-throughs absolutely tanking, it might be the only way that a digital (or print) indie publication can make it these days.

    Just before reading this post I was thumbing through the latest ParentMap magazine, a printed local monthly that is free and funded entirely by advertising. While hunting for the article I wrote on apple picking in this issue, I found myself first distracted by an article titled “Tips for Recognizing ADHD.” As my own kid is ADHD / Aspergers, I gave it a good read and found it to be a decent primer on recognizing some of the early warning signs that I had missed in my toddler. And I thought, “I’m really glad they put this article in here for other parents of younger kids.” It was relevant, useful and… an ad, clearly labeled at the bottom of the page as sponsored by Seattle Childrens Hospital. I was reading native advertising, and I was enjoying it. (And yes, I knew it was sponsored before I started reading because the publication made that clear, as they should.)

    The key to doing sponsored content well is to defy your definition. It is advertising, and it should *look* like advertising. Publications who don’t do this will lose the trust of readers and when that happens, the problem will take care of itself.

    • I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is that no,it’s not illegal to publish that kind of content, but it’s contrary to the FTC’s best practice guidelines. Fact check away.

      I fear “native advertising” is one of those things that you could ask three people to define and get four opinions on. The scenario you present — an article on ADHD sponsored by Children’s is a best case one, I think. But imagine the same article sponsored by a company that makes a drug recommended in the article? Would the information seem more or less valid given the sponsor’s agenda?

      I believe it’s possible to fund the creation of content effectively. Your mag followed a best case scenario that made the type of content and its sponsor clear. A lot of blogs don’t do that:

      Content: This thing is awesome. Disclaimer: I didn’t pay for this awesome thing. Unstated terms: I was paid to tell you about this thing.

      Yeah, no. Not credible.

      • Yes, if the ad were from a drug company I would look at it differently, of course. Everything I read (ad or editorial, even news!) gets filtered through a look at the agenda behind it. I would also look at the publication differently, though. When The Atlantic ran an advertorial from The Church of Scientology, I feel their error was less in the package the ad was in and more in the choice of advertising partner.

        If an advertorial or native advertising is clearly and conspicuously disclosed on a travel blog, I’m okay with it. I might give the sideye on the publication’s choice of sponsor, and the publication’s reputation and trust is at stake if their choice sucks (for example, Xenu or big pharma) or if the content sucks.

        I am not all-out against the existence of native advertising, however. I am just totally against the lack of labeling and disclosure on native advertising.

        • Ayup. We’re in agreement, Lauren. Weak disclosure is the serious issue here. I’m not going to stop advertising, that’s just tilting at windmills. And lemme say this for the gajillionth — it’s possible to have initiatives that create great stories AND are sponsored. I’m against deceptive content and I think there should be a line between advertising and editorial.

  4. I must admit I have my doubts whenever I read something like “this trip was paid for by……but the opinions are my own”.

    It takes a certain amount of faith to believe this, even though it may quite often be true. But if you combine the information from that article with other sources you can usually come up with a general idea of what the real story is. And, it may be exactly what the blogger described!

  5. Great post. I do think there’s a place for clearly marked native advertising. Travel bloggers/writers taking editorial direction from destination without marking such stories as sponsor-directed (not just sponsor-enabled), though, is too grey an area to make me happy. But I have to say, if bloggers are going to go to destinations and basically write marketing copy for them, I’m happy they’re charging for their time. I just wish they made all of that clearer to the reader. (The sad thing is, though, that we all know it’s next to impossible to make a decent living off travel writing alone these days without making these kinds of compromises.)

  6. It’s not just, sadly, where bloggers are paid for play that the shilling comes in. There’s a typical conspiracy among bloggers who get free stuff that you write nice things about it. And if it’s so execrable there’s nothing good to say, well, you don’t write about it.

    It’s really, really rare to see anything negative come out about anything that’s not on the blogger’s own dime, and that’s rather sad…

  7. Bravo, everything you said times 10. Though I doubt the folks who should be listening will. If you ever need a food blogger teacher/speaker who does NOT expect daily comp lemme know.

  8. What a great, refreshingly honest view. I come from a different blogging niche but relate to much of what you have to say about the travel blogosphere. My understanding of the FTC rules for blogging was that if there was any compensation between brand and blogger, that it must be disclosed. Product, service, or monetarily.

    One aspect of disclosure that has been obviously lacking is the social media front. I find it particularly annoying seeing (multiple) people on Twitter shilling for the same brand(s)… Repeatedly… Supposedly there is no direct financial compensation (just free product testing), and there are no explicit expectations about sharing, content, favorable reviews, etc. But receiving anything free in that context obviously has some implicit expectations associated with it. Most bloggers disclose freebies on their website for any product reviews, but the multitude of social media updates on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc *never* have any indication that this thing was a freebie.

    So much grey weirdness, one that I have steered totally clear of. Kudos to you for resisting the lure of the travel blogging industry… That’d be a little harder for me to Re$i$t than yet another X product in my niche! :)

    • Again on the FTC thing — I’m not solid that it’s a legal requirement. Also, the FTC is US based, so it loses any bite it might have as soon as you’re outside federal US jurisdiction. Plus, we’re shut down now, anyway. 😛

      I don’t resist travel, nope. I resist externally applied requirements — even when they’re merely implied — to write specific content. And I’m honest with everyone — PR, editors, hosts, and readers. It’s the least I can do.

  9. Pam, thanks very much for helping to shed light on the current state of travel writing and the travel blogging industry. As someone very new to blogging, and even newer to travel blogging, I am grateful for your “insidery” posts. I think they have the potential to help lots of us newbies make much better decisions than we might have otherwise. I think it’s easy for new bloggers to get sucked into a system before they have any understanding of the bigger picture and the ethics involved. Keep the good info coming!

    • Machiavellian types with profit as an end will probably dismiss the ethics issue, and indeed, there’s no solid standard of ethics for travel writers.

      (I’m going to go with don’t lie, and the Wil Wheaton standard of “Don’t Be A Dick.” — look it up, it’s funny.)

      Additionally, I think we like to throw around the term “travel blogging industry.” But I’m not sure such a thing exists. There is a travel MARKETING industry and it is very cozy with bloggers right now. There are travel writers. There are hobby travel bloggers. Putting them all into some “industry” bucket is how we got to these assumptions that we all share the same primary goals and that’s simply not true.

      I’m genuinely pleased and honored that you find my rabbiting on useful. I mean it. Thank you.

  10. Great article Pam. And I love the tie-in to Star Trek.

    I’ve long been an independent travel writer. I studied journalism and spent 16 years at Lonely Planet, and guidebook authoring there is done completely apart from partnerships, hosting and the like. (It’s one of the reason, I think, that LP authors are particularly unprepared for this slick biz side of travel writing.)

    So I’m sort of new to all this, and it is not an easy fit for me at times.

    My biggest concern isn’t that travel writers are taking “hosted” trips. It’s that “travel writers” that only do so aren’t really cutting their teeth, LEARNING how to travel — build own itineraries, hunt stories and news angles, finding things for themselves. The content-marketing travel writer, who goes unchecked, becomes a passive rod for marketers.

    It’s FINE, in my opinion, to take those trips, but one must work to get space from the overall pre-planned structure of a trip — to pursue own story. A “writer” should ADD to the cumulative story of a destination or theme, which means pre-research and knowing what’s already said of a place before you go. Otherwise, often anyway, it’s just more noise.

    If a “host” doesn’t offer that, not only are they short-sighted, but they should be turned down.

    I just wish I could have said that with a Star Trek reference. Oh! Here’s a Star Wars one. When Obi-Wan tells Luke “you’ve just taken a step into a bigger world,” after Luke tries out the light saber. That’s what real travel writers need to do too.

    But without cutting people in half.

    • I started writing professionally in a whole ‘nother industry — I wrote instructions. They had to be concise, to the point, they had to tell the reader what to do. Sometimes, I had to create some context, describe the thing and/or tell them why they had to do the task.”It makes the widget share information with the what-not. When that happens, automatic sprocket mashing is easy.” Or, whatever.

      This work made me user focused, meaning everything I wrote was supposed to help the user learn about or do something. This approach, it turned out, translated pretty well to guidebook work. I was kind of excited when, faced with my first guidebook, I realized it was just a set of instructions for seeing the world.

      But also, I had traveled — extensively and independently — long before I put word to paid paper. I ran out of money. I hitchhiked and I got sick. I got groped and robbed and bombed, the kind where artillery falls from the sky, not the kind where you drink too much. Though I did some of that too.

      Travel writing at its best, I think, provides a certain perspective on the world, or, on a service level, operating instructions for those moving about the planet as tourists. This is a task distinct from selling travel.

      What troubles me, when I get into this type of gazing, is that I suspect a lot of the stuff being created in this space is by those who don’t understand the difference between those two things — those operating instructions and learning opportunities and sales. Or worse, they know and they don’t care because they’re benefiting personally. Who cares about the noise, I’m off to [#destination]!

      My reaction to so much of that stuff? Inverted again. But not the droids I’m looking for.

    • TLDR version: I’m tired of the default view of bloggers as marketers and I wish it would stop.Bloggers aren’t really doing anything to discourage this, though, and it’s turned out to be handy for PR.

      Also, I’ll just say it: Some bloggers are entitled jerks

      There. No need to unravel any logic — it’s all opinion as far as the eye can see.

  11. Please don’t ever go the way of, which is now just a rolling infomercial. And like Kimba said, I, too, must be so independent that I can’t even be found despite travel experience AND publishing cred. (Long side note: thankfully, none of my prior travels have ever resulted in groping, robbing or bombing, though a recent night in a yurt resulted in a bug bite that led to a mild case of cellulitis.) I’m low-drama and eager to work with the right peeps…but it’s very confusing to figure out what people are looking for and what they want to read because I keep seeing crappy writing that has high traffic.

  12. I really appreciated your article, because I have had the exact same thoughts for a while now- ever since the first blogger conference I attended in 2011. And especially after top bloggers started charging per day for press trip coverage.

    I don’t feel I fit in either – although I have a blog and I’m now a guidebook author – probably because I prefer travel writing “proper.” And that’s fine with me.

    I agree with readers above that it’s not taking the press trip per se that’s the issue. The issue is what you quoted so well above (I had to laugh): “We’re breathlessly excited about our #travel to #destination with #brand #triphashtag!”

    Sometimes seeing my Instagram/other social media feed clogged with all that flowery, marketing language – and not really learning anything else about the place – makes me gag and want to get off social media entirely.

    Thanks for a great article. And I would sign up for that writing workshop if you ever had one (great idea)!

    • It’s a business model, I guess. It’s not MY business model, and I actually think it’s wrong to do this kind of work without hitting the reader over the head with the facts of the funding, but my finely tuned morality matters for nothing, I’m not so naive as to think it does.

      I’ve been doing some aggressive feed trimming. It leaves me feeling bad though, because people take it personally. I guess it is personal, and I take it personally when people who I genuinely thought were my friends start selling to me. I should probably spend less time on Twitter.

  13. It’s a business model, one that will likely change with the technology and market demands. I know I”m repeating myself, but I worry quality writing will fall by the wayside as business models evolve. That’s been my experience so far. Makes me want to hide in the library until it’s over.

    • I probably don’t have to tell you this, Katrina, but I AM WITH YOU. I worry about it too because writers gotta eat, right? And editors are endangered.

      I also worry that we’re making ourselves stupid. No, seriously. We’re really junking up our content eco-system.This is probably a very old fashioned idea, people probably decried the Dickens serials, but I think critical literacy takes a hit when we’re spoon fed a diet of content that’s designed to sell us stuff.

      See you at the library.

  14. This is a great piece at the right time for me. I love writing about what I see and often wonder how it’s possible for bloggers to write great content and remain objective if someone else is paying for the trip. So far I’ve not been paid for my travel and am looking for other ways to make money doing what I love to do. Thanks for being so candid. You’ve inspired me to keep doing what I love, the money will follow.

    • There’s great content and there’s objectivity and they’re not mutually exclusive. “Everything is awesome I am having an awesome time look at my awesome suite five course dinner view” is NOT great content.

      I don’t equate negativity with objectivity either — things can be truly awesome and you can write a great story, but being a good reviewer takes work and honesty. Professional reviewers travel anonymously and they push at the edges of what’s available, when they complain about how they have to pay for wifi, they don’t do it to the PR person who set up their stay. They act like Any Other Traveler, with more research — they ask to see the cheap rooms, they test how the property treats non-VIP guests, etc… they don’t think about THEIR experience, they think about what another traveler’s experience would be without the welcoming fruit plate, the best table, the visit from the chef. Maybe that’s it, it’s not so much objectivity as it is empathy with travelers who don’t have media privilege and perks.

      Making money as a travel writer is difficult, making money as a travel *marketer* is easier. I think of my blog as a way to build my reputation as a writer. Do I have a good story? Is it well written? Could I sell it to one of the pugnacious editors I’ve worked with? If the answer to those questions is “yes”, I’ve done my job. If the answers are, “No, but the PR company is going to love it,” I go back to my keyboard.

  15. I don’t think it’s bloggers in isolation that is causing this to happen, it’s a massive industry shift, really, if anything, you should blame trip advisor. Guidebook sales are dropping, and newspapers are no longer generating original travel reviews/content. It’s not the bloggers that did this, it’s the fact that if you are researching a trip, 200 other customers have already commented about that hotel, uploaded pictures, and given it a star rating.

    There are no outlets for PRs to place service-y pieces about hotels, they can’t try to figure out how to get into Frommers or Rough Guides, they need a way for people googling it to be positively influenced.

    Paying for Google ads is expensive, paying for a blogger is cheaper. It looks like press trips have been changed to fit a growing blogger demographic, but really PR people are just repurposing the press trip. The old way is long dead. It was dead before I even started, in 2008, when I’d go to and read everyone complaining about it (where are those people now?)

    The new way isn’t about journalists it’s about SEO. And YES bloggers should get paid for this, if this is part of their business model. Are they journalists when they do this? No. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad, they are providing a service to the PR company and they should be compensated for it. They have to do a lot of work to get that press trip from building their audience to social media to the actual work of writing copy.

    I know you’ve said this bothers you, and but it’s not validation of their approach over yours, it’s apples and oranges.

  16. This was an encouraging read, because I feel like quite the failure as a travel blogger. It’s demoralizing when I see bloggers becoming popular with readers simply for being a PR mouthpiece, without actually producing quality content. The stats speak for themselves – it’s the few review posts that I have that are bringing in traffic to my blog. If anything, it’s a matter of medium and audience – which is why I still believe in editorial control and expert curation. I have trouble reconciling my values and ideals as a writer with the role that most bloggers take on, and I’m not willing to compromise, as friends have advised, just to get more popular.

    Also, this insidious “junk content” consumption scares me. It’s so much easier to look at Instagram than go to a professional photographer’s exhibition, to click on linkbait articles on Facebook than find genuinely researched and thoughtfully written work.

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