What Does “Blogging” Mean Anymore?

Heads up. Major media wonk stuff ahead. Get out while you still can. Look over here for something shiny that has nothing to do with blogging.

I Fought The Lawn ... And The Lawn Won
I Fought The Lawn … And The Lawn Won by JD Hancock via Flickr (Creative Commons)

On November 11th, I posted the following to my Facebook page:

Yesterday I was in a meeting with the social media consultant for a new client (NOT in travel) and the idea of including bloggers in the campaign was nixed because “The content would all be pay for play, they’d just regurgitate your press release, and you wouldn’t really get much of value out of it.” The client asked how the content could possibly be ethical and/or useful given that it’s pay for play, and if that’s the case, shouldn’t they just buy ads? “Yeah, that’s a better place to start, certainly, while we find out who’s worth working with in this space.”

I ain’t saying there are no issues in other media, I ain’t saying all bloggers are like this, and I ain’t saying that bloggers shouldn’t be paid for the placement of advertorial. Back off.

I’m saying it hurts me that the dominant definition of what a blogger is has evolved from independent voice into pay for play marketing mouthpiece. It used to be a platform and the blogger’s role was defined by what they used it for. Now a blogger is defined as marketing hack, sometimes cheap, but whose role is to speak on behalf of brands.

I felt really defeated hearing this.

And now: You kids get off my lawn.

A month later, I’m still thinking about it.  A bunch of players in the travel/blogging space had a lot to say about this tiny interaction. They hit a couple of consistent themes and I want to address them in this more public format.

I’ve extracted the main points for brevity, but before you accuse me of taking things out of context, please read the entire thread on Facebook. I think you’ll see that they’re given the context they deserve.

Tim Leffel: Every magazine I write for is basically pay for play. It’s just accepted so nobody talks about it.
(Tim is a writer who has a few commercial blogs and websites. Full disclosure, I’ve written for Tim a few times and I was a paid regular contributor to his gear blog.)

Not true. Lots of folks are talking about it, and it seems that not a day goes by that I don’t read a discussion about content marketing, native advertising, sponsored content, brand journalism, or the like. The discussions run the gamut from “It’s saving journalism!”  to  “It’s the worst thing for journalism since William Randolph Hearst started trashing up the San Francisco Examiner with hyperbolic tales of crime and immorality.” But people are talking about it.

In December, 2013, the FTC hosted a hearing devoted to the issue of pay for play content – I watched the entire thing online.  Here’s the Harvard Business Review on the ethics of paid content. I track Andrew Sullivan’s “sponsored content watch” on The Dish. There’s a lot more out there.

Matthew Karsten: Just explain that the term “blogger” is not the same as “journalist”.
(Matthew is a blogger who does a lot of pay for play content. I’m not outing him; he writes about it here. Full disclosure: I tried to give him a ride on my bicycle once.)

Not true. Lots of journalists have blogs, though certainly plenty of bloggers are not journalists. Given the widespread tendency to downplay disclosure, it can be difficult to find out where a blogger sits on the spectrum between reporting and marketing. I’ve always held that a blogger is a person who has or contributes to a blog, but this stance is increasingly negated by industry definition of what a blogger is and/or does.

“Just tell them what a blogger isn’t” implies that there’s something a blog consistently is.

Rick Calvert: I was going to say, I think you worry about this too much Pam but I think it’s more accurate to say you agonize over this too much imo.
(Rick is the CEO of TBEX, possibly the largest conference devoted to travel blogging. Full disclosure: I was an invited speaker at every TBEX (minus one) until June 2013. I was not paid to speak, but my travel expenses were covered.)

Gaslighting. “You’re being too sensitive” is a classic method of focusing on a person’s emotions as a way of invalidating the argument. “Your feelings are wrong” is not the same as “Your ideas are wrong.” I’d rather focus on my ideas than my feelings about them.

In 2013, Skift ran an article staking a claim on what bloggers are. “On a good day, travel bloggers are marketers…” and should not “expect to be treated as a critic or a journalist.”

The New York Times, in a look at how bloggers work today said, “Mr. Jenkins’s approach to blogging — and travel — speaks volumes about the state of a medium that began as intimate and creative. The paradigm has shifted across the board, in areas like food, parenting and so-called lifestyle blogs. But nowhere has the shift been as jarring as it is for travelers. “I want to travel the world” is no longer an idealistic statement, it is a transactional one.”

“But the Babe isn’t an advocate. She’s an entrepreneur who clearly, obviously, is only in this for her own profit.” That’s a criticism of The Food Babe, a popular (and some would say misguided) food blogger in AdAge.

There’s absolutely a creeping redefinition of what a blogger is or does that’s got nothing to do with the platform — blogging — they’ve chosen for their work.

Rick Calvert: There are hundreds of millions of blogs in the world today. 99% of them are complete crap. So what? The good ones are changing the world of media forever. Anyone who denies that is an idiot. I understand you being upset by someone slagging your profession. But your client should fire that consultant and get educated.

Rick Calvert: I stand by my assertion; people who try to say blogs have no credibility and dismiss the medium are idiots and do so at their own peril.

Confusing. If “99% of blogs are crap,” surely we can agree that the challenge of getting educated about bloggers is a significant one and that delaying blogger engagement, as the social media consultant in my meeting suggested, is legitimate. Isolating the 1% that is worthwhile is hard work. The field is full of people using black hat tactics — buying Facebook friends and likes, playing games with SEO, creating false engagement schemes, lying with statistics, to name a few. My client hiring someone who understands this is their process of getting educated.

No one dismissed the medium out of hand, but skilled social media and marketing professionals are beginning to question the value of working with bloggers, as indicated in this post by a former tourism campaign manager.

These remarks also attack two constituencies that TBEX targets as their customer base — social media consultants and bloggers.

Rick Calvert: Blogging is not and never was a utopia of creativity.

Not true. I found many different data sources on the nature of blogging. One said that 81% of blogs never earn more than $100 annually, another said that only 2% of bloggers earn a living at the task. One might extrapolate from these surveys that there’s another reason people are taking to the medium. A 2008 survey by Chris Garret said that 49% of people blog “for pleasure.” This academic paper, published in the journal for the Association of Computing Machinery in 2004 concluded that “Bloggers are driven to document their lives, provide commentary and opinions, express deeply felt emotions, articulate ideas through writing, and form and maintain community forums.”

Blogging is more than personal expression, but data seems to hold out that yes, for some, it actually was — and remains — a utopia of creativity.

Annemarie Dooling Wow what the solid fuck
(Annemarie is an online community manager who swears a lot and usually punctuates properly.)

Yeah. You got me. 

§

A bunch of you are about to unfollow/unsubscribe/unfriend. Probably while saying things like, “But I have to make a living!” or “But the mainstream media…”

Please consider this:

I did not say paid content was bad. I did not say you should run advertising for free. I did not say other forms of media should be exempt from this level of scrutiny. I did not say earning a living was bad. The list of things I did not say is quite lengthy.

At the most basic level, I said I felt defeated by the creeping one size fits all definition of a once undefined media. I said I did not like it. That’s all I said.

Please keep that in mind should you feel compelled to comment further on this issue.

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46 thoughts on “What Does “Blogging” Mean Anymore?

  1. Perhaps it’s because I started blogging back in 2005, when it wasn’t considered much more than a creative outlet – but the comment from Rick Calvert about creativity really disturbs me. I’m curious as to where he believes creativity fits within the world of travel blogging (and blogging in general) – a world made up of so many creative tools like words and photographs. Blogging has always been such a wonderful creative opportunity for voices and visions which otherwise may never be read, seen, or heard.

    As to the comments of the social media consultant, it makes me sick to think that bloggers are being defined in such a narrow way. Most all I know personally are in it first and foremost for the creative outlet and have full-time jobs or freelance work which supports creative pursuits, including their blog. Good for those 2%, if they’re making a living doing something they love (it’s certainly the dream). However, it’s hardly reasonable to lump any group this large into such a limited definition which seems to stem from those 2% making a living at it.

    • It’s probably safe to assume that the soc med gal was referring to the kinds of bloggers who are using blogs for an agenda that extends past self-expression. I’m one, certainly, I’ve been on the receiving end of many a campaign and done some sponsored travel. I think there’s a point about how, in the professional space, you can’t be sure if you’re going to get reporting or marketing, and that the tendency is to err on the side of marketing — which, in this client’s case, was something they did not want. While I was researching this topic, I found an interesting interview with an Edelman PR person that I think illustrates this perfectly…

      “At Edelman, there have been instances where we’ve refused to work with bloggers who aren’t going to disclose properly. We’ve reached out to them with a product, and asked them to review it; they’ve come back to us and offered to do a positive review in return for pay. We don’t do that. We said no. Blatantly positive posts that are clearly a result of free perks aren’t helping anyone. ”

      Here’s the whole thing.

      • Yes! Great find on that article.The later half of that quote is particularly on point to my concerns at least, about the one blogger who feels her reputation is being negatively affected by the practices of others.

        Good point about the marketing versus reporting as well. That’s a thought that’s going to stick in my head when I’m perusing around the internet.

  2. “…. speaks volumes about the state of a medium that began as intimate and creative. The paradigm has shifted across the board, in areas like food, parenting and so-called lifestyle blogs. But nowhere has the shift been as jarring as it is for travelers. “I want to travel the world” is no longer an idealistic statement, it is a transactional one.”

    That really says it all. Long gone are the creative, personal accounts. It’s all about the transaction now.

    At least we still have old books to look back on. If you can find a bookshop.

    Aside from the “we have to make a living” sign off. There’s another that irks me recently too. Paraphrasing random blogger “It’s not just travel blogging … this stuff goes on in print journalism too?!”

    I find this sort of reply obnoxious. If it’s broken, don’t pass the buck or say your’re bad but so is everyone else. Fix it! Be better than the others.

    It reminds my of a Nigerian politician on a radio interview.

    Reporter: “Are the allegations about you being corrupt true?”

    Politician: ” Yes of course. But, I’m not as corrupt as *** (the guy running against him)”

    • Yeah, I’ve also heard, “It’s our job to transcend the sins of traditional media” from high profile folks who, well, let’s say they don’t transcend the sins of traditional media.

      One told me he promises coverage in major publications to PR, which, should word of that get back to any of my editors, would dry up what little commercial income I have from selling travel stories.

      But, sure, okay. Traditional media practices are the problem here. Sure.

  3. All great stuff as usual Pam but I still feel confused about where things are going between journalism and blogging (and perhaps that’s the point?). I consider myself to be a writer with a blog, which I suppose in my mind means I try to spend some time on craft and accuracy before hitting Publish. Which I guess, if I’m going to be honest, means I don’t have a favorable opinion of “blogger” either, though I recognize no two bloggers are alike. But the TBEX Toronto conference ruined the whole “blogging” thing for me. That conference felt so gimmicky and content quality felt like an after thought. I was quite turned off.

    Thanks for fighting the tough fight.

    • If blogging is just a platform, there’s no issue about where journalism is going relative to blogging, it’s just migrating to blogs as the method by which that journalism is delivered. The issue isn’t really the platform — though there’s a semantic issue here in which blogging is conflated with content marketing by default, and that’s my point. Journalism is having it’s own woes because of content marketing, that’s for sure, but it’s not platform restricted — it’s in print, it’s in video, it’s on Twitter… Here’s an article on Poynter from 2012 that talks about the muddying of the waters between journalism — research based reporting — and content marketing — writing with an agenda to sell something.

      I left TBEX Toronto in a terrible funk, feeling completely demoralized by a number of interactions I had there — I won’t enumerate them here — but given time and distance, I realized that what was bothering me about the event (and the previous two I’d been at) was that TBEX had become a content marketing conference targeted at travel bloggers. I am okay with well written and ethically presented content marketing projects, in fact, I’ve been hired to work on some of them. But if I want to attend a content marketing conference, I’d like to go to a really top notch one that includes ethics on the agenda, at a minimum. TBEX is not a writer’s conference, hence the primacy of things like brand relationships and SEO and speed dating. There’s quite a good analysis of that situation by Edward Hasbrouck on his blog — he went to Cancun and said:

      But if the dominant business model for travel bloggers is sponsorships paid for out of travel marketing budgets, and judged according to their return on investment for those marketers , does that leave an economic niche for critical reporting and investigative journalism in travel blogs? Or will we end up with a travel blogosphere that’s the equivalent of cable television with 200 channels of infomercials — but no news?

      Other business models for travel blogging were oddly absent (or at least invisible) at TBEX.

      I got to meet you in Toronto, that was good, and I’m a writer with a blog too.

      • what was bothering me about the event (and the previous two I’d been at) was that TBEX had become a content marketing conference targeted at travel bloggers.

        AH DING DING DING, yes, thanks for putting that thing into words that I’d been trying to define to myself.

  4. What Does “Blogging” Mean Anymore?

    The same it always has – different things to different people. To one side you have totally non-commercial online diary/letters to grandma/portraits of pineapples style blogs and at the other side unabashedly commercial entities.

    Unfortunately it is the latter than tends to get most of the oxygen and so, for those not watching/involved in it closely (ie the general public), it is the more commercial end that the broad paintbrush painting “travel blogging” gets dipped into.

    Understandably, for those at the other end, that kinda sucks.

    Then there’s a full ethics spread — depending on whose ethics of course — to go with it. To my mind there does often tend to be a correlation between a “more” ethical stance and the pineapple portrait blogger. The commercial version would instead I guess be a pineapple food blogger as much of food blagging is an ethical wasteland. [Puts down broad food blogging ethics paintbrush].

    So everyone has their own stance. Nothing wrong with that.

    My stance (you did ask) is that travel blogging is, by and large, a missed opportunity. It was an opportunity to reinvent travel publishing untangled from the commercial pressures of traditional media. Instead many (though not all of course) travel bloggers have recreated the same commercial and ethical quandaries that existed beforehand. And that’s sad.

    • Yeah, I agree with this — somewhat. There’s some cool stuff to be found — I like Roads and Kingdoms, I still check in on our friends at Uncornered Market, Vela publishes some great travel stories. Wendy Perrin went solo and she’s working the platform from a service angle and schooling all of us in how to help our readers travel better. So not everyone has missed the opportunity.

      But the majority of commercial bloggers in the travel space have happily adopted the role of being extensions of PR/Marketing. And in worse cases, they’re tools in a game about SEO and care very little for content. In January, Matt Cutts at Google called for the end of the guest post, though they’re still very much in play. For example, Expedia denied link-buying, but their “ambassadors” will tell you about the requirements for inbound links to Expedia in their contracts and how that’s accompanied by zero editorial oversight. Zero oversight on the editing side plus a requirement for links is a fair clue of what matters in this transaction. It’s veiled link sales, it’s not ambassadorship, not really.

      I had a point. It was that yeah, everyone has their own stance, and also sets their own ethical guidelines. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, if you’re not concerned about, oh, you know, readers. They’re the ones sold short in this equation.

    • Did Mr Orwell predict how the travel blogging revolution would turn out?:

      Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

  5. I would say that 99% of travel blogs are pay to play. Tourism board gives them money, they write about a destination. OR company gives them money, they write about the company.

    I don’t think press trips are wrong and I don’t think being paid for stories is wrong but there is a line between marketing and coverage that most travel bloggers seem to have no problem regularly crossing.

    If Scotland invites you over to visit the country and you get a few ideas from it and write some stories, that’s fine. If Scotland invites you over, pays you money on top of it, and then you write a story about the hotel/tour/meal they took you too, that’s marketing.

    At least to me.

    I used to equate blogger with writer/journalist but now I equate it with marketer. Very few people are writers/journalists in the traditional sense of the word that implies a value/service to the reader. There’s no love of story or craft. There is simply a love of money and travel and people will do whatever it seems to take to get more of both.

    It’s quite a shame. I used to like reading a lot of travel blogs but now everything is so sponsored that I just don’t trust the information anymore.

    Most people I know feel the same way. Most reader surveys I’ve seen echo that fact.

    Most travel bloggers just don’t give a damn and justify the ethics of it in a way that makes them feel good.

    I get the sense that we are heading to 200 channels of informercials……at least until tourism boards decide that Twitter impressions aren’t really ROI and suddenly bloggers are left with no income stream.

    Then we’ll have zero channels…..and maybe that’s a good thing.

    • We need a data point to verify that. How many travel blogs are there? We don’t know. And we don’t know how to find out what number are pay for play, there’s simply no good source for that information.

      That said, I *don’t* think 99% are pay for play, I think 99% of the ones we see *promoted* have a significant pay for play component or feature primarily sponsored content of some flavor.

      Sidebar: Sometimes I think that’s why bloggers object to easy to comprehend disclosures up top. If [your favorite junket heavy blogger] preceded every post with “All my travel expenses were paid for, but my opinions are my own,” we’d quit reading. I quit a bunch of blogs for exactly that reason — nothing but sponsored travel leading to little of interest.

      Not across the board, some writers with skill are making cool stuff on other people’s dimes, but they’re pretty rare birds. That Edelman write up (linked below) nails it:

      “Blatantly positive posts that are clearly a result of free perks aren’t helping anyone.”

    • Great points Matt, although I disagree that 99% of travel blogs are pay to play. I’d say 99% of the ones that are most visible probably are. There are dozens/hundreds/thousands out there that are just hobby blogs sharing their stories from their RTW trips and slowly dying off once they’ve come back home.

      A lot of this goes toward why I wrote my post in October about “quitting” travel blogging. I just want to write about my experiences, good and bad, and encourage people to travel and get outside their comfort zone. I was never in it for the money or free stuff. At the same time, as I look around and see more and more people only in it for the free stuff and not really for the love of travel or love of writing, I feel disillusioned and I don’t want to be lumped in with them as a “travel blogger.” I don’t want anyone to assume I must be getting paid for my promotions.

      It also makes me sad as a reader of travel blogs because most I don’t even enjoy anymore, they are so full of promotional material and completely devoid of personality.

      I could say a lot more but I think you’ve already covered most of it. 🙂

      • I try not to guess at whose motivations are what. “In it for the free stuff” is a common accusation, but who doesn’t like good stuff at no cost?

        I’ve made the effort to refocus on the quality of the work that’s produced. You could be rolling in free stuff and if you’re producing amazing stories, I can shut up about that. Or at least I can try.

        But also, the accusation of “in it for the free stuff” is exactly what blogging has become somewhat synonymous with, no? And that’s what I object to. If we focus on what that free stuff allows us to create, well, we’re on to something different. I’ve been able to do spectacular things with travel support and I’m grateful for that, but I also NEVER write for the destination, I write for my readers, for myself.

        If we’re focused purely on the free stuff as the goal, we have failed. And so much of what we’re taught in public forums as bloggers is how to get that free stuff. One of TBEX’s primary offerings is a lot of free stuff — pre and post fams, speed dating to find out who you can get free stuff from should there be a spark, talks on how to make yourself attractive so agencies will give you free stuff. A lot of people capitalize on exactly this, hopping from junket to junket. It’s almost standard operating procedure these days.

    • “If Scotland invites you over to visit the country and you get a few ideas from it and write some stories, that’s fine.”

      When was the last time a tourism board paid for people to come over and not have “incentives” to promote them? As opposed to saying “thanks for the freebie, catch you next time”

      If Scotland invites you over, pays you money on top of it, and then you write a story about the hotel/tour/meal they took you too, that’s marketing.

      So what’s the blogger called who get’s paid and doesn’t disclose it?

      • DIshonest.

        Always disclose.

        But I don’t agree that a press trip is inherently bad. DMOs have been inviting journalists for years. It’s the current form that is bad in my opinion.

        But that’s me.

        • I don’t think anyone’s said a press trip is inherently bad. *I* certainly never said it. And the current “bad form” isn’t only current, it’s historic and cross platform. But the widespread adoption of said bad form is, I think, bad for the promise of an independent (travel) press and for what it means to be a “blogger.”

      • I wish I had saved the email — I was invited to Alaska two years ago (?) because the DMO had a little money left in their annual budget and decided it was worth spending on… me. Go figure. I told them I had no assignments, but I did get a little bit of paid work out of it later. We had a very candid exchange in which the DMO rep said, essentially, “We know. Long tail, yo.” (Sorry.) I didn’t get a day rate.

        If you get a day rate, I’d say you’re a contractor — you’re working for the destination. If you don’t disclose that you’re paid to cover the place, well the FTC is working on what that looks like, though it’s possible that they’ll conclude that they’re called “misleading, and therefore, illegal” when they’re done.

        Read the guidelines. They’re pretty explicit. For example, they recommend you not have to scroll to find the disclosure and that said disclosures are “clear and conspicuous.” So much for the guy who told me that up front disclosures were “distracting.”

        But this is a rathole about best practices and currently the FTC guidelines aren’t the law — and even if they were, they’re US only. The answer to your question is “paid unethical marketer.”

  6. Either way, 99% of travel blogs are garbage – and a huge part of the reason for this, is the advertising and sponsored trips. IMHO.

    Note – I’m not comparing bloggers to journalists, nor singling out one blogger/journalist or another – I’m saying that quality and integrity are being eroded by the influences of the people/organisations that are paying…. and, those who choose to sell out for a few bucks and a couple of cocktails.

    But, each to their own.

    Hope it was worth it.

    Hint: it’s not worth it.

    • Neither advertising nor a sponsored trip make for bad content by default. What makes for bad content is when a writer worries if the sponsor/advertiser is happy with the content, when the content is written to please the wrong master. Traffic isn’t the master. The ad buyer isn’t the master. If you’re not writing on the sponsor’s site, the sponsor isn’t the master — and even if you are, the master should ALWAYS be the reader. Or, if you’re big on the art side of things, the muse.

      I think it depends on where you’re coming from and what your goals are as to whether it was worth it. If your career, your reputation rests on the work you produce it’s not worth it. If you’d never have a snowball in hell’s chance of getting this stuff otherwise and you’re not damaging your career, well… maybe the free hotel room IS worth it, the cocktails ARE worth it. To you.

  7. I prefer the term “Experience writer” and have always stated that I am not a blogger. However, the world tries to define everyone as journalist, writers and bloggers. I prefer to say I have a website and social media accounts. How I get there is open for interpretation and if someone pays my way, great. I obtain passes as media does. If someone wants to cover my travel costs, great. If someone wants to pay mex to write about my experience, great. I just write about my experience, what I like or don’t like — an honest broker who understands the human experience. As a photographer, I also tell stories with pictures. I am a virtual visitor who puts my followers there. They live the experience through me. I try not to get caught up in definitions and what I am called. That’s for the conference and marketers.

    • “I try not to get caught up in definitions and what I am called. That’s for the conference and marketers.”

      This is probably a good idea. I’m totally guilty of getting caught up in this because of the source of the criticism. The incident that started it was criticism from a respected professional, and the feedback that exacerbated it was from the CEO of TBEX. But if you’re not a blogger, it means that you have a definition of what that is in your head and you’re rejecting it.You appear to be a guy who blogs– I clicked through — so what *is* a blogger if you’re not one?

  8. For four years I published a series of online travel guides which were written by paid local writers. I remember going to my first meeting with a potential big advertiser, and I came out with my tail between my legs. He basically laughed in my face and said that he would not invest that kind of money on advertising on a blog, that is run as a hobby. I had gone into that meeting with the typical blogger mentality, and he didn’t take me seriously. From that day on, I never referred to myself as a blogger, and when anyone referred the websites as blogs, I corrected them.

    Drastic changes were made to the websites, to make it look less like a blog (I mean, people don’t call Lonelyplanet a travel blog do they?). This took time to change people’s perception, I wanted to be taken seriously and trusted. Within six months of the changes, I had acquired my first four figure advertising campaign, and the company that laughed in my face 12 months earlier, were knocking on my door asking if he can run a local ad campaign.

    I don’t care what anyone says, the perception of bloggers these days is not good. I’ve been to networking events, and the opinions are low; cheap way to get links, majority of content is sponsored, will write nice things for freebies, and I don’t just mean just travel bloggers.

    If I was writing about travel, I would not call myself a blogger, or call it a blog – I’d want to be taken seriously, trusted, and I’m afraid bloggers have lost the reputation and trust.

  9. Thanks Pam. The sad truth is I used to be proud calling myself a travel blogger, ranting about consumer issues, but I’ve seen what the ‘industry’ has become and I don’t want to be part of it anymore.

    • “I wouldn’t want to be part of a club that would have me as a member.” — Groucho Marx

      I’m so with you, Darren. I was proud to own the term “Blogger” once. Now, I say I’m a writer and, if anyone asks, I will say that I have a blog. But it’s secondary now, and it didn’t used to be and you know what? That is disappointing.

  10. Realize that I’m a bit late to the game here. Thanks, Pam, for the kind words that we’re one of the blogs that you still read. That means a lot to us.

    I think of blogging as a platform, a communication tool. How one uses it and for what purpose varies drastically as we all know. But in my idealistic world and how I’ve tried to keep optimistic about the medium, blogging has a couple of definitions. The first came from my 97-year old grandfather who had never been on the internet and I tried to explain a blog and what we did. His summary: You are interpreters of experience and help create connections between people and places that wouldn’t be there otherwise. (we shared this at our TBEX keynote a couple of years ago).

    The second idealistic definition came from this article about the importance of “bridge figures” and how blogs can play this role to promote connection and understanding between people from different cultures and places.

    In full disclosure, I am one of the “evil ones” because I do work with companies and tourism boards. The approach that we try to follow for our blog is to first honor the reader and honor the experience. I disagree when people say that anything on a blog with a disclosure statement is not worth reading. True, there is a lot that isn’t worth reading and you shouldn’t feel bad about using your time in a better way. But I have also read some great writing of experiences that have been made possible because there was a company that helped make the experience happen through support. And I’m glad that I was able to read that thanks to someone else supporting the writer.

    But the reality is that blogging and marketing have become more synonymous, and unfortunately more like “cheap & easy” marketing. I do hope that market forces will work here so that those blogs that fall into this category eventually lose readers and die out, as Matt eluded to with the 200 channels becoming only a few quality ones. Yes, I mentioned before that I’m an idealist…

    • First things first — that accusation of “evil” didn’t come from me. For the eleventy billionth time, my issues are with intentionally deceptive and/or obfuscated disclosures, not with people who work with tourism organizations, and I’m with you on this point — I ALSO don’t believe that tourism dollars automatically mean the work is garbage. That would require me to discredit a good deal of my own work, and I stand behind *most* of it — if you dig deep enough in the archives here you’ll find things I did as an early blogger that I simply would not do today.

      But just to be explicit: I do not think sponsor dollars ruin content by default. There.

      Just this morning I read a piece on Digiday that is sadly reminiscent of Rick’s initial remark that 99% of blogs are crap. Market forces may do the work to clean this up, but I’m not totally convinced, I mean, look at broadcast radio in the US today. Awful, awful stuff and plenty of it. I think it will take more than market forces, who are always eager to jump on the next big thing (stand by for a flurry of second rate podcasts by bloggers and a scramble to monitize them — it is about to happen). What will shift the needle here may be more situations like this, or, maybe not.

      “But the reality is that blogging and marketing have become more synonymous, and unfortunately more like “cheap & easy” marketing.” — your words, Audrey, are pretty much what the soc med consultant I worked with said, and a lot of admittedly vernacular evidence totally bears this out. I prefer your ideas of bridge builders between people and places and while I suspect many bloggers would tell you that’s exactly what they do, their primary reason for existence is to parrot marketing messages and to create the impression of generating mass and/or quality traffic.

      I’m not the optimist you are, nor am I anywhere as diplomatic.

      • Thanks, Pam, for the lengthy response. I know that you don’t equate working with companies or tourism board sponsorship as “evil” – you’ve mentioned that you feel quality content can come from these cooperations. And I completely agree with the need for transparency (that’s not up for discussion). However, I used that phrase because I feel like a lot of the rhetoric in discussions like this and on other forums seems to pit a black/white viewpoint on working with companies/tourism boards and the content produced from that cooperation. I feel like there is a better way that can benefit everyone – reader, writer and companies. Haven’t found too many of those discussions though.

  11. I agree, “blogger” and “journalist” shouldn’t be compared as a like form of content sharing. Unless you claim to be a “journalist” and are not really researching your articles and validating sources. My opinion is blogging is more of a former of self expression and conjecture apposed to journalism which supposed to be based on facts…

    • I’m surprised — and disappointed — by how many people think a blog and journalism don’t exist in the same space. You seem to be in agreement with my soc med person on the nature of what blog content is, is that correct?

  12. Yeah, I think if you have a blog then you are writing content based on opinion (most of the time) like political, hobby, travel, etc. And I see journalism more as news, how to sites, and history related topics. It’s a gray area for me, but when I think blogger and journalist I’m picturing two different people

  13. Thank you, Pam, for linking back to my report form TBEX Cancun. I know this is an old thread, but I’ve been following and meaning to chip in. I’ve finally been prompted to do so by a renewed discussion of related themes going on here:

    http://www.escapeartistes.com/2015/02/10/ill-never-professional-travel-blogger/

    and

    http://outbounding.org/articles/view/why-i-ll-never-be-a-professional-travel-blogger

    I found Pam’s original post… disorienting. Not that it’s “wrong”, but it really didn’t (and still doesn’t) reflect my sense of who “most” professional travel bloggers, much less most travel bloggers in general, are, or how “most” people see us.

    I think it’s partly that I may have different definitions of “travel blogger” and perhaps also “professional”, and partly that I have a different perspective on what “most people” think.

    I think the perspective that Pam describes — that “most” people have come to see travel bloggers as self-publishers of sponsored travel content — is probably true only of a very small group of people, such as both the bloggers and the sponsors who go to TBEX.

    I care if a p.r. person won’t put me in touch with their client for an interview because they don;t take me seriously because they don’t take “bloggers” seriously as journalists. (Often saying I write travel books opens such doors, even when I am working on a story for my blog rather that one that is likely to end up in one of my books.)

    But in general, if I’m not looking to sell sponsored-post placements or hire myself out as a shill, I don’t care what the content buyers and shill-hirers think.

    What matters to me as a writer is what my readers think. What matters to my income as a professional is what my customers think. Fortunately, as a self-publisher my customers are my readers. And I don’t think my readers assume that my blog is paid advertorial content.

    It’s not true that readers can always tell a shill when they see one. Disclosure is important, and the FTC should be much more diligent in policing fraud (by large companies as well as self-publishers). But I’m not selling all “travel blogs”. I’m selling my blog to my readers.

    (Yes, my customers are also advertisers. But I was amazed how few ad-buyers were at TBEX. And the *most* disgusting thing I heard at TBEX was when one rep for a company that provides a travel product relevant to one of my highest-ranked FAQ pages said that “of course” they wouldn’t consider advertising on that page because some of my advice, which they volunteered that they agreed with, might cause people to have questions about their service. Would an ad buyer tell that to a mainstream newspaper ad salesman?)

    To me, a “travel blogger” is a blogger (someone who publishes in blog format) who blogs on the subject of travel.

    Most travel bloggers, so defined, *including many of those that are most useful to travellers*, have never heard of “sponsorship”.

    Travel bloggers included people publishing personal journals, or wiring for friends and family, but who happen to have made their journals public. “Travel exhibitionists”, you might say. Some of their writing sucks, but some is quite interesting. You might not “follow” such a blog, but you might find a good post or trip report when you search for a topic of interest.

    (FWIW, I get more readers who find individual posts than who follow me regularly.)

    Travel bloggers also include bloggers and other writers whose main theme isn’t travel, but who blog about travel when they travel. Some of these lack the perspective of travel professionals, but are still really, really, good trip reports.

    Blogs valuable to travellers also include expat blogs and blogs by locals who write about where they live. These have varied degrees of emphasis on topics of interest to short-term visitors, but can be very valuable for context and perspective.

    A traveller thinking about a trip to Place X, and looking for “What’s it like to visit?”, isn’t likely to search for “X travel blog X”. They are more likely to search for “X”, or something like “X [activity]”, “X travel budget”, “X local transportation”, etc.

    And if they are planning an independent trip, they are going to move on pretty quickly if they land on pages about sponsored (escorted, guided, etc.) tours, that don;t talk about how easy it is to find a place to stay if you arrive without reservations, or what it costs.

    So I’m not really worried about sponsored posts or shills as competition for my readers.

    A “professional”, as distinct from an amateur, is someone who is doing it for money, and perhaps someone who is making a significant part of their living from it.

    People who aren’t looking for sponsorships, but have different revenue models, aren’t going to go to TBEX, or aren’t going to bother to return once they find out what it is about. So you can’t judge, “How are most travel bloggers making a living?” by who shows up at an event like TBEX.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I still think there are more of us making a living through various other business models (a topic for another thread and another day) than through “sponsorships”.

    When I tell “normal” people or potential readers — i.e. traveller — that I write a blog of consumer advice for travellers, they assume that as a professional expert I probably know how to find deals, and that I sometimes get free or discounted travel services (true, but less so than most people think).

    But they don’t generally assume that I write or publish sponsored content. They may ask how I make money, but they understand “ads” as an answer, and they assume that I have at least as much editorial independence from my advertisers as a mainstream newspaper.

    I try to live up to that implicit expectation.

    • As you said, Edward, old thread, but a bit of a zombie, too, in that it won’t quite die and keeps eating our brains.

      In retrospect, my greatest disappointment was the language coming from people I used to think of as industry leaders, and specifically, Rick’s responses to what was initially just a personal “Dude, that bummed me out,” remark.

      I do think this is just right: To me, a “travel blogger” is a blogger (someone who publishes in blog format) who blogs on the subject of travel. You can append things to it to help further define it. A “marketing travel blogger.” A “consumer travel blogger.” A “vanity travel blogger.” (I’m probably the last one.)

      The longer term takeaway for me has been to move away from those who equate the platform with a specific type of content and/or purpose, who promote the singular business model of sponsored content, who bash “old media” as an diversion for avoiding discussions of the sins of “new media”… and a number of other things that devalue not the platform (blogging) but the content itself.

      The further I get from the bubble of “a professional travel blogger is one who serves a brand” thinking, the more optimistic I am. The whole trivial yet weirdly significant flap just showed me that I need to be looking/listening elsewhere.

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