As freelance budgets for print media publications shrink, the future of travel journalism in Canada may lie in custom publishing, digital media, and the tapping of the American market.
“Those days when a magazine could pay their way, that’s generally not happening anymore,” says James Little, the former editor of explore magazine, the outdoor adventure publication that was nominated for 174 National Magazine Awards during Little’s tenure. Now, most publications in Canada have to rely on the tourism industry for free trips. Other times, says Little, travel journalists who are extremely passionate about a destination may just foot the bill for the trip themselves.
Charlene Rooke, editor-in-chief of Globe Travel & Food, a new Globe and Mail magazine that debuts in the fall, says though there are a few magazines that will pay for a writer’s travel and expenses, travel journalism pretty much runs on free trips. The new magazine is no exception, but Rooke says the travel editor, Domini Clark, has implemented a disclosure policy that involves listing the kind of assistance the writer has received at the end of every story.
These days, the only magazines that pay to send their writers around the globe are the in-flight or custom content titles, which often have more funding behind them because they are working for a specific client. Some argue that these magazines are simply advertorial; however, the involvement of the client in the decisions of the magazine varies by publication. Others see it as quality journalism with a few restrictions.
Rooke falls into the second category. She has been a freelance travel writer for numerous publications and was an editor at enRoute.
“When custom publishing is done really well, it’s not trying to sell you the client’s product; it is delivering something that the reader really wants,” she says. “The platform bringing you that information happens to be a brand instead of a media outlet.”
Rooke sees custom content as part of the future of travel journalism. She says the market for travel pieces has narrowed as freelance budgets have been slashed. Even before the Globe announced the launch of its travel magazine, which will be distributed to home subscribers and available online, she received “hundreds and hundreds” of queries from writers who wanted to contribute to the magazine. “My general impression is that editorial outlets in Canada must be drying up for writers because people seem really desperate to place their stories,” she said.
Not Chris Johns, who makes his living as a freelance travel journalist and food writer. Half his stories are published in custom content titles like enRoute and Fairmont, and the rest in publications like the Globe and Western Living. As to which type of publication he prefers, he really only has one criterion. “As a freelance writer, I prefer to work for whoever is paying the most,” he says, adding that this is typically the custom content mags.
Ilana Weitzman, the editor-in-chief of Air Canada’s enRoute, says there isn’t really much difference between traditional magazines and custom content titles because all magazines rely on advertisers, and are consequently marketing products on their pages. “Let’s not forget that print is now supported by advertisers. In our case it is advertisers and a client brand.”
That client, being Canada’s national airline, Air Canada, is very trusting of the work Weitzman and her team do, and rightly so. enRoute has garnered critical acclaim, both in Canada at the National Magazine Awards and in the United States, where the publication was voted the top airline magazine in the world in 2012 by CNN.com.
Asked about the future of enRoute, Weitzman points to the in-flight magazine’s Tumblr account, which currently has 35,000 subscribers. She says that she sees development happening in the digital market, with products like apps and downloadable city guides. Doug Wallace, principal of Wallace Media and a freelance travel journalist, agrees. Though there are now fewer outlets in Canada in which to place stories, he believes the market may open up because of a whole new range of digital products, including tablet versions of magazines and special-interest digital publications.
“I just think there is going to be more digital product out there as people move away from print, and I think because of that it is going to be a lot easier to include travel in some of your coverage,” says Wallace.
If by chance the digital market doesn’t open up new opportunities for travel journalism, there is always the American market, which has significantly more outlets than Canada. Eve Thomas, associate editor of luxury brands at Spafax, which produces enRoute and Fairmont, believes that tighter budgets mean editors will be looking for writers who are experts in their own area, instead of sending someone to a far-flung location to report.
Weitzman would like to see Canadian talent continue writing for Canadian publications. And though the travel industry has changed dramatically, Little is confident that there is still a future for travel journalism in Canada. “As long as there are really good writers, there will always be good travel stories,” he says.
Photo by pedrosimoes7