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Fair Trade in Travel Writing and Photography

Photo: Templo Mayor

From the archives:
If we wish to develop responsible travel, investment in fair trade in travel writing and photography ought to be a priority. Responsible travel, ecotourism and sustainable travel deserve quality press. That said, there are few incentives for travel writers and photographers to provide top-notch coverage. Here’s our proposal:

Item one. Every year I receive a dozen requests for photos. When ask for payment, small magazine publishers and academic press tend to respond with an apology followed by an explanation why they cannot pay for pictures. I make a few exceptions, but take a look at the big picture. Without payment, what incentive do I have to document markets, rural tourism operators and environmental conservation projects?

Item two. A colleague suggests that a UK publishing house might be interested in a new edition of my Mexico guidebook. Personally, I am flattered. It would be great to update my Mexico guidebook. That said, would it be profitable?

His response: “Guidebooks don’t appear to make money for authors.”

Anecdotal evidence from about two dozen guidebook writers and editors suggest that professionals are being paid less for doing more work in 2007. Says one author: “I turned down the next edition because the pay offer was actually a reduction and they want 56 extra pages. Not happy about that.”

The result — lack of continuity. The new author — paid less — starts from scratch. Neither readers nor the community have a chance to build relations with the author.

Another published author says that the problem is writing quality materials: “what I want to write, no one will pay for … what they will pay for are articles I don’t care to write.”

Colleagues at a daily newspaper take pride in their travel section. They say, however, that the section is disregarded as ‘soft’ news.

“Our colleagues ought to respect our work,” reporters say, explaining that investigative travel writing documents economic and cultural trends, all with the goal of informing their readers, aka travelers, valuable stakeholders. Nevertheless, travel writing is not treated with much respect.

Stones in the road
Another writer, an accomplished editor, complains that government offices rarely provide useful information in a timely manner. “It’s like getting blood from a stone,” he says.

A travel writer grows tired of diminishing paychecks and increased responsibilities. When asked why he doesn’t quit, he explains ‘I don’t have better paying options.’

Professional media also complain about universities. Academic publication is usually conducted in a manner that pays the writer zero or in copies of the publication.

While this works for full-time academics, it precludes professional writers or researchers who expect to be paid for their efforts.

Worse, travel and research grants are usually limited to academics, precluding media from conducting research that could be recycled as both travel features and academic work.

We would like to team up with local and national governments to convene a series of round table dialogues as suggested during the Media, Environment and Tourism Conference. These dialogues should begin online, move to a physical space (ideally a tourism conference) and follow the progress online for at least six months.

Find ways of improving payment for citizen journalism, particularly if it allows contributors to be able to voice a mix of viewpoints. Foundations and development agencies should hire qualified journalists and photographers to provide public documentation of responsible travel and ecotourism without being the project cheerleader. Guaranteeing independence is the only way to insure the integrity of the reporting.


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