As American newspapers continue to wither and to whimper that nobody loves them anymore, pity the poor newspaper reader who once could count on the Sunday Travel Section for a friendly and credible worldly review of distant people and places.
Yes, of course, the Sunday Travel Section pales in significance to serious investigative journalism by experienced, hard-nosed reporters whose trained eyes, critical analysis, and relentless chase for information has kept reluctant officials somewhere between honest and half a bubble out of plumb. You will find praise and concern for these essential folks elsewhere.
I am writing about softer noses -- the travel journalists. For their newspaper jobs, this blog is an obituary.
Hail to the lowly travel journalist
Less than a decade ago, American newspapers, especially those in big cities, covered the world of travel in thick Sunday Travel Sections.
They chronicled changes that brought welcomes all over the world to ordinary travelers from the United States. Dispatches from journalists heightened interest in tours, treks, and adventures. Their focus had a huge impact on the vacation habits of Americans who took advantage of decreasing air prices to explore far beyond U.S. borders.
If you wanted a fair and mostly unbiased consumer report or a review of the world's travel destinations or cruise ships, big city newspapers were your best bet.
Reporting wasn’t perfect; it never is. But most big newspapers had a small, dedicated staff who wrote about the world of travel in a way that served newspaper readers, reviewing positives and negatives of destinations in balance that you would never see in an advertisement or brochure.
In return, newspapers were rewarded with millions of dollars in advertising -- from airlines to cruise lines -- that was far greater than the costs of publishing the Travel Section. This was a win-win situation for readers and newspapers, who spent their Sunday Travel Section profits on other parts of the newspaper that drew fewer ads.
Readers like travel, newspapers don't
Strangely, even in the best years of income and readership, top management at most newspapers, throughout the country, never had any idea how much their readers loved the Sunday Travel Section; myopic newspaper management consistently undervalued, underplayed and undermined the weekly travel report. There was always plenty of budget money for researching articles in the hard news sections about natural disasters and man's inhumanities to man, but little budget money for articles in Travel, which had direct impact on their reader's precious disposable time and income.
Meanwhile, the rest of the media paid little attention to travel reporting aimed at the consumer, which is time consuming and expensive. Outside the small group of serious newspapers, reports usually were penned by writers on a free vacation. Magazines were (and continue to be) mostly hype. Television seldom tries to present a well researched travel story.
Lately, as newspapers cut staffs to balance their losses of revenue, even the bigger papers have just about given up serving the worldly travelers among their readers. They have changed travel focus, if they have any left, into short trips on one tank of gas. Isn't that strange? Among the stalwarts of newspaper readers are the people who are most educated, most read, and most traveled, if only in their dreams.
Why newspapers decided to jettison serious journalism in their travel reports is beyond me.
But today, most of the newspaper travel journalists are gone, as reporters and editors who took their readers all over the world have lost their jobs at newspapers all over the country.
Some are retired, some chose other lines of work. And some are still writing. Friends may call on the Internet.
Searching the Internet for journalism
Why should you care? Because in a world filled with charlatans, every bit of serious reporting, with a concern for the consumer, is a precious commodity.
The great hunt for credible, reliable, consumer-oriented travel journalism on the Internet has begun.
Ironically, some of the best travel journalism comes from non journalists, who are reporting their experiences on useful and successful interactive websites such as TripAdvisor and CruiseCritic.
Some experienced travel journalists are writing and blogging, which brings me to Blogistan, a new website. Joe Brancatelli, expert travel writer and editor of JoeSentMe.com, is attempting to find all of the important bloggers who comment about travel. His purpose is to link travel readers with travel voices.
One of those important voices, says Brancatelli, is this blog, Travel Maven. The blog grew from a website, TravelMavens.net, which is designed to link viewers with top travel journalism, especially about cruises, golf resorts, Florida, and travel gear and gadgets.
Take a look at Blogistan.
And tell us what you think.
You may reach me by emailing David at TravelMavens.net
You may reach Joe by emailing Joe at JoeSentMe.com
David Molyneaux was editor of the Travel section at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland for nearly 25 years. None of his criticism is directed at The Plain Dealer.