Huffington Post Travel and the Devaluation of Words
Judging from the title, you've probably already gathered that this isn't one of those mushy feel good travel inspiring posts. I want to specifically talk directly to travel bloggers first, many of whom I call friends, who have either written for the new Huffington Post travel vertical or are planning on it. Don't take these frank words of mine to cheap shot me and say I'm hating on your writing or don't have respect for you. This is a travel blog, and therefore I'm a travel blogger, so if I was hating on travel bloggers I would be hating on myself. Now, as many people are quickly finding out, the Huffington Post has launched a new travel vertical and opened it up for travel writers and bloggers to submit their writing. This is great news right? One of the most successful online news sources is now dedicating a section of their website to travel. During a time when travel sites and publications are having a difficult time finding ways to make money, it seems like the perfect fit since the Huffington Post is one of the world's most valuable Internet startups at an approximate worth of $150 million by some estimations.
However, there are several stipulations to keep in mind when writing for the Huffington Post travel section. First of all, and most importantly to me, they don't pay. Despite being one of the most profitable Internet startups, you can write until your hands fall off and you won't get a dime, and not even ad revenue. Somewhat correlated with no compensation, the Huffington Post doesn't allow press trips. That's right, no discounted or free travel. Lastly, the Huffington Post owns all rights to photos and content.
So why would travel writers and bloggers want to write for the Huffington Post? It essentially comes down to two things: 1) Link Juice and 2) Recognition. Let's be honest, of the hundreds of travel blogs on the web, how many are really recognized experts in travel? Many bloggers who like the benefits of writing for the Huffington Post typically always first remark about the freedom to link back to their blogs in pieces they contribute to the news site. Bloggers can link to their own blogs, meaning they are getting links from a website with a page rank of 8 and having their writing appear in front of thousands of readers. What blogger wouldn't jump at this opportunity?
Though not many bloggers would publicly admit to this, it also comes down to recognition. When you're at a networking event or applying for that dream travel writing job are you going to say that you are the Editor-in-Chief of the Wordpress travel blog "Joe Knows Travel" (I searched Google and as far as I can tell there isn't a travel blog named Joe Knows Travel)? Or on the other hand, are you proudly going to say you've been a contributing writer for the most successful online news startup, the Huffington Post, whose lineup of writers has included Jimmy Carter, Alec Baldwin, Robert Redford and Bill Gates? It's a no brainer.
So compensation then is in the form of links and recognition? When the hell did we start paying with links? If I go to the honky tonk bar down the street and tell the bartender I'm a little short on cash and that I'll just link to the bar on my blog and Facebook, he's going to say I'm full of shit and I can roll up my sleeves and mop up the vomit out of the men's bathroom and plunge the tampons out of the women's toilet.
The point is that there is no value in written words anymore. You just have to setup a free blogspot account, write down some words and you're all of a sudden a writer. Now don't take this to mean that I'm an expert in the travel industry, because I'm not. I've been a writer for four years, with approximately three of that coming in travel. I didn't even go to school for English or Journalism, and so I lack a lot of the mechanics. However, years ago, you were just short of God if you were a published writer. It meant you had spent long hours at night in libraries reading, writing and studying the structure of words and sentences, you endured the hardship of a boot camp style English professor and if you had been rejected once, then you had been rejected a million times. As a writing friend I look up to recently said, it was a rite of passage to be published because there were so few publications and so few writers, that the writing was nothing short of perfection. I'm going to be honest, 50 years ago, I probably wouldn't even be a published writer based on my experience thus far. I'm by no means knocking Wordpress or Blogspot blogs, because I have two, but I believe it's important to understand that the landscape has drastically changed, and not necessarily for the better.
So then, are travel writers selling their souls to the devil to write for the Huffington Post? And are those who write honestly not taking press trips? Come on, are we really expected to believe that? It's probably no surprise to you that I will not be writing for the Huffington Post. I will stand by and spend 3 hours working on a piece for a BootsnAll or a Matador Network any day than 1 hour for a multi-million dollar news site that doesn't pay. Why? Because the work, investment and fruition of it far outweighs the link juice and "recognition" other places might give me. I've known one of the BootsnAll Editors for over a year and consider a couple more of their staff friends, but I have to push myself everytime I pitch an article. I have to pitch it, and then if it's accepted write a spot-on article, which still isn't guaranteed to be published. I do this because I have to up my game and I believe it makes me a better writer.
A couple nights ago a four hour conversation ensued on Twitter between many prominent travel writers and bloggers about the new travel section of the Huffington Post. Each person brought up very good points and it was a friendly and constructive conversation. But the question that I honestly want to know from travel writers, bloggers and even the Huffington Post Travel Editor herself, Kate Auletta, is if the link juice and recognition is worth it? I'm not being snarky, but I honestly want to know. Also, I want to hear from travel editors out there. I would love to hear from leading travel editors and get their take on this. I spoke with an editor and travel content producer from a major travel publication, who will remain unnamed, and they said that the Huffington Post not paying was a joke. Here's my conundrum: will getting published in these major sites that don't pay, in the future actually lower a publication and writer's authenticity among editors, while raising the validity of writing that appears in places like BootsnAll or Matador?