Do you Travel Blog Ethically? Do you even care?
The debate over travel blogging vs journalism vs travel writing is an old one. I think it’s fair to say old media, whether it likes it or not, is merging with new media. But, are we returning the consideration?
The global merge of ethical content:
Travel writers & journalists nearly all run a blog of some sort these days. And, as mainstream newspapers and magazines role out online versions of their platforms the world watches as they scramble to make money from them. The blogger, or in this case travel-blogger is a little further ahead in the game here.
As more and more people turn to the internet for sources of information, causal reading, and weekly catch ups; blog writers are staring at new responsibilities. The problem is, blogging in itself is still a broad term, so the water’s far more murky than “old school” media.
Merging of formats goes both ways:
I’ll settle my argument of the “vs” argument now:
Travel bloggers that deliver high quality content, of one sort of another, in my view, are modern day columnists.
So too are the travel-writers & journalists that run articles either on personal sites, or through / for media companies.
Journalists, for the better part, will usually have had a direct education in the field of ethics during their education. Travel writers, again, will or should, have a background in language, writing etc. Least I mention extensive experience in the wide aspects of traveling. Travel bloggers, for the main part are usually experienced in travel & bring with them their own relevant backgrounds.
Enter the “ethics for travel blogging”:
Journalists will have a strong understanding of ethics. It’s a leading part of their education and training. Though these days the “old school” journalists have to fight tooth and nail with the marketing / finance department to not over step the boundaries in favor of financial gain for the corporation.
Travel Writers are well experienced in the sacrificial ethics of travel writing. Compromises on physical hotel reviews versus a quick telephone call to see if they are still there have been documented already. Lower budgets, higher expectations, easy access to information make it all too tempting. Despite this, freebies also seem to have slipped under the radar for travel writers for a long time. This comes under the guise of travel flights / expenses being too much to cover.
Travel bloggers answer only to themselves, and for a few, to their readers. Some do it for the love of it, others for the idealistic dream of financing their travels, others again for the ego trip of a lifetime. Here the temptations really pull heavily; or in my eyes, are often completely blindsided.
Blogging Ethics gone awry?
Disclosure is getting a lot of press these days on the blogging front. Travel bloggers who write articles loaded down with affiliate links. Write sponsored reviews in exchange for cash or products. Or keyword stuff their articles (the process of writing specifically for the purpose of ranking high in search engines).
Affiliate links don’t bother me much, as usually it’s pretty obvious they are links to a product. (mentioning this in your site disclaimer is nice)
Sponsored reviews without adding a disclaimer to the top of the article turns me off the writer immediately. Writing at the bottom comes across, to me, as just slipping it in. Be up front from the start.
Taking trips, or products in return for a company or product should likewise be mentioned in every article you write. Failure to do weakens your long term credibility in my eyes.
Likewise the terrible line “Although my stay was sponsored by <company> my views are my own” – Yea, right. A bad review means no call back for a freebie next time. Just drop the pretense or come up with something better.
Keyword stuffing for the purposes of SEO is much less obvious to the casual reader. One of the worst offenders are some awful companies writing blogs within their site; and then loading them with babbling garbage about something they are trying to rank for. Worse still is when they entice the average travel blog writer to give them free content or photographs to do the same thing.
Selling text links goes against Google and other search engine rules. It’s when you see something like “holidays in Majorca” or “cheap flights” appear in the middle of someones blog post. That blogger has been paid to put that text with a link to companies webpage. It basically tells the search engines that you think that that’s where the best “whatever” is located. The search engines then move the companies page up on the search results. Get it? It’s nothing to do with “advertising” it’s all to do with taking money to manipulate search results.
While Google and other search engines have taken great lengths to combat this, the practice goes one. Worse yet some Travel blogs simply don’t understand that this is not advertising. Yet they continually refer to it as such. At the end of the day Google lose trust in websites that sell text links and the travel blogs that do slowly drop in their own rankings. While the companies paying get much worse penalties.
Travel Photography and ethics:
Journalists and Writers usually have to abide by rules here, or at least their legal departments ensure they do. But when was the last time a Travel Blogger had a subject give permission to use their photo? That little old lady at the market might not be so happy having her face up for the whole world to see? Few and far between I think.
It isn’t just blogging either. Uploading photos of people to public folders in Facebook, Flickr or other social media platforms can have seriously detrimental effects on their lives. Do check out my post on the ethics of travel photography.
That’s it for this part, it’s a lot to digest. I’ll have a follow up to this where I’ll write up a few failed travel blog ethics I’ve come across that have destroyed lives.
For now though, here are a few things to think about & ask:
Do you keep ethics in mind when you write online or offline?
Do you even care?
Do disclaimers annoy you when you read online, or should they be done away with?
What’s the answer to the merging of these writing platforms whilst still maintaining credibility?
Travel Blog Ethics: how to avoid getting people killed or jailed.
Here’s a direct link to Travel Blog Ethics 2