Category Archives: Online writing

Straight talking at Travellers’ Tales

I spent the weekend preparing the nice and nasty sandwiches. It’s a delicate recipe, served up to people needing some positives to cushion all the negatives, based around a judicious double-decker design of good, bad, bad, good.

Or, more bluntly, a shit butty.

The reason? I was at the Travellers’ Tales festival at the Royal Geographical Society, volunteering at the travel writing workshops run by the British Guild of Travel Writers.

This year's event at the RGS

Shattered illusions

Potential, hopeful and wannabe travel writers booked 30-minute slots to talk about getting into freelance writing and the state of the industry, and to show us examples of their work for a critique.

For some, the illusion-shattering pep talk from a grizzled freelancer probably came as a rude awakening.  Structural change. Reduced fees. Moving it all online. You get the picture.

But amongst the reality checks, I did try to proffer some constructive advice. Most of all, if you want to start building a portfolio of work, don’t chase the assignment to a luxury spa in the Maldives, or a wildebeest-stalking safari in the savannah. Simply look to your doorstep.

Expert views

Elsewhere at the festival Jan Morris reeled off anecdotes to a reverential crowd and Fergal Keane, the man behind the much-celebrated Letter to Daniel, offered an update of what the young Daniel did next. There’s an audioBoo of his intro here.

The event's photo exhibition

But it was the Last Frontiers panel of Simon Reeve, Martin Hartley and Hilary Bradt that resonated with my shit-butty prognosis for the future of travel writing.

Hilary summed by saying that travel frontiers are often not always the far-flung destinations but the unusual experiences and characters we encounter in our own backyards.

Maybe some of the best Travellers’ Tales are right under our very noses. We tend to look far and wide for inspiration, but forget that the Eureka moment can also be located in the short and narrow.

Your feedback

What do you think? And was the advice that myself and my Guild colleagues offered on the day of real constructive help? We’d love to know.

Post your comments below.

* Update: More views from Travellers’ Tales at Tourist vs Traveller here.


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Rewired: the future of journalism is online

You couldn’t move for TweetDecks and iPhones at City University yesterday for the news:rewired conference.

Having relaunched Hit the North over Christmas, I was there to hear the speakers speculate on the future of journalism and ponder how I’ll apply these ideas to my own travel writing.

Overall, there was a lot of talk but not many conclusions from the day. Travel was poorly represented with just @coastmag and @timestravel joining me on the delegate list.


Fast evolving

A few common themes did crop up consistently throughout the day. Firstly, the media all changing so fast that nobody really seems to know where it’s heading.

In the words of Kevin Marsh of the BBC College of Journalism, “If you think you’ve got the answer, then you didn’t understand the question.”

His advice: “Accept the mindset you need to relearn; cruise and surf to find the best; think about what you do well and extract the value of new skills.”

A good story

The other recurring motif is the need for quality content. In other words, while the technology can facilitate new ways of presenting information, technical skill is no replacement for a well-written story with a strong angle, compelling characters and direct speech.

Multi-media journalist @adamwestbrook spoke of finding the narrative arc in an audio slideshow, while radio expert @newsleader advised to understand how each platform enriches the story telling and use it to the best advantage.

The last word

Wrapping up, Greg Hadfield, the recently departed head of digital media at, says “Newspapers are about to die in one sense. The future is about trying to build a new breed of journalism. You cannot be a good journalist now without being an entrepreneur.”

There’s an audioBoo extract of his talk here.

The next move

So, where does all this leave Hit the North? Making my own way through the ever-changing landscape and learning as I go.

Expect more experimentation on this site and join me on the ride into the unknown.

* You can follow more of the discussion on Twitter at #newsrw.

* There’s an update on the Hadfield story here.

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