Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Grantourismo: a business model for travel journalism?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 14, 2011

Alright for some. Image credit: Sarah_Ackerman on Flickr

[NOTE: Lara Dunston, mentioned below, has added some thoughts/corrections to this post & comments – click here to read]

Hold the plane! Someone might just have found a way to make travel journalism pay.

If so, it’s big news for wannabe travel writers the world over, pursuing that elusive dream: to travel the world and get paid to write about it. It’s an area of professional journalism that has declined in the digital age: cheap air travel combined with Flickr, blogs and Youtube, has removed the exclusivity (and therefore value) of being somewhere exotic. Meanwhile, struggling publications have found it harder to justify the flights, visas and travel costs for writers.

Last summer it certainly had a few of us stumped. I held a Future of News bootcamp on travel journalism back in July 2010, where we tried to come up with new approaches to the idea. We came close to something, I feel, focusing on creating a community around a location or travel niche, and selling ‘actionable’ products around our journalism.

But a couple from Australia have come up with another approach, which has been successful a lot more quickly.

The brainchild of writer and photographer duo Lara Dunston and Terence Carter, GranTourismo is a 12 month global journey around the world. According to the blurb on the official website:

They’ll be travelling slowly, living like locals, doing and learning things and giving something back at each destination they visit. Their mission is to explore more authentic ways of travelling and make travel more meaningful and more memorable.

How’s it being funded? Well, they’ve secured a ‘partnership’ with London based travel company HomeAway Holiday Rentals, who are paying for fees and expenses for the trip, and putting Lara and Terence up in their rental properties wherever they go. It’s probably one of the first times professional travel writers have been paid directly by a travel company.

Lara & Terence of GranTourismo

In an in-depth account on the tnooz blog, Lara describes how the idea came about:

Terence and I started developing Grantourismo a few years ago, as a personal travel experiment aimed at exploring more enriching ways to travel. The project grew out of frustrations with our work as travel writers, as much as with how we observed people travel, speeding through places ticking off sights…

…The question was which companies to approach to present our project. I was fine-tuning our proposal in July 2009 when I spotted HomeAway Holiday-Rentals’ advertisement on TravMedia calling for a writer-photographer team to work on a similar but more ambitious marketing project. We responded and over the course of a few months persuaded HomeAway Holiday-Rentals to go with our project instead.

A few enterprising themes are revealed here: it’s a project that’s been developed for a long time, born out of a frustration (or pain) about something; and even once HomeAway Holiday-Rentals were approached, the deal took a few months to broker.

So far, so good. But what about editorial independence?

…from the outset we made it clear to HomeAway Holiday-Rentals that we had to have complete editorial control so that the content would not be construed as advertorial. If it was, then their credibility, as much as ours, would be on the line…This, we believed, was essential to establishing our readers’ trust and maintaining the integrity of the project.

A model for the future?

What’s quite promising about Lara and Terence’s model is that it is replicable: it can be used by journalists and photographers (and even film makers) in a near infinite number of ways, in an unlimited number of places. Lara says they’ve already been approached by wine producers who want to use their skills for a wine-specific campaign.

In an interview with Traveling Savage, Lara says it’s a growing trend:

Travel companies will increasingly be exploring direct partnerships with writers/bloggers in order to develop innovative, attention-grabbing projects and cut out the middle man (the editor) so the company knows what kind of coverage they’re going to get. Freelance writers will be increasingly seeking to work directly with companies as the industry becomes even more competitive, as will bloggers, because they’re always looking for ways to monetize their sites. These partnerships can be tricky things to negotiate, however, so writers/bloggers need to take care to ensure that they maintain their credibility, especially if they want to continue to work in the media: professionalism and ethics are everything.

It’s only one way to do it

On the flip-side however, it’s one that’s very dependent upon other people. If you can’t get a ‘partner’ to back you, you might as well put the passport back in the drawer. Lara says there’s no other advertising on the site, which takes away much growth potential if the audience grows.

It also means there’s little benefit for the pair in growing an active, vibrant community around their content. That was the breakthrough with our London bootcamp in 2010. We figured if you’re creating valuable content inside a specific niche within travel journalism (gay/children/eco-friendly are the first three which spring to mind) you can build up a small, but loyal base of readers. From there you can develop sponsored newsletters, sell products (photographs, ebooks etc) and wrangle affiliate deals with all sorts of travel firms. (See Lara’s comments for more on this.)

If you aim to become a thought-leader in your niche, rather than just ‘the water here’s lovely’ type writing then you can really make an impact, change lives and develop a sustainable brand.

That, of course, takes time; and if  there’s one thing to be said for the GranTourismo model, it got them travelling pretty quickly.

So what do you think? Is this a new way to do travel journalism in the digital age? Is it worth cutting out the middle-man? Or is it a lucky luxury the new media age just can’t support? Leave your comments below!

Hattip: Craig McGinty on Twitter


Future of News bootcamp: make money in travel journalism

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 29, 2010

It’s a journalists dream: getting paid good money to travel the world or live abroad. Travel Journalism still remains one of the more glamorous genres inside the trade and with good reason. But it’s been hit hard by the changes as much as anywhere else; is there still a good business in it?

The answer from the seven journalists who attended the second Future of News Business Bootcamp this week was a wholehearted ‘yes!…but you have to be clever about it.’

If you’re not familiar with how the bootcamps work then check out the explanation here; but essentially they work on the premise that smaller numbers, an informal location and some bottles of wine equals good ideas and creativity.

Joining the bootcamp this week were Sarah Warwick, Rosamund Hutt, Will Peach, Patrick Smith, Lexi Mills, Tony Fernandes and James Carr; all of them have done the travel journalism thing and want to keep doing it. So how did we do?

The right questions

We frame the bootcamps by asking a series of business orientated questions, applying them to a specific area of journalism.

What’s the value? The team suggested things like inspiration & escape as well as basic language and currency information. Patrick Smith made the very good point that the real financial value in travel journalism is the fact it is actionable: people will buy holidays, for example, off the back of an article.

What are the target markets? We broke into two groups to come up with creative and unusual niche markets for travel journalism. Very popular was the expat market inside a given country (a model proved successful for hard news reporting by; business travellers; the PAs of business travellers; the children of diplomats and even servicemen & women looking for things to do in their various locations.

Where’s the pain? This final question is the basis for many of the most successful businesses of the last century. What pain can you solve with your idea? For us, we’re looking for pains which can be solved by a travel journalist’s information, writing or multimedia. Some great ideas emerged, including products for old people who want to do adventure holidays, a way to help people avoid getting ripped off at the airport and even for people who are ‘bored & abroad’.

It’s not the journalism, stupid

I think the greatest realisation at the end of the evening though was agreeing on what makes money on a website or mobile device. Now, this might seem shocking or controversial to some of you; I suspect others realised this long ago. But collectively we pretty much agreed that on any “news” product, the journalism itself doesn’t make any money. It never will. It never has. It never should.

Instead it facilities a wide variety of other products which do make money; a subscription service, a shop, a sponsored mailing list, events etc. They cannot make money without the journalism, but the journalism cannot exist without them making money.

It’s an interesting symbiotic relationship which I think would form the base of any future news business in the online world. What do you think?

Either way, most of our bootcampers left with new ideas and optimism, so that’s mission complete! We’ll be doing one more in August, before the public meetups return in September.

Thanks very much to Patrick, Lexi, Tony, James, Sarah, Will and Rosamund for taking part in the experiment!

8 tips for journo-entrepreneurs

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on July 12, 2010

The Knight Foundation (@knightfdn) have some great tips for journalists turning their hand to entrepreneurship.

They’ve been taken from a talk held by US group WebbMedia and make sound reading for journalists in Europe, Asia and elsewhere thinking of how to turn their journalism into business.

01. specialise

Don’t be a generalist. Create highly-specialized content that you’re  an expert on.

02. platform

Content producers must syndicate across platforms, but the RIGHT platforms.

03. bootstrap

Try to fund your new entrepreneurial jurno venture alone. Projects have launched for less than $10k.

04. plan

You must create a business and marketing plan, regardless of how small your new venture is.

05. mentors

Find a few people whose opinions your trust to serve as advisers as you start your new venture.

06. talk

“If you are passionate about your idea, find some people you trust and then go talk to people you don’t know.”

07. portfolio

Remember, if you’re going to record a demo of your product, make it good. Bad demos can doom great projects.

08. fail

Remember, most ideas fail. A vast majority of ideas fail. But, get to that point quickly.

Strangely, I think that last one is the most important, but the hardest to do. Teaching yourself to be OK with failure tough, especially for journalists brought up on the need to be right 100% of the time.  Knight Foundation also provide links to a few US startups which they say are paving the way including and Patch.


Meanwhile in sunny London, the second of our Future of News Business Bootcamps takes place on the 27th July. We’ll be getting together six or seven journalists interested in travel journalism and making it sustainable. If you’d like to be one of them, contact me via my website!