A recent newsletter from BootsNAll created quite a stir within the travel blogging community, it seems. When I first read the email, I found myself rereading certain sections to clarify what I thought was double-speak, and after I’d done, reflection over a few days prompted a Google search and a blog post.
Check out The Dark Side of Pro Travel Blogging — BootsnAll Throws Cold Water on Sponsored Blogging, reproduced by Traveloscopy.
In a nutshell, BootsNAll highlights the fact that much media content these days is sponsored, meaning that supposedly objective opinions are biased — or rather, bought, paid for, and influenced by money.
I was surprised not by BootsNAll’s frank assessment of the travel writing industry (they’re usually upfront about stuff like that, which I respect about them very much). No, I was surprised by bloggers who reacted by being offended, stating it was a low blow to the community that supports BootsNAll.
But it seems to me that if someone is proud of the content they write, they likely have ethical guidelines for their sponsored posts. These people are likely to agree that there can sometimes be a fine line between writing objective blog copy and an advertorial when a sponsor is involved, but they’re probably hoping for a discussion leading to insight and possible solutions as a result of BootsNAll’s questions.
Those bloggers just doing it for the money are more likely to feel targeted by BootsNAll’s comments because the truth hurts. Their content is not as good, and they don’t like to hear it.
As for me, I’ve never written a sponsored post, and in fact, whenever I write business profiles for Green Niackery (my Earth-friendly living blog), I purchase and pay for all products I try. I’ve never even attempted to get freebies — it’s too important to me to keep my voice free for me to use as I please (or need!). That’s part of why I’m a freelancer, really &8212; to remain independent from the impositions of others!
Which is why I don’t mind admitting that I have received freebies as thank-yous after articles have been published. Not often, and each time was a pleasant surprise (smiley face).
I’ve never done any gear or hotel reviews or anything like that for JourNiackery — and whoever knows what the future will hold? — but I doubt I’ll ever get a trip overseas as a freebie! Lol!
Which is what I’ve mostly been reflecting on over the past few days. BootsNAll asks at the beginning of its newsletter:
What travel blogger do you trust? Why?
And towards the end, this question:
Do you care how a recommendation came about?
(That is, whether the information was sponsored.)
My answer to the second question: Absolutely!
I tend not to trust sources that are sponsored, particularly when it’s not overt. At least when it’s disclaimed, you can trust that the writer realizes the conflict of interest and has made an effort to address it.
I do tend to put more faith in overtly sponsored content that mentions a few negative points, as this seems more balanced and trustworthy.
But a site that won’t even tell its visitors that its content is sponsored? The thing is, it’s still obvious, so not saying anything feels like trickery. I say get me outta sites like that pronto!
I try to give JourNiackery a local flavour so that visitors will instantly recognise the information as authentic and the source as trustworthy. I rely on my significant knowledge of Northern Ontario, and the French River – Lake Nipissing areas in particular, to enhance my credibility.
And when I travel, I’m looking for the same type of information, because I’m looking for similar experiences. I tend to take a peek at the must-sees but to delve deeply into local exploration. That’s why being a member of CouchSurfing works so well for me. And I’ve always said about CS:
Don't do it for the money; do it for the experience!
So when I’m researching a trip and I land on an article that came from a sponsored trip, I cringe.
I cringe because I don’t believe this person did anything I would enjoy on this trip a company paid for.
I cringe because I can’t believe the writer knows anything about the destination except what was researched in advance and what the company told them.
I cringe because I see a flagrant example of travelling for the money and not the experience.
So my answer to BootsNAll’s first question, “What travel bloggers do you trust?”: Local ones.
But I have an even better question: How many people would have better (and probably more unique) travel experiences if they were more aware of sponsored content?
I’m disappointed that some bloggers reacted the way they did to BootsNAll’s newsletter article. I say props to BootsNAll for working towards informing our consumer society about the means by which we are being enticed to consume. It’s an important discussion — it’s not like sponsored content is isolated to the travel industry! In all aspects of media, money is controlling information one way or another, if not through sponsorship, then censorship.
I’m interested in what other bloggers think about this. Do you think BootsNAll betrayed its writing community or strengthened its relationship with its readers?
I also want to know what blog readers think. Readers, you’re the most important people to bloggers! Do you mind it when blogger content is influenced by money? Do you go elsewhere, or do you accept that everyone needs to make money somehow, and just try to read between the lines to get at the good stuff?
Tell me your thoughts by posting a comment below!