I’ve done a little travel writing (in addition to blogging) but not the kind a Lonely Planet contributor named Thomas Kohnstamm has been doing.
Kohnstamm , who is promoting a tell-all book about the seamy underside of travel writing, told the Australian newspaper the Sunday Telegraph that he plagiarized material, wrote about places he never visited, took freebies in exchange for good reviews and even sold drugs to help pay his expenses.
I think Aaron Hotfelder at Gadling has it just right. The really sickening thing is that Kohnstamm doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about his responsibility to the travelers who bought those books and trusted his guidance.
Kohnstamm’s excuse, that Lonely Planet didn’t pay enough to cover his expenses, is pathetic. Maybe Lonely Planet should pay its writers more. But that’s not the point. If you can’t do something honorably, there’s an alternative to doing it dishonorably. You can choose not to do it at all.
The husband and I used to sell freelance travel stories to Sunday newspapers. The only way to do this at anything near the break-even point was to sell regional rights to several newspapers, so that we could get a few hundred dollars a few times over for the same story.
The Internet ruined that practice. With newspaper Web sites accessible to all, nobody was willing to buy regional rights. So we just gave it up, aside from writing a few stories for our employer, The Hartford Courant, about vacations we take at our own expense.
Coincidentally, I just bought three guidebooks from one of my favorite publishers, Wizard Publications. It’s a very small publishing house that produces fearless guidebooks to Hawaii that advocate for the traveler at every turn.
Just last night I was reading Andrew Doughty’s description in Wizard’s “Maui Revaled” guidebook of the murky water and seaweed along a stretch of the Maui coastline. “We’ve caught a lot of flack from politicians, the media and local bigwigs for printing this,” he writes “but none of them have disputed it.”
Now that’s what travel writers are supposed to do. They’re supposed to look out for their readers.