Discover more from Talking Travel Writing
How can you confront bias in your writing? | Yorks Dales press trip
Unpacking Media Bias writers discuss how to pen responsible and representative travel writing
Welcome to our Talking Travel Writing takeover! To those who don’t know us, hi! We’re two freelance travel and culture journalists, Shivani Ashoka and Meera Dattani, who also co-write a newsletter, Unpacking Media Bias (UMB), we launched in August 2020.
While we talk about confronting our biases over at UMB, we often do it through the lens of tourism. We love to explore what makes good (and bad) copy, why decolonising travel writing is the key to doing better, and how our industry has ‘othered’ and exoticised certain places for far too long. We’re strong believers in the importance of context, history, truth-telling, and bolder, sparkier writing. So — and with our thanks to Lottie and Steph — the chance to expand on this for readers of Talking Travel Writing was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Over the next four weeks, we’ll be sharing some of what we’ve learnt, plus some sharp insights from a few brilliant travel editors and writers we admire.
Why is all of this important? Most of us in journalism are aware that at a time of political and journalistic misappropriation of race, culture and heritage — something that’s mirrored by the decline of public trust in the media — quality journalism has become more important than ever. And travel writing has a unique place in being able to cut across the noise and tell the important stories through an experience that most people love: travel.
But that requires some self-reflection. As an industry, we’re starting to grapple with the consequences of reporting on sensitive angles without first identifying our own prejudice or bias; things that reflect our own environment and upbringing, rather than what’s required to understand the topic. And, it's not just race. Gender, age, sexuality, disability and socio-economic status are all subject to bias. Awareness of this can make the difference between a travel feature that’s honest, accurate, spirited and educational — and one that’s disingenuous, triggering, inaccurate and misleading.
Bias in itself isn’t a 'bad thing' per se — but unconscious and unchecked bias can mislead, manipulate and divide us. For example, a travel writer might talk about 'pretty, colonial Galle' and think they’re evoking images of quaint, white-washed houses in Sri Lanka to the reader. But such simplistic, and often thoughtless, phrasing — with that all-too-common positive spin of ‘colonial’ — doesn’t acknowledge that many locals and diaspora associate their European colonisers with a system that scarred their culture and identity. It also lays bare the journalist’s lack of historical and cultural context.
Travel is about so much more than holidays. Yes, what many travel writers are doing, ultimately, is inspiring people to visit a place, but we are journalists and not marketeers. Those ‘destinations’ are someone’s home, community and livelihood. That concept is crucial for budding and experienced travel writers to understand — especially if they’re going to delve into industries like sustainability, where you have to be able to connect the dots between the planet and its people. It’s one of the reasons we started our own newsletter; to amplify stories, voices and narratives that we’d not heard enough of — because they kept getting greyed out, instead of bolded up.
We’re also learning about our own personal biases and how to write better. If we read our past features, we’d hone in on embarrassing omissions and loaded language. So, no need to revisit all the copy, film or audio you've written or edited (like us, you’d probably panic!). It’s about looking ahead and thinking more thoughtfully — from the words we use and the photos we choose to illustrate them, to the range of sources we request and the writers or photographers that editors commission. We can all make travel writing better, and we can start, well… right now. Let’s get to work.
Meera & Shivani
A reminder that the next three newsletters will all be free during our October takeover of Talking Travel Writing. Here’s what we have planned:
12 October — The editors’ perspective: Two travel editors share their thoughts on representation and the future of travel writing
19 October — Creating responsible and inclusive travel content: We ask two travel media professionals about best-practice when it comes to top-notch output
26 October — How to make travel writing relevant and have a positive impact in a post-pandemic world via practical tips, advice and word swaps
Know someone who could benefit from this month’s content?
Who to follow
Professor Sunny Singh, for social and academic insights on decolonising media and publishing.
Tweet of the week
Industry must-reads & press trip opportunity
This deep-dive into the commodification of Indigenous medicine ayahuasca examines how spiritual tourism is leading the colonisation and cultural appropriation of traditional healing practices.
Join Tharik Hussain on the Matters of Belief podcast as he talks about his bestselling book, Minarets in the Mountains: A Journey into Muslim Europe, which follows in the footsteps of a Muslim explorer who explored Muslim Europe in the 17th century.
Examining luxury travel with a particular focus on the African continent, this piece explores how luxury travel can be a neo-colonial act and how to minimise negative impact when you travel.
Press trip opportunity to Grantley Hall, the Yorkshire Dales
This was the first in our October takeover by Meera Dattani and Shivani Ashoka from Unpacking Media Bias (UMB). Next week we’ll be talking to editors about their thoughts on representation in travel writing, and for the rest of the month we’re talking to experts about how to create responsible and inclusive travel content and how to ensure our travel writing is both relevant and has a positive impact in a post-pandemic world. All newsletters are available to every subscriber this month, so make sure you encourage other media professionals to sign up for the remaining three free October emails.