NYE at Birmingham Coach Station

NYE2009_Birmingham_Bus_stationApologies for the cross-posting but my new travel blog Tourist Vs Traveller is now up and running, and has some nice, shiny new content on it so I’m shouting about it a bit.

It being that time of year, I’ve just posted up my 10 New Year’s travel resolutions for 2010 on there and also ticked one of them off by writing up a picture post on the recently opened Birmingham Coach Station, where I spent a rather entertaining New Year’s Eve.

PS Can you spot me in the Christmas bauble?

I’m launching a new travel blog

It’s been two years since I started my first travel blog, What To Wear Where, in an effort to answer the niche packing question: ‘What do you wear in trendy Reykjavik in below-freezing December?’ While I still think the idea of packing help for any destination/event still has legs, and the blog still brings in a fairly steady stream of traffic, without a community to fuel the ideas, What To Wear Where sort of got stuck in the doldrums.

So I’m going back to basics. I’ve set up a new blog as a playground for my travel journalism. It’s called Tourist Vs Traveller (not for any deep and meaningful reason but because it was free) and you’ll find it at http://touristvstraveller.wordpress.com/.

Playing with travel journalism…
Playing with travel journalism…

Crowdsourced and client-led content
The first experiment is that I hope the content will be led by others – and my opening post is asking for your input. I’m soliciting views about what kind of content to publish because I don’t want the content solely to be defined by me as a journalist. It could be anything, I am open to suggestions. What I do want to do, though, is use it as a place to experiment with lots of lovely Web tools. With a background in digital client publishing, I’m also interested in travel companies who want me to create online content for their offering – not marketing fluff, but the real stories behind the PR, the kind of content that DOES help people decide to buy your product – or not! Y’know, useful stuff.

The problem with travel writing
So what travel writing is out there right now? On the Web, we have trip blogs, review sites and an avalanche of whinging UGC that is rapidly becoming meaningless as a way to make buying decisions. There are also some nice up and coming blogs from travel journalists and bloggers – I’ll be adding them to the blog roll as time goes by. In print, we have standard travel narratives and a limited number of news items published by newspapers and magazines and written by a rather exclusive club of commissioned travel journalists (or staff writers on a freebie). And on TV, we have an increasing amount of celebrities and comedians being sent off around the globe in the name of entertainment.

What is harder to find is a middle-ground between Jo Bloggs naming and shaming their hotel and the angled/subjective narrative of the commissioned travel writer/presenter.

Finding fresh ways to tell the story
Where I do find decent content, I’ll be linking to it though. I suspect that, for now and for a while, it will be possible to aggregate good examples of experimental travel journalism.

But I think there is also room for journalistic content that goes behind the scenes of a travel product, that tells stories that the newspaper doesn’t have room for, or that revisits classic stories from new angles using audio, video, slideshows, aggregated content and social media. It would be great to break out from the form – after all, traditional travel writing is itself rather stuck in the doldrums, in style and structure, in privileged points of view, and because collapsing print budgets mean fewer outlets and options for travel journalists

And I think that the travel industry could potentially pay for this content now that their outlets for print editorial are shrinking – to explain, here’s my earlier posting on a potential new business model for travel journalists.

So that’s it for now. Please visit the blog and post your comments. I’ve got the first couple of posts up – all about the nonsense of tourism slogans inspired by two days spent at the World Travel Market (WTM) in November.

And especially for Brummies, there’s a winning marketing slogan from St Johns Hotel, Solihull at the end of Around the world in 44 tourism slogans.

WTM2009: the folk dances, the music, the kiss…

Had a bit more fun with the Flip on my second day at World Travel Market and probably more success by keeping the camera still, ditching the high-speed panning and getting close to the subject – very close in the case of video no 3! These three clips show the kind of random things you stumble across when walking around the stall-sized world of the WTM trade show. Next post: ‘Around the world in 44 slogans’…

Clip one features some superb folk dancing from Azerbaijan, clip two folk music from Uzbekistan and clip three a wandering blow-up giant with a Cockney accent and a penchant for kissing the ladies – even those holding a video camera.

Azerbaijan folk dance: check out the skipping steps…

Uzbekistan folk musicians: check out the hats…

And finally… a kiss from a wandering giant with a penchant for the ladies.

WTM2009: three firsts and a load of balls

So yesterday I learnt how to use a Flip – an indepth 30-second lesson conducted by Pete on the 45 bus into town (yes it really is that easy). And today I shot my first proper video and just now did my first bit of video editing in iMovie (not so easy, found it a bit finicketty) and uploaded to YouTube (Vimeo logins disabled).

Fortunately there are plenty of random scenes to shoot at the first day at World Travel Market 2009 and while I didn’t spot any crazy folk dancing, there were some top footie skills going on at the WTM entrance, promoting sports tourism to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. So here’s the results – enjoy 40 seconds of some pretty neat ballplay.

More tomorrow…

WTM and a new business model for travel journalism

wtm_30_yrs_cmykLater today I’m off to my fourth World Travel Market, held annually at London’s Excel every November. Around 50,000 travel industry people attend each year. In 2008, 187 countries and regions set out their stall, filling up 43,000 sq m of space. Last year there were stage shows featuring folk dancing from Kazakhstan, Thai massages on the Thailand stand, saki hour via Japan, Uri Geller breaking spoons with his mind on the Israel stand, and so on. This year, no doubt, there’ll be more of the same and on the same grand scale for although it’s a trade-only show, I think is the third largest show currently held in the UK, behind the Motor and Home Show.

This is the second vast conference I’ve attended this year. The first one was SXSW Interactive, a five-day event on all things interwebbie, in Austin, Texas – I tried to blog about my SXSWi but most of it remains in my head. Will see what stories WTM 2009 throws up.

If you’re going to WTM, and would like to meet, the best way to make contact with me is via Twitter: @fionacullinan. I’ll be checking it and tweeting from it throughout Monday and Tuesday.

My plan for Monday press day is:

  • 10-11 WTM Forecast Forum
  • 10.30 Maldives press conference
  • 12-1 Korea Tourism Org wine/buffet lunch (Novotel)
  • 1-2 Rezidor Hotel Group press reception
  • 3.30 US Travel Association
  • 4 Wandering!
  • 6 Sri Lanka press reception
  • Eve: Travtweetup, WTM Special

My plan for Tuesday seminar day is:

  • 11-12 Innovative Travel Marketing in a recession
  • 12 Irish stew on the Ireland stand
  • 12.30-1.30 Content matters
  • 2 Wandering again.
  • 4.30 Technology and Online Travel drinks reception
  • Eve: Travel Blog Camp.

Sometimes schedules go astray and I’m happy for this to happen in the accelerated serendipitous environment of a digital WTM. Because the other main reason I’m attending WTM is to put myself out there for blogging work, either corporate blogging or creating content for tourist boards and travel companies. I’ve been doing this for a large non-travel organisation on the subjects of innovation and entrepreneurship but would love to do it in the sector I’m passionate about and to combine it with my love of digital content.

WTM tip: find good writers
In the WTM PR manual there’s a tip sheet for companies to get the most out of WTM. Point 5 says this:

Get good writers and PR people onboard
It makes sense to get great story writers and PR people on board – preferably individuals who have previous experience working with travel products and who know your target media. The more professional in your approach, the more professional you will appear to the press.

Twice in the last year, I’ve been told by leading travel editors that there is no longer a freelance budget for travel articles. Well, it was hard enough to make a decent income from travel writing before. Now it seems impossible. The newspaper industry is still where PRs are concentrating their efforts and, increasingly, ‘influential’ travel bloggers – neither of which offers much of a business revenue model for the travel journalist.

A future travel journalist business model?
But I think PRs (and travel companies and travel journalists) are missing a trick. With traditional outlets shrinking, there is a market for creating content direct for the companies and tourist boards. They need someone (a digital journalist would make sense!) to tell their own stories and put them out there to be picked up directly by prospective clients, by editors and by search engines.

They need to, as WTM suggests, find good writers to tell these stories for them and put together a package of content that helps a prospect decide whether they want to visit that destination or book that tour – essentially, write, photograph and video the kind of things a travel journalist would research as a matter of course, adding value to their offering by being useful to the client. And why restrict this content to the occasional press article; why not magnify your offering by hosting them on your own travel sites. If they are good, other sites and blogs will link to them.

For more information on this, check out my comments on where travel journalists might progress to on Travel Blather’s post about paid for content and objectivity. It’s not that I’m giving up on ‘objective’ travel writing for print, just trying to find a new ways to work, because increasingly the old ways aren’t working.

Eh voila. C’est tout. Off to learn how to use a Flip camera now. See you at WTM.

Domestic fireworks when the lights go out

lightpainting_loresNovember 5, 2009: The local Bonfire Night shows were few, far and in-between; the Coop fresh out of sparklers. And besides, it was raining. 

In creative frustration, we came up with the idea of photographing indoor fireworks – Pete suggested throwing some bicarbonate of soda onto the gas ring, or salt, or pepper. I suggested a safer option: domestic prettiness in the form of standby lights, digital clockfaces, blinking answer machine light, candles, pilot light, torches etc. In the modern home, it’s amazing what you find when you turn off the lights.

That’s when I discover my old Powerball – the world’s fastest hand-held gyroscope. 

So with a whirring gyroscope in one hand, I switch off the lights and press the shutterbutton on the camera, which is placed on a tripod in front of a mirror. Then it’s 10 seconds of lightpainting, then 8, 6, finally settling on 4 seconds for optimum alien prettiness.

The full set are all on my Flickr page – I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out. The shapes are the main thing so I’ve played with the colour balance in Photoshop. The gyroscope ones sort of remind me of the Aliens set.

Here are Pete’s photos, with some cool multiple exposure shots.

So, all in all, a hardworking but pretty nice Bonfire Night.

Couchsurfing in the USA (or how to cut costs at SXSWi)

couchsurfingusaTypical. I wait six months to write my Austin, Texas, feature after visiting South By South West Interactive and then go on holiday just when it’s published. It went in the Sunday Mercury travel section on 4th October 2009 to tie in with Austin City Limits (Austin’s ‘other’ music festival).

I don’t normally like my own travel writing but I do like this one so I’m posting it up! Thanks to Midge_UK for getting hold of a print copy and to Davey Kay for hosting me.

The feature is mostly about what it’s like to Couchsurf, which involves finding a willing local host to put you up while you’re in town.

In this case it was Davey, a former truck crane operator and trainee helicopter pilot with a liking for pirates and death metal. Brilliant.

You can read the full text here: Couchsurfing USA.

Why I am moving back to Brum…

Birmingham New Street station
Birmingham New St Station here I come

It looks like I’ve reached that moment in a blogger’s life when you log into your poor neglected blog(s), make apologies to folks for the lack of posting, explain why and then make a new promise to report back a bit more often in future.

Except… as Neil Gaiman once said (not sure who actually coined this): ‘Never apologise, never explain.’

Sooo, suffice it to say, that I have spent the last year in transition in many, many ways. One of the biggest changes has been going permanent on digital ‘stuff’ from a 20-year background in print journalism. How did this happen?

Well, in February 2008, I started a blog in my spare time (What to wear where), a good idea but ill-carried out by me while I got to grips with Web 2.0 changes.

Then I started Subs’ Standards in August 2008 – all about sub-editing and its changing nature in the digital world – and started to get the hang of things a bit more, thanks in the main to Pete Ashton‘s free social media surgeries. I’m well overdue to post on that blog, too, as I’m now only very occasionally subbing, and it’s digital subbing at that – which is quite a different type of ‘quality control’ beast.

Anyways… updating my digital chops late into the night after a hard day in print was exhausting – and salary-free. I did it for three months almost solidly but it got me into Seven Squared‘s digital team, which was in need of a web editor, back in January 2009. And now I’m busier than ever, corporate blogging for clients and producing a variety of digital work from ezines to SEO features.

Going to SXSWi back in March 2009 also gave me a load of context for working purely online, as well as a whole load of new ideas for playing with online content plus a contact book full of innerestin’ webby types from all over the world. I recommend it for anyone working online and trying to get their head around the bigger picture. (And yes, before you ask, it’s also a big festival with lots of bands and parties in the rather cool uni city of Austin, Texas.)

Unfortunately, working long hours in Seven’s digital bunker means I have little time to ‘rawk SXSW’ and so change has come again.

From October, I’ll be living and working in Birmingham, with my blog mentor Pete Ashton, as it happens. Turns out romance can blossom in the blurry gaps between online and offline.

I’ll still be corporate blogging for Seven Squared’s digital team, I hope, and maybe writing an SEO feature or two. And before I leave London I’ll also be joining a great new event (and site) for brand managers and those who represent a brand online, courtesy of Jo Geary – and maybe even guest-blogging on there if she’ll let me.

But for now I just want to say that I’m looking forward to the next era – to meet new people in Brum, and give myself some headspace to decide which projects to start/play with/experiment with in the West Mids, which seems to be something of a hot bed of  ‘social media’ goings-on, if the SXSW rival WXWM, the new FAILcamp and other such events are anything to go by.

I’ll also be looking for blogging or other content creation work, probably in the commercial sector, or quality control work for corporate clients. If you think you might want something like this, please do get in touch.

So, life has switched and instead of working in London and visiting Brum at weekends, I’ll be working and thinking  in Birmingham instead and visiting London for work days here and there, and sociables at the weekends. So if you’re in either vicinity, find me online (@fionacullinan if you’re on Twitter) and come say hi.

As they say, change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.

PS. (I’m a serial PS blogger.) Apologies if you get this 10 times in your feed, my WordPress preview appears to have karked it.

‘Yalla Yalla get a wriggle on!’ – Jordan press trip

wadi_rum_tentsTranslation: get a move on. This was the running theme of a last week’s busy busy press trip to review Jordan’s natural wonders – well, that and lots of Spirit & Destiny magazine plugs (tick) – which involved:

1. No less that three nature reserves.
2. Two seas in one day (Red to Dead).
3. The lowest nature reserve on earth, 400m+ below sea level.
4. The Jordanian branch of the Great African Rift Valley.
5. A night sleeping out in the desert at Wadi Rum.
6. Elijah’s birthplace, Moses’ resting place.
7. Canyoning, rock bridge walking, hill trekking, mudbathing.
8. More rock than Blackpool at Wadi Dana, Petra and Wadi Mujib.

Due to write up next weekend, but for a pictorial taster, here’s the Flickr set.

While you were sleeping: the 4am Project

An auto-level adjusted green palm on the Southend seafront.
An auto-level adjusted green palm on the Southend seafront.
Bollards at 4am.
Bollards at 4am.

A bench in Southend at 4am

A bench in Southend at 4am

At 4am on the 4th of the 4th – on Saturday just gone – my phone alarm rang, I hauled myself out of a rather snug hotel bed on Essex’s east coast and walked out into the night with a rather expensive Canon 30D around my neck. Why? Well, here’s the ‘six honest serving men’ of the 4am Project.

What: A photographic project started by my Flickrmeet friend Karen Strunks, which began in Birmingham and went worldwide in the last few weeks, thanks to the 4am project website and Twitter, and attention from The Guardian, BBC Midlands Today and other media. The idea was to create a global snapshot of the world at this unearthly hour of the morning.

Why: Because wherever you are looks and feels very different at 4 in the morning. But like many successful internet things, it had that ‘never been done’, ‘you’re doing what?!’, ‘why the hell not’ lure – and all while ‘the normal people’ were sleeping, too. In November in Birmingham, there was also 11/11/11 event – 11 hours on the 11th of the 11th travelling around the circular number 11 bus route and creating multimedia content – though I’m not sure if this was a direct inspiration.

When: 4am (natch). But the main event was 4am on 04.04.09. Karen has hinted that there may be more events to come. I thought I’d nip out for five minutes then run back to bed but was out for an hour and a half in the end.

How: With cameras of all ilks from mobile phone cameras to TTVs, compacts to SLRs; tripods and other stabilising gear; and with family, friends, Twitter contacts, or solo. My 4/4/4 experience was solo and with a Canon 30D, experimenting with the bulb setting and veering onto the ‘M’ manual setting for the first time. Later there was some post-prod work in Photoshop – ranging from a quick resize to full scale colour warping manipulation fun.

Where: Many many countries took part: see the map – but I was on a trip away at Thorpe Bay near Southend so I went on a solo shoot along the seafront – which was both exhilarating and coldly adrenalising. If I sat still, I turned to stone and drivers didn’t clock me. Like being invisible. I also snapped some indoor activity at the Roslin Hotel – at 4am a wedding guest chatting up a girl at the long-since-closed bar, at 5am the doorman vacuuming away the wedding disco debris with a perpetually happy Henry vacuum cleaner.

Who: Karen Strunks is the photographer behind the project. She started taking 4am photos a while ago and, with this amazing initiative, has taken it to the next level. She gave the project passion, professionalism and a sense of community that I found really inspiring.

Check out the results: View my Thorpe Bay Esplanade shots on my Flickr. Or, see all the 4am pictures here – over 1300 photos uploaded at last count.