Frommer Says Travel Bloggers Are Industry Shills

While doing research for another post, I came across an article called “Are travel writers shills for the cruise lines?” – an article published on just a few days ago. As a blogger covering cruise news I decided to check it out and found a gross mischaracterization from some unlikely places.

The author of the article, Dennis Schaal, does a pretty good job of staying neutral and not taking sides, though does take bulk of his article from a maritime attorney Jim Walker’s blog who specializes in lawsuits against cruise lines.

Walker contends that no blogger covered the recent passing of the Cruise Line Safety Act just before the 4th of July weekend, and that there are far too many “shills for the cruise industry” in the travel blogosphere.

PaulineFrommerBoth Walker and Schaal mention Pauline Frommer (daughter of Arthur Frommer, travel-guide-book-king) in their articles as one of the only exceptions to the rule – her father being the other. Walker went so far to say that it is “refreshing” to see a travel writer with “integrity and ethics,” after Frommer covered the passing of the law.

This understandably set off a wave of comments from both sides – and Pauline Frommer even weighed in on the discussion saying that it is a “valid point” that both made in their articles. In prose dripping with arrogance, she talked about what a “real travel journalist” does and how “novice writers” may not get the full picture.

“As a member of the “old guard” I’d say that an issue like this one shows that there’s still a place for edited pieces, written by paid writers who don’t have to worry about angering the company they’re writing about,” Frommer commented.

Surprising to me was that Frommer, a self-proclaimed “real journalist” wouldn’t have known the difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate – the latter of whom passed the law a week or so ago, though Frommer praised the former (which is almost as hard to type as it is to say) in her article which received much acclaim.

The House of Representatives did indeed pass this law – but it was last October.

I wrote about it. Here.

It may seem like I’m splitting hairs over journalism 101 fact-checking with Ms. Frommer, and I am – but saying “real journalism” only comes from expensive office buildings with a full staff to manage advertising with the very same companies that travel blogging sites do (and thus are biased) is offensive.

Bloggers are legally held to a higher standard – bound by the FTC to disclose gifts, travel, etc along with their coverage – something newspapers, TV Shows, and Guide Books are not bound to do.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m not afraid to cover stories that cruise lines wish I didn’t (e.g. commentary on Carnival Elation’s murder cabin) – but I also cover things they do right (e.g. their new round-trip sailings from LA to Hawaii).

I hope that Walker, Schaal, and Ms. Frommer all understand that if a story only gets coverage from a select few, it’s probably not all that interesting. There are enough travel sites that competition for readers outweighs ruffling a few feathers in the industry – especially when none of the cruise lines responsible for many press trips and perks are even named in this particular story.

The story wasn’t widespread because travel editors and bloggers didn’t think it made the cut – not because they care more about cruise line relationships than passenger safety as these three would like you to believe.

5 thoughts on “Frommer Says Travel Bloggers Are Industry Shills”

  1. You misread my comments. I say in the original piece that many bloggers are doing a terrific job. I would NEVER damn bloggers the way you say I have in this piece.

    As for me not knowing the difference between the House and Senate, I certainly do, and gave correct info in my original blog.

    As for who’s the bigger shill: freebies are verboten at many of the outlets you mention. Hence the lack of disclosure; its taken as a given that something from the “old guard” media was not done on a press trip.

    I really didn’t mean to start a war between bloggers and old guard. I just wanted to make the point that the old media is not dead and has some value. If that didn’t come accross in my comments, I apologize.


    Pauline Frommer

  2. Ms. Frommer,

    I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

    Regarding books, magazines, etc – freebies may not be allowed under company policy, but are not regulated by the government as heavily as social media currently is.

    I’ve worked in the hospitality industry before, and we routinely got requests from well-known magazines and newspapers for free outings and hotel stays — if we wouldn’t or couldn’t provide it, they wouldn’t cover it. We would weigh the value of coverage and act accordingly.

    There are some outfits (Frommers?) that probably travel very discreetly, pay there own way, and the host never knows they’re being reviewed – though there are many major outlets requesting freebies and publishing without disclosure – which may or may not be a problem depending on the author.

    I took point with you saying the original author had a ‘valid point,’ and as he put it, freebies are exchanged for favorable reviews. You even said that many bloggers’ “loyalty is with the companies that give them free trips, and not with their readers.”

    I’ve personally seen free services and stays at all levels of media – and singling out a group that writes more often out of passion than a paycheck, and suggesting that group can’t report as objectively as the old media, was disturbing.

    Perhaps a more valid discussion would be travel blogs or news sites that have in-house travel agencies – which in my view – creates a much larger conflict of interest. Though again, with this particular legislation, I don’t think loyalty had anything to do with the lack of coverage.

  3. The whole journalistic ethics issue is getting murkier and murkier these days. You can’t pick up a magazine without encountering advertorial content that is in no way flagged as paid. With print ad dollars increasingly hard to find, how many editors let writers pen negative stories about advertisers?

    I’m sure some publishers still hold to strict journalistic ethics and let the chips fall where they may, but at the majority of print magazines (with “professional” writers and editors), the firewall between editorial and advertising was breached years ago.

  4. I personally know Frommer’s cruise writer and she, like everyone who covers the cruise industry professionally, is comped when she travels. We’ve traveled together for years. But if you read what this person writes, you’ll learn a great deal, certainly enough to pick the ship that’s right for you.

    I once questioned an editor at Travel & Leisure about why there was never a negative comment in the magazine and she said because that’s what we do. For example, a glowing report about riding a bike in Indonesia but no mention of the killer humidity and heat. The same magazine ran a story about QE 2. They sent their own photographers with models to take pictures of “passengers” to go with the glowing story.

    A publication (magazine, newspaper, whatever) that won’t accept writers who have cruised for free don’t have articles about cruises. They can’t afford it.

    I know all about perfect world … and also reality.

    No one would ever cover the cruise industry if they had to pay for it. And there is no magazine or other publication that will pay for it either. So, if it bothers people, just don’t read articles about cruise ships. I can’t see any other option.

  5. I know many travel bloggers in the cruise blogging world are also travel agents and for them, highlighting dangers of cruising in the blog could reduce the likelihood of customers buying a cruise. Unfortunately, hard to find many travel blogs that don’t have their hands (or entire body) in a business closely related to the subject of the blog. Of course, hard to blame them given that integrity, morals and Google ads only pay a few pennies.

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