In the Ether, On the racks, Trend Spotting

Penny pinching

06.05.08 | Comment?

The editors at Budget Travel are awfully proud of their just-published 10th anniversary issue. In a statement in the June issue, they congratulate themselves heartily on their forward thinking. And, a flack from the magazine sent me a free copy along with an offer to speak to one of the self-satisfied editors myself.

If Budget Travel is looking ahead, they are looking ahead to last January, and the launch of Everywhere. Like that magazine, BT is now the business end of an Online Community, which will continue to generate text and pictures for the magazine, once even the Tin Jubilee has passed.

I have a history of being cynical about community-generated content. What, one might ask, makes the freelance writers and photographers that have produced the content of magazines like BT in the past, different from members of the magical “community” that are poised to create a revolution on the page? If the only answers are “a paycheck,” and “expertise” then cynicism is the only reasonable response.

However, from what I’ve gathered, BT, unlike EW, is paying their citizen-senators (at least) somewhat decently, and the magazine will continue to underwrite travel expenses for major articles. This is all to the good, people who contribute something of value deserve value in return and this level is probably about right for this magazine. Despite the imagined glamor of travel writing, travel sections of newspapers and smaller magazines have always been partially underwritten by journalists hoping to break even on their recent vacations.

Being dubious of the motives of social late bloomers like BT, though, is not the same thing as being dubious of community. Readers, whether they are involved through on-line tools or not, is a good thing at a publication. As bigger newsstand glossies have become increasingly slick, increasingly expensive, and increasingly dependent on product placement, they have forfeited the once taken-for-granted link between readership and collective. While today one might read the New Yorker; I doubt many New Yorker readers feel like a member of a society by virtue of having a subscription, as once they surely did. Encouraging involvement through reader submissions is good, and if an online portal seems more available than a brown paper envelope and a transom that’s also fine. (Though it might be worth a try to print the editorial office address at sizes larger than 4 pt and in places more obvious than in a column of boilerplate).

But of course, when you publish, it doesn’t just matter what you do, it also matters what results are. As of now, EW is coming closer to that communal ideal than BT which seems just a bit too self-aware, still a bit too slick, and a bit too editor-controlled to really pull off the neighborhood-newspaper feel that one would guess both (at least claim to be) after. A real community organ offers a chorus of discordant voices. That beautiful cacophony still eludes both of these magazines.

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