Note: This article is by Nancy Lohman. Nancy, a freelancer from Ormand Beach, Florida, was a student in his online graduate travel-writing course at Gonzaga University.
By Nancy Lohman
To be an effective travel writer, one must bring to the work a keen sensitivity to the needs of the audience, along the lines of Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of human needs.”
It begins with the most basic motivational need, the human desire to explore. Travel writing lets readers go to far-away destinations that they might never see. Renowned travel writer Pico Iyer shared advice he was once given by his editor: “The reader wants to travel beside you.” Travel writing on a very basic level takes the reader with you. It can also serve to prepare the reader. It can inform and educate the reader about how to travel, when to travel and where to travel.
As in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once the most basic level is fulfilled, we continue to reach for the next level up his pyramid. Travel writing inspires the reader. It uses insightful observations to lure readers to escape their own world and lose themselves in the intriguing unknown.
Travel writing’s next level of purpose enlightens the reader about different cultures and helps the reader gain an appreciation for the differences in customs around the world. It broadens awareness and introduces the reader to the diversity in people. It can transform the reader into a more empathetic and more compassionate human being. It can help remove biases, prejudices and stereotypes developed through the narrow lenses of limited experiences. It can improve the reader’s awareness, tolerance and acceptance.
Travel writing can make a reader less fearful by enabling him or her to become more engaged with the world. It can make the reader wiser. You may not read travel stories with the intent to understand others better, but you will. Travel stories broaden a reader’s perspective. Travel writing brings the reader and the world together. “The flip side of fear is understanding,” travel adviser Rick Steves writes. “Your worldviews change when you meet others who feel their worldview is different than yours. Travel changes your ethnocentrisms.”
And most important, travel writing is an adventure in self-discovery, for appreciating nature and the beauty of the world. Travel writing can also help the reader evaluate priorities in life. Finally, travel writing can create a connection to each other. Readers can vicariously feel connected to a person, a place and an experience that enriches and expands them. Ultimately, at the top of the hierarchy of human needs, travel writing creates an influence and effect on the reader, who can become a better human being for having read a travel story.
For more information about scholarships for Canadian students go to CFHU’s scholarships web page or contact:
National Director, Student & Academic Affairs
Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Applications for the Jerusalem program are due March 30, 2013.
In ieiMedia’s summer study-abroad programs students and young professionals are thrown into a new environment and expected to find ideas for compelling stories they can report on. It can be thrilling — but also a bit daunting!
During the first “boot camp” week of our programs, our faculty train students in how to hunt for stories that are newsworthy, unusual, riveting, moving.
Here are some tips for journalists on finding stories in a foreign place — whether it be a new country, a new city or even a neighborhood of your own city that you’ve never explored before.
- Talk, talk, talk. See everyone as a potential source. Shopkeepers, street beggars, the waiter serving you lunch, the person sitting across from you on the train — they all have a story to tell.
- Look for signs of change. Are multiple stores closing in a commercial district? Is a new building under construction? Are the buses running uncharacteristically late? Is a crowd gathering to observe something? Check it out; there may be a story there.
- Read everything you can. If you know the local language, read everything you can get your hands on — from newspapers and magazines to notices posted on telephone polls and posters displayed in store windows. If you don’t know the language, read whatever you can understand, in the language you do know or from whatever you can decipher of the local language.
- Listen up! Your mother may have told you it’s rude to eavesdrop but you need to forget that advice when you’re a reporter. Now it’s your job to listen to people’s conversations and look for the stories hidden within them.
- Find a fixer. A foreign correspondent is only as good as his or her fixer, a local person who can act as a guide to the place and people you’re covering. Major news organizations generally pay for fixers but student journalists and freelancers can sometimes find local residents willing to volunteer their help and knowledge. Even if you don’t pay your fixers, show your thanks with generosity, trust and respect.
- Look for stories behind the event. After a news event — a fire, an accident, an election, a natural disaster — unfolds, go back and find out why it occurred or what happened to the people who were involved. Provide the context and human stories the breaking news reports missed.
- Ask for story ideas. Let everyone you meet know you’re on the hunt for good stories. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has 1.3 million followers on Twitter, has been known to ask for story ideas on the microblogging site. And he reports back, thanking readers for their ideas and letting them know when he plans to follow up on their suggestions.
- Make use of social media. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other social media tools have become vital for overseas reporters. Find the sentinels, people who watch and keep guard over a community, on Twitter. Scan social media channels throughout the day, looking for messages worth following up on. And don’t just lurk, engage with people.
- Look for windows into hidden worlds. Every single building in the world where people work or live is a storehouse of stories. Think about how you can use reporting to create a window into that world, a way for readers to learn about what happens inside that factory, health clinic, artist’s studio or home.
- Immerse yourself in the local culture. Foreign correspondents often work long hours. It’s easy to spend most of your waking hours interviewing, researching and producing stories. But it’s important to take time and smell the local roses, eat the local food, dance to the local music. Being a part of the community you cover will ultimately help you produce richer, more nuanced stories.
Did you know that the City of Urbino gives out a prestigious press award each year? Past winners include Thomas Friedman, Diane Rehm, Martha Raddatz and David Ignatius. The winners are announced at the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. This year’s winner was announced on April 25th. Watch ProPublica’s Sebastian Rotella talk about his award. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48Yr85e3GWM&feature=related
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by Catherine Threlkeld, Louisiana State University, The Urbino Project 2011