“Confessions of a Travel Writer” sat, unwatched, on my TiVo as I headed to last weekend’s Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference.
One afternoon, while surrounded by a group of esteemed writers, the topic of the show came up, and the verdict was unanimous – they hated it.
As someone who likes to form my own opinion, I typically tune out conversations that might bias me. But I was at the conference to learn the meaning of success in this business, so instead I leaned in closer. I won’t share with you exactly what they said – only that it was rather damning – and after watching it I tend to agree.
I smelled danger from the beginning when the host introduced himself as ‘Charles Wilson Runnette IV’ and strolled off the plane in a collared shirt and jacket. The air of self-importance carried in his walk surfaced in everything else he did, from badmouthing his colleagues, to judging the local culture, to voicing complaint, after complaint, after complaint. He slammed the foodie for taking the culinary experience too seriously, the blogger for taking too many pictures for her blog, and the writer from National Geographic Traveler for speaking Spanish(!?) He squandered a third of the show on things that had nothing to do with Chile, nothing to do with travel writing – frankly, nothing of consequence.
Yet, a as a certain blogger pointed out, he was faithful to the formula of reality TV: he was petty, overly-opinionated, he fabricated drama, and he took himself way too seriously. To curious viewers infatuated with the life of a travel writer, it may strike the right balance between information and entertainment, and, on those grounds, it could become successful. But by describing a trip to a penguin colony as “a big island of poop” and miscategorizing a pair of wineries as vineyards (while on assignment to write for a wine publication, mind you), he makes us all look bad while doing it.
Despite the shenanigans of its host, the show does take some good steps toward demystifying travel writing. It introduces press trips, juxtaposes an enviable lifestyle with abysmal pay, and discusses the challenges of finding a story under time constraints – all new concepts to an uninformed public. By the end of the show, he seems to have grown a heart, and between barbs he even finds the time to tell us enough about Chile to make us want to go there. A final plus: the other writers were likeable, professional, and down to earth, a subtle fact I hope viewers pick up on.
“When we think something’s cool, it’s really cool,” Runnette says of travel writers at one point, “but if we think something sucks, we have no problem saying it“. For me, the concept is cool, but the host should stick to writing and hand over the reins to someone who exhibits the flexibility, cultural sensitivity, and openness of a world class traveler and the professionalism of a journalist.
Have you watched “Confessions of a Travel Writer? Share your opinion!