Confessions of a Travel Writer reviewed & rebutted

There’s an old saying that goes, “you don’t want to see how your sausage was made.” Essentially, it means that you’re better off just enjoying the final product than seeing how many hands get dirty in the process. Recently, though, television has shown a lot of metaphorical sausage making. Shows like the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch and Dirty Jobs attempt to show viewers a behind-the-scenes look at how people’s jobs are done. They are not glamorous or sophisticated, but they attempt to be as real as reality television will allow. Last night, the Travel Channel aired the pilot episode of Confessions of a Travel Writer, and I was particularly interested in watching since I routinely make that sausage myself. What I saw left me embarrassed, appalled and disappointed.

Hosted by Charles Runnette, a freelance travel writer, the show focused on five journalists on a press trip to Chile. For those of you who are unfamiliar with press trips, they are sponsored tours in which journalists get shown around in hopes that they will write stories about that destination. In other words, it’s a free trip. But it is also work. I am not here to argue the merits of press trips. I am, however, here to discuss the merits of this show – or lack thereof.
Press trips are hectic affairs in which journalists are shown myriad hotels, restaurants and points of interest. It’s essentially a business trip on crack. The show did a good job of showing the frenetic energy of these trips. “I thought it was fairly representative of press trips and what it’s like being a travel journalist,” Julie Blakley of BootsnAll and WhyGo France told me. Essentially, writers get shuttled around like they are on a school field trip. The schedules are packed, the accommodations not always what we would select for ourselves and sometimes the other journalists annoy you. But, at the end of the day, it’s a job and all jobs have pros and cons.

Runnette provides the voiceover that guides the audience. He utilizes this bully pulpit to belittle his fellow writers, the trip’s host and the accommodations. From being placed in “the worst room in the hotel” to whining about being in the back row of the plane, he spends much of his time griping. He then makes a point of saying that travel writers who complain about traveling should pursue another line of business. I’m not sure if Charles is the pot or the kettle, but he’s certainly brewing up a hot cup of hypocrisy.

To a certain degree, the program fell victim to the pitfalls of any reality show in that it was beholden to the confines of the genre. Editors have to make entertaining television and their agendas are dictated by producers. David Farley, a writer whose work has been featured in several publications and whose book, An Irreverent Curiosity, is in stores now, told me that “the show would have been better suited for several episodes so that we could get to know the characters. In one episode, we can only see the archetypes they sought to parade across the screen.”

However, Runnette’s personal agenda was clearly to showcase how amazing he thinks he is. He did so at the expense of not only the other journalists featured in the episode, but to the detriment of the entire travel writing industry. His pretentious attitude, pithy asides and overall negativity highlighted the worst traits that a journalist can display.

A travel writer who has written for various nationally syndicated publications and who requested that his name not be used in this article told me that “the show focused on a small subset of the industry – the most parasitic, entitled subset. I hope my friends and family don’t think that’s what I do for a living.”

My biggest problem with the the show, though, was in regard to its intended audience. Do people want to watch a show about travel writers? Or would they prefer to watch shows about the destinations themselves? I just don’t think watching people go on a press trip is entertaining. And I say that as a narcissistic writer.

As this was a pilot episode, there is no guarantee that the show will return. If the feedback over at WorldHum is any indication, the show garnered a fair amount of attention but very few acolytes.

I hope that the show does not get picked up. I prefer to not have to overcome the negative image that others may generate about this industry. But what about you? Did you watch the show? Are you interested in what the job of a travel writer is like or do you just want to enjoy the end products? Essentially, do you really want to see how our sausage is made?

Photo by flickr user laverrue.