Jim Benning Interviews Don George

Posted by Chika On 12:11 PM 0 comments


A few years ago, Jim Benning of WorldHum fame interviewed the former travel editor at the San Francisco Examiner. The review has largely been lost in cyberspace, so I'll post it below for your inspection, as it seems timely with the recent release of a new book by Don George, published by Lonely Planet. It's a book about travel writing, and the first book ever written by Don George.

Don George is one of the most successful travel writers in the country, and has promoted an inspiring viewpoint about the wonders and benefits of travel writing for many, many years: Travel broadens our view of the world, tears down walls, increases understanding, brings peace. Arthur Frommer said it first, but Don has carried on the message for many years, and for this, god bless his soul.

Soul-Stretching Adventures Don't Sell Ads
A conversation with Don George of LonelyPlanet.com
Jim Benning
posted: 2001-05-29
modified: 2002-07-15

In founding Salon's travel section, Wanderlust, in 1997, Don George created a home for the Web's most ambitious literary travel writing. The section featured contributions from writers such as Pico Iyer and Jan Morris, and memorable stories from up-and-coming writers. Quality, however, doesn't ensure longevity, especially online.

Last year, citing money woes and disappointing traffic figures, the online magazine closed the travel section, leaving George out in the San Francisco cold, looking for work.

After a brief stint at Yahoo, George recently landed an editing job at Lonely Planet. The company publishes guidebooks revered by world travelers. It also maintains a thriving Web site. We asked George recently about Salon, the state of online travel journalism and his new gig.

Much has happened since we last talked. What are your thoughts on Salon these days? Are you optimistic about its future?

How can I put this? (Pause.) Salon is facing the greatest challenge of its life, and that's surviving this downturn when advertising all over the Internet has fallen off sharply. What I want to believe is that quality will triumph in the end and that Salon, because it's so great editorially, will pull through. There will come a time when advertising rebounds. I just hope Salon will be around to benefit from that.

How did the closing of the travel section affect your feelings about the future of great online travel writing?

(Sigh.) I felt that if the kind of travel journalism I felt passionately about was going to survive anywhere online, it would have been at Salon. Everybody's hearts and minds were in the right place with what I was doing with Wanderlust. I was tremendously disappointed when it didn't make it. I feel that a purely literary travel site would be almost impossible to make a go of online. What you have to do, I think, is either marry great travel editorial to a site making money some other way, like perhaps a Travelocity or an Expedia, or you have to become the electronic branch of a tree that already has very deep roots in some other medium. That's where Lonely Planet comes in.

After the section closed, where did you look for work?

I talked to online people who fell into two camps. I talked to small, enthusiastic start-ups, which were spiritually wonderful and tempting but didn't offer the kind of stability I wanted. I've had enough of that wild ride already. And then there were the Yahoos and the Travelocitys. I was actually affiliated with Yahoo for a while. That was an exciting opportunity to try to create some original travel editorial content for them, but it ended up not working out. We both saw some great potential there, but as the Internet evolved and Yahoo's concept of editorial offerings evolved, it didn't seem to make as much sense as it originally had.

Did you talk to print magazines, too?

Yeah. I talked to a lot of magazines. I went to New York and Washington and spoke with many editors, and I just came away thinking that there weren't any positions available that were perfect for me. I was looking for something that would allow me to stay on the West Coast and still have a full-time staff job that would involve writing and editing. While there was a lot of interest from people at some of the magazines and from me, this has been a tough time for the magazines. They're not expanding. The kind of job that might appear attractive to them in an age of expansion, such as a West Coast editor, isn't compelling in a time of cutbacks.

I don't see a lot of great travel writing being done at magazines anyway these days. Can a magazine that focuses on literary travel writing even survive?

I think it could survive but not thrive. The kind of great story-telling that Salon majored in is not a core part of any magazine out there now, probably because most of the editors-in-chief look at the bottom line. Tales of unforgettable encounters and soul-stretching adventures don't sell ads as well as tales of glitzy hotels and high-priced restaurants.

That's disappointing.

Yeah, it is disappointing. It doesn't mean that the editors' hearts aren't in the right places, but they have to be quite practical about what their jobs are, and that's to keep the magazines profitable. That said, there is great writing out there. Some of the adventure-oriented magazines like Outside and National Geographic Adventure publish in each issue at least one great read. It's not that the well is dry, it's just that the well is low.

That's so strange, because never before have there been so many travel narrative books being published. Books by Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson. Anthologies. There's a market for this style of writing. The book publishers see it. You'd think magazines would find a way to tap into that.

That's a really interesting point. People's mind-sets when they sit down to read a book might be different than when they pick up a glossy magazine. Hmmm. I wrestle with this stuff all the time. I don't lie awake at night and think, why didn't Wanderlust succeed? But I thought I was doing exactly what I wanted to do and I had a vision of what that was. You can say the Web is a new medium and advertising models weren't sophisticated and that, had it had two or three more years, it might have made it. But none of the print magazines are like that. Is there something else here, that a combination of great tales isn't economically viable? I don't know.

Related to all this, of course, is that last year Villard published a collection of Salon travel stories in a book titled Salon.com's Wanderlust. Has the book done well?

The book has done very well. The initial run was 15,500 copies, and when I was in New York a few months ago, they had sold about 10,500. I assume that a few thousand more have been sold since then, so it's probably on the cusp of another printing. It was on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List a couple of weeks ago, and I was really shocked. That was very exciting.

How did you wind up at Lonely Planet?

I realized that right in my backyard was Lonely Planet, literally 12 minutes from my home. I've always loved Lonely Planet, ever since I got my first guidebook 20 years ago. It's a publisher I respect immensely, with a huge range of titles, and happily, they had a Web site and a literary travel books series. I've known the founders for 15 years. It hit me that this is a company that I should be looking into. So I did. We were able to craft a job description that seemed to be exactly what all of us were looking for. I officially joined the company March 12. It's like a dream come true.

Was it important that the company was rooted in the print business?

Yes. Lonely Planet's headquarters in Oakland is in a warehouse. When I walked in and saw stacks and stacks of books, that was a really good feeling for me. It was something really palpable that the company was based on.

What exactly do you do?

My title is travel editor. My mission basically falls into three areas. The first involves the Web site. I'm writing a weekly column, already launched, called Traveller at Large. Over time I'm going to be working with other members of the e-team, the people who put together the Web site and wireless stuff. I'll be working with them to develop more robust original content down the road.

Does that mean we might see Wanderlust-style travel stories on the site someday?

It means that portions of something like Wanderlust will resurface down the road. Lonely Planet is trying to prioritize and strategize and figure out what the role of the Web site is in the context of the whole company. The notion of Wanderlust-type content is very much a part of the ongoing conversation.

The Web site has a lot of great components, including the news section.

Yes, that's called Scoop. It's updated every day with about four or five very interesting news stories from around the world. They're these vignettes that teach you something about the countries where they take place.

How about your other roles?

I'm involved with their travel literature books series, called Journeys. I'll be helping to bring in new writers for that. Lastly, we want to create something called Lonely Planet Conversations, which would be me interviewing great travel writers and travelers. We'd excerpt the interviews online in text, and eventually with sound and video clips. We also hope to try to syndicate the interviews either to radio stations, maybe PBS, and or to other TV stations. We'll be filming and recording these interviews for multiple uses. We'll get started in the next few months.

You've got a lot going on.

I've got a lot of plates, and they're all filling up rapidly. But it just feels perfect to me because I didn't want to turn my back on the Internet. I'd invested a lot of my passion and energy into understanding the medium, so I didn't want to just get out of it altogether. This job is so wonderful because it combines the print background I had before Salon (as travel editor of the San Francisco Examiner) with the online background I've gained at Salon. And as for the interviews, I did interviews at the Examiner for my column. That's when I first met people like Pico Iyer and Paul Theroux. So it all feels like it's coming together.

Are you still traveling much?

Happily, yes. Last fall I went to London and I did a cruise in the Mediterranean that began in Venice and ended in Rome and took me to Croatia and Greece. I'm going to Australia in a week and a half, and then I have trips planned for the summer.

Ever get tired of it?

Never. What I have not liked in the past is business travel. When I was at Salon I flew to Paris for a conference and spent the entire time going to meetings, giving speeches. I looked longingly out the taxi window and wanted to claw my way out. Business travel can be anti-travel. You go to an exotic place, but you never get to really be there. But pure travel, that feeling is still there. Being at Lonely Planet feeds that feeling so much. Lonely Planet is completely about the wonder of travel.

Don George Interview about Travel at Slate

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Pearls Before Swine

Posted by Chika On 11:40 AM 0 comments

Card Shark Jen Leo

Jen Leo is a sweet, young lady who has worked at Travelers Tales for many years, editing several books and contributing some of her own writing. She also has her own travel blog and is planning a move to Vegas, to keep up with her new blog about gambling. In the meantime, Jen posted some great cartoon links about book signings, guaranteed to amuse all guidebook authors.

Pearls Before Swine on Book Signings

I like Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis. This week they did some strips on book signings.

March 21: Goat and Zebra talk about Rat's new book,

Dickie the Cockroach

March 22: Rat's booksigning

March 23: Rat defines comic strips to someone at his author event

March 24: Stephan Pastis attends Rat's signing.

March 25: End of the book signing

Jen Leo and Written Road

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More Good News for Writers

Posted by Chika On 10:33 AM 0 comments

Gates Food in Central Park

This announcement has been five or six years in the making. After the issue went to mediation it seemed stuck. Writers whose work was used online without permission are entitled to compensation. Now to plow through the fine print and the red tape.

Dear ASJA Member:

The following press release was just sent out by the three major writers' organizations to the media. Please feel free to circulate it to any and all writers and writers organizations.

Brett Harvey Executive Director


$18 Million Settlement to Freelance Writers Filed for Court Approval

Contact: Jim Morrison, American Society of Journalists & Authors,757-451-2434 or jimmor@aol.com Kay Murray, The Authors Guild, 212-563-5904 or kmurray@authorsguild.org Gerard Colby, National Writers Union, 212-254-0279 or GColbyVT@aol.com

New York, March 29 - The American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Authors Guild, and the National Writers Union today announced the filing of a motion for court approval of an $18 million settlement in a class action suit they and 21 freelance writers filed on behalf of thousands of freelance writers whose stories appeared in online databases without their consent. They expect preliminary court approval of the settlement within the next month.

'We are delighted,' said Nick Taylor, president of the Authors Guild. 'This is a substantial settlement, and, if approved, it will vindicate freelance writers who deserve compensation and control for their work in the electronic marketplace. It proves our contention all along that access and online advertising revenues shouldn't all go into the pockets of big media, but should be shared with the creators.'

'ASJA has long preached to freelancers that they demand extra pay for extra uses,' said Jim Morrison, ASJA's president from 2001 to 2003 and the organization's representative in the settlement negotiations. 'Today, we have an $18 million validation of how valuable electronic rights are to publishers. Freelance writers should remember that when negotiating their contracts.'

Gerard Colby, president of the National Writers Union, noted that in its historic 2001 ruling in Tasini vs. New York Times, the Supreme Court ruled that the principles of copyright apply to online distribution of editorial content, and that articles cannot be distributed in cyberspace without permission of their creators. The Tasini litigation was initiated by the NWU and funded in part by its parent union, the United Auto Workers.

'This settlement will put money in writers' pockets,' Colby said. 'Individual awards for individual articles could add up to big money for writers who had more than one article published electronically without their consent, and who take action to file proper claims. This settlement underscores the fundamental importance of the Constitution's copyright clause and proclaims that the rights of writers and artists to own their own creations and to earn a living from them must be respected -- even by the nation's most powerful media corporations.'

'This monetary settlement is the final chapter in a 12-year fight to right a gross injustice,' said Jonathan Tasini, president emeritus of the NWU who served on the settlement negotiating team on behalf of the union. 'But, more important, it shows that writers can stand up, fight and win.'

The filing seeks court approval of a Class Notice, which gives a full description of the benefits of the settlement, identifies which articles are included and which are excluded, and explains authors' rights under the settlement. The settlement is complex, and the three organizations have set up a joint website (www.freelancerights.com) dedicated to helping authors understand the terms and make claims.

Under the terms of the settlement, publishers including the New York Times, Time Inc., and the Wall Street Journal and database companies including Dow Jones Interactive, Knight-Ridder, Lexis-Nexis, Proquest, and West Group agreed to pay writers up to $1,500 for stories in which the writers had registered the copyright in accordance with timetables established in federal copyright law. Writers who failed to register their copyrights will receive up to $60 per article; the organizations believe that many such writers will have valid claims for hundreds of such articles.

The amount paid will depend on a number of factors, including whether the writer registered the copyright, the original fee paid for the article, the year it was published, and whether the writer permits the future use of the article in the databases.

Lisa Collier Cool, current president of the ASJA, urged freelance writers to go online and make their claims when the settlement is approved. Taylor and Morrison noted that fulltime freelancers likely will have substantial numbers of stories eligible for claims. 'I wouldn't be surprised if there are many writers who did not register their copyrights who will earn thousands of dollars from the settlement because they have so many stories eligible for claims,' Morrison said. 'That is why we strongly encourage freelancers to make claims.'

The settlement is filed under In re Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation, MDL No. 1379, in federal court in the Southern District of New York with U.S. District Court Judge George M. Daniels presiding.

### The American Society of Journalists and Authors (www.asja.org) is a trade association of freelance writers founded in 1948 with more than 1,100 members who have met the ASJA's exacting standards of professional achievement.

The Authors Guild (www.authorsguild.org) is the nation's oldest and largest society of published book authors and freelance journalists. The Guild advocates on behalf of its 8,000 members on copyright, contract and free speech matters.

The National Writers Union (www.nwu.org), the nation's only labor union for freelance writers, was founded in 1981. The NWU is Local 1981 of the United Auto Workers. On behalf of its 3,400 members, the NWU advocates for writers rights and fights to improve the income, contracts, and working conditions for all freelance writers including journalists, book authors, business and technical writers, essayists, poets, playwrights, script writers, writers for the web, and campus writers, including instructors and professors.

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Good News for Writers

Posted by Chika On 10:17 AM 0 comments

Gates Parody 3

Finally, some good news for writers, including travel writers whose work has been stolen for many years by major corporations and posted on websites littered with banner ads and paid advertising. This scandalous theft has been going on for over a decade, but several writers organizations (ASJA, NWU, AG) have won a fairly large judgment against these thieves.

Many thanks to the groups who filed this lawsuit, but you really wonder: where the hell was the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW)? Scoring their next free press trip for their geriatric freebie loving former travel writers?


A settlement reached last Wednesday in a class-action online publishing lawsuit could mean plenty of freelance writers will be eligible to receive their share of up to $18 million dollars from big media companies, once the agreement receives court approval that is expected in the next few weeks.

The settlement, which could net qualifying freelancers a collective minimum of $10 million and maximum of $18 million, is the result of a lawsuit meant to remunerate writers for work that had been published over the years in online databases without their approval.

Originally, three separate lawsuits were filed over time, starting in August 2000. They were eventually combined into one large class-action suit. Plaintiffs, who filed on behalf of thousands of freelance writers, included the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Authors Guild, the National Writers Union and almost two dozen freelance writers.

The suit was filed against several media companies, including Time, Knight Ridder, Reed Elsevier (of which LexisNexis is a division) and The New York Times Company. Under the terms of the settlement, freelance writers who had work published between August 1977 and December 2002 will be eligible to fill out a form -- online or by mail -- that will entitle them to money for works to which they had not signed away their rights to electronic publication, said Jim Morrison, a past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors who helped negotiate the settlement.

According to a joint press release put out by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Authors Guild and the National Writers Union, those eligible could receive up to $1,500 for stories that they had registered a copyright for, or $60 for those they had not. The release said remuneration amounts depend on other things as well, like how much was initially paid for the article when it was published, and if the writer allows future utilization of the article in the databases.

A site called FreelanceRights.com has been set up to help disseminate information about the agreement. Morrison thinks there will be many freelance writers owed money for hundreds of stories. "There will be some freelancers who registered their copyrights who will make six figures under this settlement," he said.

On Tuesday, March 29, a motion was filed for court approval of the settlement. Morrison said a judicial rubber stamp is expected in about a month. A spokesman for Time said, "We think it's a fair resolution to the issues at hand."

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Fodor Photography Request?

Posted by Chika On 9:35 AM 0 comments

The Kitty Gates - New York

I'm somewhat skeptical (sceptical?) that the original post is authentic, and that somebody's chain isn't being pulled with this one, but at least it set off some discussion and controvery on one of the travel writers forums.


Here's a message I received via email this morning. I find it a bit insulting that they are not paying photographers. Then again, I wonder if the message is legit.

I am a freelance photo researcher working with Fordor's, gathering images for use in the interiors of the Fodor,s famed Gold Guide travel guides. There is no fee for inclusion in our books, we will give you credit for the images as well as supply you with the travel guide, once it printed. We are looking for either high-resolution digital images or transparencies. Listed below are the images that we are looking for our travel guide book on Mexico, for the section on Mexico City. Please advise if you are able to assist me in locating these images.

Museo de Frida Kahlo, Coyoacan
Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, San Angel
Museo Dolores Olmedo PatiƱo, Xochimilco
Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Alameda Central

Also photos of both Diego and Frida as well as a few paintings.

Please advise
All the best,



like the line: "There is no fee for inclusion in our books." That's certainly generous of them. :-)


Someone will send them photos, a few of which will be included (along with photos, duly licensed and paid for, from more professional photogs), and the free-photo senders will brag that they have their photos in Fodor's, then they will see that having photos in Fodor's doesn't really induce others to pay them big fees for their photos.

Although other publications will be happy to "give them exposure" "at no fee." Actually, I think that what the free-photo people will find is that they are required to sign a contract giving Fodor's universal, eternal, extraterrestrial rights to use the photos however, wherever and whenever they like throughout the universe till the end of time, with or without name credit to the photog.

Non-exclusive rights, of course... :-)

And some people will do it. Why else would the researcher send out such missives, if there were never any responses? Actually, I'd like to see the contract offered to the free-photo people. It might be the ultimate exercise in temerity.


As a photographer/travel writer I speak with some reasonableness when I say that this is shocking. How are we to become a profession with professional standards when we are treated as rubes?

What a ridiculous attitude on their part!


Seriously folks, how many other professions are treated the way writers/photographers are treated? Some craftspeople are expected to work for the joy or creating and not get paid for their time I guess. Is it only things that are created by machines or computers that are worthy of earning money!!


We work in a market economy. If Fodor's can get stuff for free, they will. Heck, if I can get stuff (legally) for free, I will. Zagat has made a good business and useful products with free info. The basis of TripAdvisor's appeal is its free info. Ditto Amazon.com and its product reviews and book lists.

Travel writers are not needed now as much as they once were. Photogs please sit down to receive this: neither are photographers. Digital photography and "darkroom" software has made it much easier for less professional photogs to produce more and better pix, which means that the value of many categories of pix is in decline.

Watch the big phone companies battle one another to the bloody end, while VOIP eats their lunch...with relish. The phone companies and the post office and FedEx got bashed by email. The world owes no one a living. The creative survive.

Think nimble!


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