Is there room under the travel blogging umbrella for calendars and calendar haters?


Earlier this month, there was a bit of a kerfuffle over a travel blogging calendar. The fact that there were facets of the travel blogging world that didn’t embrace and applaud the calendar isn’t the interesting part, that was to be expected. Rather, what was interesting was that the sentiments of both the calendar’s detractors and its champions, taken together, did a fine job of demonstrating how all-encompassing the travel blogging world has the potential to be.

But let me back up a bit.

Travel bloggers posing for calendars isn’t new – just ask Diamond PR about their “Men of TBEX” calendar from Vancouver. Unlike that effort, however, the impetus for this new calendar of travel bloggers has come from the bloggers themselves – and this time there are separate calendars for men and women. Twenty-four bloggers agreed to submit photographs of themselves, and two charities were selected to receive “the entirety of the profits” from the sale of the calendars.

And then came the questions. Questions like, “How close to nude can we go?” from one calendar participant, to “Really??!?” from one skeptic, to “Who’s going to buy these calendars, anyway?” from a few people, both in public and private.

These calendars were never going to be just another travel blogging initiative – something the organizers knew going in (if for no other reason than the fact that the earlier “Men of TBEX” calendar brought up questions, too). They were going to generate some raised eyebrows and (yes) some questions. The success of a project like this has to be based on getting the word out. If even a portion of that is accomplished by said project being of a slightly prurient interest, then that makes the promotional effort easier. Raising eyebrows (or questions) is fine, since “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” right?

Evidently not everyone who’s a fan of the calendar agrees with that old chestnut, and some were unprepared to deal with any questions that weren’t along the lines of “how can I be in it next year?” or “where can I buy one?” When the purpose and motivation of the calendar effort was questioned, the conversation quickly went off the rails.

What I love about this calendar is that it’s something different. Who knows how much money they’ll raise – I genuinely hope it’s a good sum, and that they share their progress – but at least they’re thinking creatively. The calendar is an effort to drive money toward a charity, but it also showcases the ability of travel bloggers to think creatively and work together – skills that are in demand as more people flood the already saturated travel blogging market. Additionally, turning this from a “spur-of-a-moment idea” into an actual, physical thing in a short span of time highlights how adaptable travel bloggers can be – the world moves quickly, and we must move quickly with it or get left behind. All of these traits are specific and marketable skills – we’re talking resume-quality language here – and that deserves applause. We need more of that kind of forward thinking. The calendar’s organizers and participants get major points for showing creativity, adaptability, and the benefits of collaboration.

But what the array of reactions to the calendar has demonstrated is something that I love even more – that there’s room under this enormous umbrella of travel blogging both for the people who adore this calendar idea and want to buy it every year and for the people who roll their eyes at it before going back to whatever section of the travel blogging world suits them best.

There is no brush broad enough to paint all travel bloggers at once, nor should there be. Travelers are exceptionally diverse, why shouldn’t travel bloggers be, too? We travel differently, we blog differently – we think differently. If we all produced the same ideas, what an awfully boring community this would be! There are enough niches under this gigantic umbrella that everyone will find something they love and others who have similar affections. The travel industry is even bigger than our umbrella, trying as it is to appeal to the whims of every traveler on earth, so it’s big enough to support a wide variety of travel bloggers, too.

Not everyone will cheer every new idea. It makes sense, right? There are critics in every industry. Some will quietly scoff and go about their own business, some will openly mock, and others will ask questions. We need to be prepared to deal with every kind of critic – whether simply accepting that not everyone is a fan, ignoring the detractors who offer nothing more than vitriol (don’t feed the trolls!), or explaning what we’re doing and why we’re doing it – in a thoughtful and reasonable manner. Critics should be expected to ask pointed questions about things they find confusing or about which they just want more information. Asking “who’s the target audience for this calendar?” isn’t an attack, and it certainly shouldn’t generate threats of physical violence. (Update: the Twitter post with the threat has apparently been removed, but here’s a screenshot of it.)

Whether the loudest (so far as I can tell) skeptic of the calendar had simply asked pointed questions or “took a hard(ish) line on” the topic, this kind of lighthearted retort seems the better place to start. Really, the first – and only – response could even have been, “Sorry you don’t like it, man, and I’mma let you finish, but we’re gonna be over here raising money for charity, mmkay?” before dropping the mic and walking offstage.

Yes, I’m being flippant, but the point is we have to know that not everyone will love what we do. If we fail to respond appropriately to our critics we run the risk of looking foolish or, even worse, looking like we haven’t even thought about our actions as much as our critics have.

Asking pointed questions helps us refine our bold ideas and prepares us for when businesses (rather than other bloggers) are asking the hard questions. We need to ask ourselves pointed questions, so we’re ready when others ask them. We need to answer thoughtfully, so we don’t appear poised for attack (even if we think it’s a defensive move). When we do all of this, it doesn’t matter one iota whether someone else under this umbrella doesn’t totally love our idea. There’s plenty of room for all of our well-considered (if sometimes quirky) ideas. Not everyone needs to follow the same path or even like every available path, as long as we agree to disagree as professionals.

As for the question posed at the beginning – is there room under this travel blogging umbrella for both the calendar lovers and the calendar haters? – I’d like to believe the answer is a resounding yes. The incredible and sometimes bizarre diversity of people I’ve met in this community – a community drawn together by a love of traveling – never ceases to amaze. I’d also like to believe that the umbrella is limitless, and that we all (at the very least) share the willingness to defend one another’s right to push boundaries, throw spaghetti at the wall, and ask questions.

If we can’t do that – support creative discourse and a little spaghetti throwing – then we’ll fracture our community instead of growing and sustaining it. I think the growth option is better for all of us, even if it comes with a few hard questions along the way.

We’re interested in publishing editorial content on the TBEX blog that represents a wide array of opinions on all things travel, blogging, and anything else that the TBEX audience might find interesting. And as it turns out, TBEX staff have opinions, too. This opinion piece may not represent the opinions of everyone working at TBEX or New Media Expo. Do you have a counter-point to this editorial? Do you have something else you’d like to get off your chest? We’d love to hear from you.

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22 Responses
  1. Great post, and I agree with just about everything you’ve said here.

    The problem with the “dialogue” about this calendar was that there was never any dialogue before the criticisms began. For a site that includes a bastardization of the word NEWS in its name, there was a shocking lack of journalistic effort in the story that launched the firestorm of debate. Nobody interviewed the creators of the calendar to get their perspective; nobody asked to see a sample of what the photos would look like before launching opinionated attacks on the project’s merit (or lack thereof).

    The equivalent would be me, as a professional journalist/cultural critic (which I am), writing a story criticizing a new band’s debut album before I’ve even heard a lick of their music. “Hey, new band whose music I’ve never heard before, what gives you the right to create music, and who do you intend to market/promote it to?” The very notion is both ludicrous and insulting to the creative impulse.

    For a story that talks about elevating the blogging business and dares to wax rhapsodic about the impact this project could have on bloggers’ bids at professional respectability, the Tnooz piece was poorly researched, badly written punditry, and insulting to those who invested their time and energy for a good cause.

    1. Thanks for reading, and for your comment! To be fair, though, I didn’t contact any of the creators of the calendar before I wrote this post, either, so I’m not sure that’s a good place to base criticism of the Tnooz piece. I also think the analogy of criticizing a band’s album before hearing it is a little off-target. There’s enough information published on the calendar website and blog to form opinions about it without seeing the finished product, and where opinions can be formed, questions can be asked. (I also didn’t read anything in the Tnooz piece that sounded like “what gives you the right to do this?”)

      Sure, if it had been me, I might have written the Tnooz post differently – but, as I said in the post above, I think critics should be asking pointed questions, since they often help us improve. We will never please everyone, nor will we be able to control how people react to what we do (which will include writing posts about projects without contacting the people behind said projects). What we can control is how we react to our critics. If there’s any lesson to be learned from this thing, I think that may be it.

    2. @bret – lovely to hear from you again!

      1. You really do need to get over the fact that we used a bit of creative licence with the brand name Tnooz 🙂

      2. Have you not heard of op-ed pieces before? We dropped an opinion column within the usual cycle of news and analysis we do every day of the week. Shock, horror!

      3. If everyone had the same opinion the world would be a dull place.

      4. And everyone that reacted to piece did so calmly and with respect and measured responses?

      Yours, again.

      Poor Pundit of Britain. x

  2. Man Jessica, you are SO WISE. Agree with everything in this article 100%. From being in this business I’ve learned there’s always going to be opposition to people trying new things, and the best thing to do is just develop a thick skin and get on with it. Petty infighting just makes us all look bad.

  3. As another calendar participant, I agree with your sentiments. I saw the Tnooz post and thought, “Okay, so that’s one person who won’t buy it. Moving on.” I know other participants reacted differently and fiercely defended it (possibly even too much) because it’s a product we are excited about. I didn’t take the “taking a picture of myself” thing too seriously but was more excited about the collaboration with some bloggers I very much admire for an even more admirable cause. If it works, then I think that will shut up a lot of the critics. If not, we can’t say we didn’t try.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Caroline. When we invest time in something we’re personally excited about, whether it’s a blog post or something like this calendar, I totally understand that it can be hurtful when someone else doesn’t love it. I get that. It’s happened to me, too – I think it’s probably happened to all of us. The danger is in responding to critics from that emotional place, since that place often lacks the balancing impacts of reason. Again, if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it might just be that we need to be able to respond properly to our critics so as not to hurt our own efforts/causes.

  4. Thanks for writing this article, Jessica. It’s well written and it covers the board quite nicely. As one of the major organizers of this project, I’d like to step in and say thank you for the praise. I appreciated your paragraph about the skills it took to implement this project. It was definitely not easy and it took a massive amount of time and energy to do what we’ve done.

    Frankly, I laughed when I read this now “infamous” Tnooz article. I haven’t commented on it and I still see no reason to. We received a nice chunk of publicity from it and I’m happy walking away with that.

    I’m hoping that this “controversy” does not cast a shadow on the project itself. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to raise money for charity. The idea is that we’ve created a place for people to donate while supporting some bloggers at the same time. We want people to donate, and then be like, “oh hey, by the way, you get this neat calendar with your donation.” I really hope that everyone can get on board with what we’re doing, support us in at least trying to do something good, and pick up one or two of the calendars.

    At the end of the day, it’s all for a good cause. Two of them, actually.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jeremy. Sadly, not everyone involved with the project was as calm about the Tnooz piece as you were, and those voices were the loudest. We sort of have to police ourselves, I think, in order to keep dialogue going in a positive direction, y’know?

    2. @jeremy – i’m glad you’ve commented here.

      As responsible journalists (despite what Bret says above), we would like to follow-up and hear more about how well it went after Xmas and the traditional calendar-selling period.

      For example, we would like to report on the final figure raised and/or units sold for the charitable cause.

      I genuinely wish you well with the project and hope you can understand that we were not looking for any degree of infamy with what we produced, it was just an opinion piece based on reflections and feedback from the industry about the SUPPOSED image of bloggers.

    3. @jeremy — as we promised in our original article, following up to get a sense of how many calendars were sold and delivered in the end, and how much was raised for good causes.

      Any feedback you can share would be useful and we will gladly update our original story. Always happy to be proven wrong!

  5. @jessica – brilliant piece. Seriously.

    If only those that reacted so strongly to the original column had been as calm, intelligent, eloquent and measured as you.

    As we said at Tnooz following its publication: it’s impossible to please everyone.

    1. Thanks, Kevin, for your comment, and for your praise – it’s much appreciated. I agonized over this piece for a good long time, and had the help of a couple of equally measured and intelligent editors before I hit the publish button. 🙂

  6. @jessica – furthermore, thanks for highlighting how one particular critic of the piece clearly couldn’t hold their emotions in check.

    I hadn’t realised until I read your article that the tweet had been deleted, presumably because they realised that threatening people with violence (even on something as benign as Twitter) is pretty stupid legally and also it hardly painted said person in a lot of glory.

    1. What’s weird is those comments remained on Twitter for weeks – they were still there when I published this post. I grabbed screenshots of a few of the more egregious tweets as I was writing this, mostly thinking that eventually they might just fall off the site after too much time. I didn’t expect them to be deleted so many weeks after they were originally written, and I actually have no idea why/how that particular tweet disappeared. Yay for screenshots, I guess?

  7. Jessica love that you covered this story, I missed the original kerfuffle on Twitter but heard about it later at WTM and was shocked that people were so judgemental about an idea that was for charity.

    I think this speaks to a larger issue with some members of the community who feel the need to criticize anything new or different that bloggers are doing. For some reason I’ve noticed people’s Twitter accounts to be full of snarky, criticizing tweets and in some cases they cowardly don’t tag the person in the tweet.

    I don’t agree with what everyone does in the community but I don’t feel the need to passive aggressively yet publicly tweet/blog/comment about it. I still do not understand why people do not realize that we don’t have to compete with each other in order to succeed. Even if I wouldn’t choose to run my site or monetize the way someone else is I am happy to see others do well and begin to make a living from it.

    Last week I spoke to someone privately who had written some vicious tweets. I offered the old but wise advice “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything” and he sloughed off my advice, which he perceived as juvenile and ironically responded that this wasn’t high school.


    1. Thanks for the comment, Ayngelina! I agree that the whole “this isn’t high school” reply is amusingly ironic, but I don’t think the main issue here is isolating/calling out critics or anyone who questions what other travel bloggers are doing. As I said in the piece, that’s what critics should be doing. Sure, there are some people who do it in a way that makes it clear they simply intend to be snarky and offer nothing to the actual conversation, but I’d wager those are the exception to the rule. (And, really, those are the folks we should all just be ignoring, anyway.) The primary issue for me remains our ability to deal with criticism in a professional manner. I’m not saying it’s easy – not by a long shot – but it’s critical. I wonder if there’s some therapist type who could talk us through “responding to criticism” in a TBEX keynote session? (And I’m only partly kidding.) 😉

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