Hi everyone and welcome back to Unpacking Media Bias! It's our last one of 2021 and this month, we’re doing a recap of our time over at Talking Travel Writing as well as giving you all the usual UMB goodness.
In other news, that almost made us fall off our chairs in shock, we've only gone and been shortlisted for a flippin' award (that we didn't even enter!) for 'Collaboration of the Year'. Details about the brilliant Bessie Awards are all below, in 'Spotlight', in case anyone is willing and eligible to vote...
As ever, we hope it's an interesting read (and you can always let us know by email either way - we appreciate the feedback!) Wishing you all a happy Christmas/festive season and see you in 2022.
What we learnt during our Talking Travel Writing takeover
The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that we’ve been missing from your inboxes recently. No, we didn’t drop off the face of the Earth; we just hopped over to the ace Talking Travel Writing run by travel journalists Lottie Gross and Steph Dyson for a newsletter takeover and—now that normal UMB service is resuming—thought we’d share some of the fruits of our labour.
Two of the best in the biz, Sarah Khan, editor-in-chief of Conde Nast Traveller Middle East, and Sophie Lam, travel editor at the i paper, stopped by to speak to us about representation and the future of travel writing. It was an illuminating one: both have been pushing to bring colour to a historically white-washed industry, so had a lot of pragmatic learnings to share.
‘Travel is Better in Color’—a collective that Sarah co-founded to help racially diversify the industry—supports established creatives of colour and encouraged them to capitalise on ‘backyard’ tourism, while restrictions were placed on international travel. While Sarah noted that the talent was already out there (something we can attest to as well—in 30-odd newsletters, we’re yet to repeat a contributor) she also identified a step towards representation that’s a slow-yet-essential change. “Diverse voices in the pages are critical, but diverse talents behind the scene help shape the ideas and influence who and what gets commissioned, and when we see true diversity there—and not just one-off token hires—is when we'll see a genuine change in the kinds of storytelling that's being produced.”
Sophie, meanwhile, reflected on some of the important changes that had taken place on editorial desks—including her own—to avoid revisionist takes on topics like colonialism. “I expect writers to do their homework and read up on the place. I’m also keen on bringing other voices into the story so you understand those lives and experiences on the ground.”
We also tackled topics like responsible travel and creating inclusive travel content, including photography, with the help of Lebawit Lily Girma, global tourism reporter at Skift, and Rajan Datar, broadcaster and presenter of BBC Travel Show.
Lily, a Caribbean travel expert and former content creator, helped us understand vaccine inequity, tourism leakage, and how best to cover regions (such as the Caribbean) whose economies are largely dependent on the industry—due, in part, losing an overwhelming percentage of profits to foreign-based multinationals.
“Ensure that the travel dollars that you're spending while in destination are going to a locally owned and operated business or organisation as much as possible, and to entities that invest in their surrounding communities long-term. Design your trip around being as positively impactful and as locally-led as possible.” Perhaps it hinges on centreing the destination and its citizens, rather than the storyteller themselves—as well as the wider shift from ‘high-volume’ to ‘high-value’ tourism. Rajan expanded on this particular issue, saying “Tourists are guests in someone else’s home; it’s not a playground.”
These are all issues that are going to be key topics for next year, as (hopefully) international travel becomes steadily less complicated. Responsible and ethical travel—and travel writing—will be critical, with imbalances deepened by vaccine inequity and reporting heavily off-kilter around the origin of new variants. Thanks for sticking with us this year and roll on 2022; there’ll be lots more to unpack!
Shivani & Meera
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Writing Tip of the Day
Sophie Lam gave us some insight into how she deals with stories that play up the ‘colonial heritage’ of a hotel. Here are her thoughts:
“Do we have to talk about this hotel? With organised trips, I also feel it’s incumbent on PRs and tourist boards to not box-tick the usual suspects and make sure journos have access to people and places to make the story work harder. I want to move away from that feeling that you’ve read this feature before.
I also think about who’s the best person to tell a story. Are they the right person? Will they be nuanced and compelling enough in their storytelling? Having diverse writers is key to this.”
The Sense Check
“Is it ok to use the word ‘locals’ and, if so, in what context?"
Founder and editor-in-chief at The Black Explorer, a print and media company on a mission to amplify Black voices in travel
“In this day and age, I can’t think of any scenario in which using 'locals' is the best option. Though it doesn’t have the same aggravating connotations as terms like ‘colonial charm’, it remains very much a vestige of colonial travel writing and othering to the people it is meant to represent
What’s in a name? Turns out, everything! Words have power and names and naming things appropriately holds the highest amount of that power. Using terms like 'locals' to describe the people and groups of people we encounter on our travels is lazy and an act of erasure of culture, diversity and individuality very much in line with colonial practices.
Name the people, name the tribe, name the places, take a moment to learn the names the indigenous populations call themselves and use those… The sweetest sound to another human being is the sound of their own name, and therefore one of the greatest acts of compassion and connection with another is to get their name right and not brush them into a nondescript term that strips them of their individuality.”
Cecelia Adjei Brand and cultural marketing specialist and former global brand partnerships manager at VisitBritain
"It is fine to use the word ‘locals’ when referring to people who live in and understand a certain locale or area.
The use of the term 'locals' also roots the conversation in the community, as opposed to taking an outsider's perspective. It is non-political and gender-neutral—and it also invites people to reflect on their own locality.
When travelling, in particular, it can help to differentiate between groups—if used respectfully—and you can understand immediately who lives in the place you are visiting.
What we should be mindful of, though, is context. When writing, it's a good idea to have the copy vetted by people of colour (specifically, those from the community in question) to avoid othering.
Want to ask a question? Send away with our new Google form (no email required) and we'll try and tackle it in an upcoming newsletter. You can also email us—we always welcome feedback, suggestions and comments.
Did You Know?
When Barbados became the world’s newest republic on Monday 29th November 2021 by removing the Queen as its head of state, it had been almost 30 years since the last time this happened (Mauritius, in 1992). No Caribbean islands have become republics since the 1970s—Trinidad and Tobago in 1976 and Dominica in 1978—and even today, the Queen remains head of state of 15 nations.
A month earlier, the Barbados parliament had elected judge, attorney and former ambassador Dame Sandra Prunella Mason as its first-ever president. She took office on 30 November 2021, now working with fellow Black Bajan and the island’s first woman prime minister Mia Amor Mottley, who was elected in 2018.
Barbados has been independent from the UK since November 1966 (still some 300 years after the first settlers arrived), but that momentous November day was the result of a 20-year plan to reach republic status.
One of England’s first slave colonies in 1627, Barbados was turned into a rich sugar plantation economy by settlers who used the free labour of enslaved people from Africa—a fact Mason did not shy away from in her speech. “As cautioned by our first prime minister... we ought no longer to be found loitering on colonial premises,” she said, quoting Errol Walton Barrow, Barbados’ first prime minister in 1966.
But the Caribbean island has decided it will remain a member of the Commonwealth. So how does that work? And what exactly is the Commonwealth? There are 54 countries in the Commonwealth of Nations (previously the British Commonwealth), which was set up in 1965 as a community of states, mostly but not all former colonies and dependencies in the British Empire, with the intention of promoting democracy, peace and development.
For some people, remaining part of something which arose as a result of British colonisation is problematic, and there are calls for nations like Barbados to cut the ties completely. The current FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) remains responsible for British Overseas Territories; at one time, it was called the War and Colonial Office, and the Colonial Office, so the whiff of Empire remains strong.
Critics cite places like the British Virgin Isles, a British overseas territory, as examples of tax havens where the governor is appointed by none other than Her Majesty’s Government. It’s also not an exaggeration to say that being a member doesn’t always bring privileges. It can be easier to enter Britain as a white Canadian than a Black person of Caribbean descent.
Journalist Afua Hirsch calls the Commonwealth, “a vessel of former colonies with the former imperial master at its helm… Empire 2.0.” When it comes to financial control, dubbing it Empire 2.0 isn’t far-fetched. As she writes, British companies “control more than $1trn worth of Africa’s key resources; gold, diamonds, gas and oil… As a result, Africa loses £30bn more each year than it receives in aid, loans and remittances.”
Closer to home, there’s Windrush. This ongoing scandal of Caribbean men and women who arrived in the UK as children ‘of the Empire’, working and living here, now being deported to their ‘homeland’—with compensation outstanding in many cases and some dying before their cases are resolved—is another example of where the Commonwealth has not showed its commitment to democracy, peace and development. While some see the Commonwealth as one way of uniting nations who share a history (albeit a troubled one), for others, it’s yet another remnant of imperial times and values.
As we mentioned at the jump, we’ve been shortlisted for an award–for our work on this very newsletter! All the brilliant people who are up for gongs at the 2022 Bessie Awards—the annual ceremony organised by the lovely folk over at travel platform, Wanderful, to honour women and gender-diverse people of impact in the travel space—have been voter-nominated and, much to our surprise, we’ve been shortlisted in the ‘Collaboration of the Year’ category. Named after Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African-American and Native-American descent to hold a pilot’s licence, the Bessie Awards are “dedicated to recognizing the achievements and efforts of influencers, creative entrepreneurs, marketers, and industry members who have contributed unique voices and impactful work to the travel industry” So, if you are one of the kind people that nominated us, thank you! And, if you enjoy UMB and are both eligible and inclined to vote for us, well... Colour us thrilled.
NewzHook is an Indian reader-supported platform that's on a mission to change global attitudes towards disability. They’re passionate about highlighting disability stories and research “that will let people see people with disabilities as equal, as able, as independent and with empathy.” We’ve enjoyed reading their ‘#Inclusive’ interviews—launched in the lead up to the United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on 3rd December—which delve into the lives and passions of disabled members, including Nishtha Dudeja. An Indian model and ‘Miss Deaf Asia 2018’, Dudeja has been raising awareness around hearing loss, available assistive technology and speech therapy.