While press trips are close to extinction for many journalists around the world, they are still offered in abundance in the Middle East. This beckons the question: is economy an acceptable form of press trip travel?
“YES” says Conor Purcell, Editor of We Are Here and Founder of Wndr Media
“In Dubai of course normal rules don’t apply, which is one of the myriad reasons why the standard of journalism here is so epically bad”
A friend once told me a story about her first day in Columbia Journalism School. Her lecturer (a legendary Time editor) placed a brown paper bag in front of the class. Never take the brown paper bag he said; the bag represents the gift, the freebie, the bribe. Why? Because if you take the bag, your judgment is compromised in the eyes of the reader – and, after all, the journalist’s customer is the reader – not the advertiser and certainly not the PR company.
In Dubai of course normal rules don’t apply, which is one of the myriad reasons why the standard of journalism here is so epically bad. The ubiquity of press trips is just another form of bribery: we will fly you to destination X and you will write a glowing report about destination X. Everyone wins. Well, not everyone obviously. The reader – the person who has to wade through the cliché-ridden brochure copy dross that is the end result of such press trips – they most definitely do not win.
One argument given about the validity of press trips is that as journalism is such a low paying job, these freebies are part of the deal. I would argue that not all journalists are paid badly, and those that make serious money out of the media are the people doing actual work, and not swanning about on press trips with a sense of entitlement, listening to PRs blather on about room occupancy and breakfast options.
The idea that business class tickets should be part of this sordid pact is mind-boggling. The logic of business class is that it lets passengers work on the plane. Have you ever seen a journalist on their way to a press trip working? Are they poring over research notes or coming up with alternative narratives for their articles? No, they are either:
- Enjoying complimentary beverages.
- Watching movies.
Of course, to prove that the economy/business paradigm has any real effect on the output of such trips, you would have to evaluate articles written by journalists who have travelled in both classes. I am certain there would be little difference in the end product.
So boo hoo, you got an all expenses-paid trip across the world to write an article a hyperactive toddler could type out and you are in a huff because you don’t have enough legroom? The real question here is not ‘is economy an acceptable form of press trip travel?’, it’s ‘are you an acceptable form of journalist?’
“NO” says Sophia Serin, Senior Editor, Emirates Woman Group
“Press trips may sound glam to those who aren’t in the industry, but let’s get things clear from the get-go: press trips are never a holiday”
It’s called business class for a reason people – if you want to get off a 12-hour flight and head straight into a business meeting, don’t fly economy. Flying coach is fine when heading home for the holidays, but when you’re on a business trip – that cabin is your office. I don’t even think there is a debate – you are on the clock, therefore you can’t afford the time to arrive three hours before a flight, to then be sat between a crying child and a snoring man. And you most definitely can’t afford to wait an hour for luggage to arrive when you have to go to a meeting or a fashion show. What you do need is an in-seat power supply, an extra large table for your laptop, a privacy divider and an endless supply of water that doesn’t come in a cough syrup cup.
Press trips may sound glam to those who aren’t in the industry, but let’s get things clear from the get-go: press trips are never a holiday. It’s work, just abroad. It’s as simple as that. My magazines and website largely deal with fashion and beauty, so most of the press trips we attend are not reviewing hotels in the Maldives, but weeks of fashion shows, brand launches and shoots. In addition to 10-hour days, brands expect you to facebook, pin, tweet and instagram every movement (during the day) and then spend the evening with their VIPs – directors, buyers and PRs. So, when 2am rolls around, you often find yourself in bed filing your story for the next day. May the force be with you if the time zone is not on your side and you have to file in-between meetings, shows or shoots!
If you are not exhausted by the end of your press trip, you haven’t done your job well. This is where the business class seat comes back into play. When my team touch down in Dubai after a trip, I expect them in the office the next morning, fresh and ready to work. Having lounge facilities where they can take a shower, catch up on news, have a healthy meal and check their emails, basically all the things you do at home the night before a new week, is vital. Throw in a flat bed, a dark, quiet cabin and a car waiting at the other end – and they arrive as good as new. Another reason to fly business? Because it’s completely fabulous and leads to upgrades to first. Hello tomorrow.