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Monday, April 14, 2008

Strange Planet (part 2): fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride

Those readers assuming that the form of
Jayson Blair journalism practiced by Thomas Kohnstamm (and we can call it ‘journalism’ now that Lonely Planet is part of the BBC, can’t we?) is rife at LP would be wrong from what I know of my ex-colleagues. Those readers wondering if LP’s two hundred or so freelance writers have moral compasses always pointing to ‘ethical behavior’ might have reason to occasionally doubt a glowing hotel review or the vagueness of the write-up of a particularly far-flung dot on a map. They might also be wondering how the commissioning editors know that the writer who they’ve underpaid isn’t accepting the hospitality of a five-star establishment or sitting down to comp’ed meals, or is, in fact, even in the country. And they would be right to wonder.

Most of the time, the editor has never met the writer they’ve commissioned, let alone be able to look for track-marks on their arms and odd twitches while fending off inappropriate sexual advances or being asked for a loan, you know, just to tide them over until the advance payment for the commission goes in their account. But it would be absurd to imagine that late one night on you way home from dinner in a South American town that the guy going ‘psst, want some drugs’ is in fact researching an LP title and just wanting to make some extra cash.

However, I’m still baffled at LP’s editing process on this occasion. This armchair author’s chapter went through and they couldn’t even spot the fact that the writer never set foot in the country? And what about spotting the plagiarism? There’s clearly a need for some checks and balances rather than relying on simple blind faith (in the cult of Lonely Planet) in the people you’re underpaying. This has always troubled us about LP and Lara twice proposed an auditing process to LP; she was never even graced with a response to her suggestion.

But here’s the sting in the tail. Lonely Planet’s Piers Pickard told
The Sunday Telegraph that the company’s ‘urgent review’ of Mr Kohnstamm’s guidebooks had failed to find any inaccuracies in them. Perhaps Pickard informed The Sunday Telegraph by email and they failed to notice the tags or the ‘wink’ emoticon.

This has me thinking that if a drug-dealing and debauched individual who never even sullied the soil of Colombia can turn in perfect prose on the subject (‘urgent’ review notwithstanding), perhaps LP could just save money on these pesky, needy, unfaithful, freelancers who are always crying poor and simply phone update all the books themselves from Melbourne? That could really save on those fees and author workshops.

Thomas, in the meantime, must be considering other career options (I doubt that the Travel Channel are keen) and the BBC must be wondering what the hell it just bought into. And the follow-up feature stories are going to make for interesting reading as journalists (particularly in Australia where LP is an Aussie icon) are already asking current and ex-authors some fascinating questions. The fasten seatbelt light is on.

* Terry is my husband and co-author of and contributor to around 25 books for Lonely Planet.

1 comment:

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