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article imageBig World Magazine launch proves the world is not flat Special

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By Michael Krebs     Apr 22, 2009 in Travel
A new multimedia travel magazine launches in a tough economic climate and works to change the way that the category is covered.
The world is spherical and rich in dimension and intimate where the sun touches us and forgiving where the moon does the same. It spins in a wobble about a burning ball of fire - and in these many regards it is always in need of exploration. While we have known for some time that the world is not flat, we may have forgotten just how big it is.
A new multimedia magazine aims to remind us of the many delights found among the many destinations in our big, big world.
Big World Magazine launched on March 11, 2009 - against the kind of gloomy economic backdrop that have other publishers popping antacids. The premise of Big World resides in the promise of high-end reporting and features that are specific to the experience of place.
“We hope to deliver a magazine that looks into how places really work, and recreates experiential travel in all its diversity,” founding editor Mary D’Ambrosio said in a press release on the launch.
I caught up with Mary recently, interested in understanding more about how Big World expects to differentiate among a perceived crowded travel editorial space.
"Big World is eager to showcase great nonfiction stories about places via written narratives, slideshows and multimedia," she said. "In fact, very few travel publications, whether digital or paper, pay much attention to reporting and storytelling about places. Most most take a how-to, or service journalism, approach. Just randomly picking up the April 2009 issue of Conde Nast Traveler from my desk: the cover promos a feature on 'The World's Best Beaches: 13 Great-Value Escapes in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay.'"
It seems that many magazines have become tired editorially and have very much fallen back on list-making and sketch reporting. One high-profile mass-media example of this can be found in the collapse of U.S. News and World Report, an editorial product that once competed against Time and Newsweek but has since become known for its lists of top schools and hospitals and whatnot.
"Our approach would be, rather, to go and report on who lives in those beach towns, and how they live -- maybe even to do an investigative piece about the more unsavory aspects of living there, as our writer Sarah Conway did, in her report on child slavery on Ghana's Lake Volta: ," replied Ms. D'Ambrosio in an email interview.
But the economy is exacting an unrelenting brutality. Major publishers - particularly among newspapers - are peering into the abyss. D'Ambriosio acknowledges that growth will come more slowly in this climate. However, she sees optimism in her niche.
"We hope to be one voice against the dispiriting trend of hyperlocal journalism, which may well help publishers prosper but, in my view, deprives readers and degrades journalism," she said.
The recession - as deep as it is - appears to be driving more conservative behaviors among consumers. Given this, there are questions on the core necessity of travel. This could shape up to be deflating environment for an experiential travel magazine.
"Anecdotally, people seem to be taking less costly trips, and staying closer to home -- but they are still traveling," D'Ambrosio said. "Travel relieves stress, and helps expand one's outlook. That's indispensable in depressing times."
But what is the horizon for travel content properties, and how exactly does a multimedia publication like Big World intend to get there?
"I believe we are all migrating to the Web, and that paper travel magazines will eventually become a luxury many readers pine for, but will be forced to pay much more for. That is, the $12-per-year travel magazine subscription will disappear," said D'Ambrosio. "We would like to syndicate Big World stories, and pay our writers a portion of syndication fees; to attract our modest share of the admittedly far less remunerative web advertising dollar; and also to offer travel writing courses -- an idea drawn from another part of my career, as an adjunct professor, and the editor at large, for New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute."
As the American economy falters, so do the economies of many tourism-oriented destinations. Mexico in particular has seen significant instability, and the U.S. government has issued travel advisories for American leisure travelers who are considering a Mexican destination. Many Latin American destinations have also experienced a considerable amount of disconcerting editorial coverage from mainstream news organizations. D'Ambrosio does not anticipate that these destinations will receive any lesser coverage in Big World.
"As a former foreign correspondent, and a magazine editor who has covered many unstable places, I must say, these make for some of the most interesting stories," she said. "I don't think Big World will go out of its way to cover unstable places (sending out story after story from Iraq or Afghanistan, for example) or shy away from them either (skipping Mexico coverage, say, just because narco-violence is rising). We want to cover places where compelling things are happening that Americans should know about, or illuminate surprising points of view. For example, we soon plan to feature a Swedish-born photographer's essay on middle America. We'll also go into Bolivia's silver mines. Whether our readers visit those places or not, we think those stories will be illuminating."
And illumination is certainly something that has far-reaching benefits for travelers who wish to learn and to explore and to escape the heaviness of the global economic downturn. Ms. D'Ambrosio is optimistic on the long-term prospects for global travel. If nothing else, worldwide travel offers a natural extension on American higher education.
"What's positive for global travel is, rather, the massive expansion of American higher education, and the way travel has been much more deeply incorporated into education, over the past two generations," she said. "Some years ago I developed a travel writing class for the NYU journalism institute, thinking that the students (who came from around the country) would be eager to write travel stories about New York City. To my astonishment, they didn't find that prospect at all exotic. Grad or undergrad, they'd already been all over the world. They'd climbed the Himalayas. They'd visited rural China. One young man wrote about coming out as a gay teen -- while living with a family in the Brazilian Amazon. By comparison, I took my first plane trip at 20 -- for what then seemed an impossibly exotic semester abroad in Florence."
It is a big world.
"That's why I think the next generation has a great big view. If we want their business, we'd better pay attention," she added.
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