Should bloggers do press trips?

I've been chatting off-blog about whether bloggers should go on press trips. Alex Bainbridge sparked some great debate on his blog about the subject a few weeks back.

And I've been blogging recently quite a bit about how PRs should/could engage with blogs and bloggers.

So (as Alex was asking me on email earlier today) which of the following is OK?

  • Taking a product from someone and promoting it (Outcome - may upset your readers - although I think this concern is overrated)
  • Being "high and mighty" and not taking any products at all from anyone...... (We are not politicians in training you know!)
  • Taking a product  - and not writing about it
My opinion as an ex-travel writer is all of the above... but probably in moderation and with due consideration for your your audience and the particular niche you are writing about.

I recently blogged about Rough Guides. What prompted me to do so was that they sent me a bunch of new guides for free. Over many years they have supported me as a writer by sending me free guides to places I am researching for travel features. But I'm not just plugging them to send me more guides. I believe in their products. I've used them all over the place. I am happy to recommend them... and some people reading my blog may find the information genuniely useful.

However I would refuse products (and have done too) if I don't think they are appropriate. So for a while I wrote music/CD reviews for a magazine and was on the mailing lists of lots of PRs for free CDs to review. I stopped writing the column and, with some reluctance, decided to tell the PRs that I could no longer write about their products. One or two continued to send them to me for a while as a goodwill gesture - but they knew full well I was not writing about this subject anymore. I believe strongly that I should be as up front as possible with PRs and make clear exactly what I will and won't do if they send me something or offer me a press trip.

However, I have taken products and not written about them - and for me this is the most difficult one. There have been occasions as a travel writer where I've done press trips and had stuff provided and it's been below standard. In an ideal world I'd say 'that lunch was really poor' in the feature. But I had a word count of say 1500 words. When travel editors commission features they want an aspirational, exciting, interesting piece about the highlights of a trip. Unless the whole thing was a nightmare from start to finish there's usually plenty of really good stuff to write about. So you simply don't mention the restaurant where the food was pretty lousy. (Sometimes of course you are asked to write a review of a place and in that case if it's bad you say so.)

This ties in quite nicely with my recent blog about the joys of being able to write whatever I fancy on a blog. And it's kind of a warning I guess to PRs. If you would like my opinion on places and products, you are welcome to suggest I try them. If I agree to solely on the basis of writing about them on my blog:

  • I will make clear to readers that it's been provided by a PR so not something I've just happened to come across by chance.
  • I will be totally honest. So if I think it's lousy - I will say so

And finally.... please don't just send me stuff... ask first! If someone just mails me something fine... I won't pay to send it back... but don't expect me to mention it. I might, but I might well not.

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