Not the Top 50 Travel Writers

What happened when I published a subscriber-only Press Gazette list of The UK's Top 50 Travel Writers.

There was quite a bit of noise last week about a survey conducted by the Press Gazette to name the UK's Top 50 Travel Writers. The list was put together by surveying several hundred journalists and editors working in the field of travel who were asked to name their top ten travel writers. Points were allocated with ten points for first choices and one point for tenth ones. More than 80 journalists responded to the survey representing a good spread of broadcast, B2B, consumer and online.

Obviously I was really keen to see if I'd made the list but Press Gazette only published the Top 10 on their website. The rest of the list was locked behind their paywall and in the print edition.

I stuck out a tweet and within about 15 minutes two different people had emailed me the full list which had been emailed to them by the editor of Press Gazette with the request that they should not reproduce the list in full.

I was tempted to just publish it. But it felt a bit unethical to publish without permission. So I emailed Dominic the Press Gazette's editor, told him I had the list and suggested I publish it with several links back to the Press Gazette site.

The response was 'Sorry that information is for subscribers only.' I was disappointed. It felt very short-sighted and it got me thinking again about paywalls.

A few thoughts:

1) A bit naive to email someone a complete list and expect them to abide by the request not to publish. I wondered if in fact there was the tacit assumption that they probably would?

2) You could really drive some traffic your way and maybe even pick up a few new subscribers by judiciously leaking the odd juicy piece of info like this. If I was considering social media strategy for Press Gazette and other paywalled media outlets like the Times I'd do just that. Develop a network of influential bloggers and from time to time leak stories to them with the proviso that they have to link back to the publication.

3) You could gain some great links by publishing the whole list too. Top 10 is all well and good, but publish the whole list and you'll get lots of people bookmarking, sharing and tweeting links to that page.

4) The list was sponsored by Royal Caribbean International (RCI). I wonder what they feel they got out of it? Again, it feels like the print editon was all that they thought about. There's no link to the RCI website from the story on the Press Gazette. An opportunity missed. If Iwere them, I'd have insisted the list be published in its complete form online as part of the deal, that there be a link to the RCI site and even that I could publish the list there on the RCI site too.

5) Who cares about the list anyway? It's hardly super-important news. So why not publish it all? But then where do you draw the line? How do you decide what to stick behind the paywall and what to leave for anyone to read. This question fasinates me and there could be all sorts of interesting guidelines and principles a paywall publisher could create around this problem. You have to publish some stuff online otherwise you'll never get any new subscribers, but publish too much and no one will bother to subscribe at all.

So... is Press Gazette operating like most old-school media owners when it comes to web? Basically they don't really 'get' what web is all about, it's just a space to shove stuff online? OR are they and others like them (in particular the News International stable of titles) protecting their business's income by making people pay to read all their content, even the stuff that's not that important/significant?

I decided to publish the list but:

- T0 wait 10 days so that the print edition of Press Gazette would be out and thus subscribers would have the complete list anyway.

- I added links to the writers' websites or other spaces online if websites were not available. This took me a good hour or so. The list in Press Gazette literally has a name and then a job title. Not very useful at all.

- I (obviously) had comments open so people could discuss the merits of the list and whether it felt fully representative. Oddly the interesting stream of comments under the original piece on the Press Gazette's website discussing how the survey had been done and questioning why some writers were included and others were not has been deleted. Which again suggests to me that the approach there is rather old-media.

I still feel that in publishing the list, I was providing a nice bubble of publicity and attention for Press Gazette and their sponsor Royal Caribbean Cruises. Unfortunately they didn't see it that way and asked me to take the post down or they'd seek legal advice on the issue as they were sure I had broken copyright.

To be fair we had quite a useful exchange of emails, Dominic the editor saying that as the Press Gazette the last thing they'd want to do would be to sue a journalist and also saying that he was happy for me to post something about the experience and even to quote several bits from the list as long as I didn't publish it in full. Fair dues.

So I will be posting a separate post called the Top 50 Travel Writers in the UK - which won't be quite true, for now. It will detail some, but not all of the list. If people who are on the list want to fill in the blanks and let me know by commenting that would be an interesting exercise in collaboration.

What do you think? Should I have kept the list up? How do you decide what to keep behind a paywall and what to allow all to see - it's a very difficult question.

(* The first 8 comments here relate to the original post. I've retained them as there's some interesting stuff in there.)

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