I had an interesting conversation on email with Jo Tweedy who is the editor of Travelmail, the Daily Mail's travel website. Along with lots travel features and travel news on the site, they also run a blog. The contributors in the main are Travelmail's regular writers and editors.

She recently put up a post about a daytrip she did to Gibraltar whilst she was in Andalusia. It was a bit negative, contrasting the slightly down-at-heel feel of Gib's old town with traditional Andalusian tourist spots like the delightful scenery of the Pueblos Blancos and the atmosphere of Marbella's old town.

I agree, having visited it myself for a couple of days last month. I went whilst researching a guidebook to Andalusia for Frommer's so I saw all the places she compares it with too.

But that's not what I want to discuss. What was interesting was the avalanche of critical comments that the post attracted. 83 comments so far in total.

A few quick examples:

  • This travel writer isn't very good.... As a travel writer you usually explore and sounds to me that she did very little and didn't travel around Gibraltar at all. (posted by neil)
  • Jo Tweedy appears to have done no research on Gibraltar (did she actually go there) (posted by Roy)
  • Very irresponsible way of writing - you should be sacked. (posted by Tommo)

Bit of a firestorm!

I must point out that there are plenty of comments agreeing completely too. It wasn't all one-sided. But it got me thinking about the difference between a blog post and a feature and the way people read them and react to them.

Blog posts are supposed to be opinionated. The accusation that as a ‘proper’ travel writer the author has done a bad job by just writing down their first impressions is just wrong. The fact that on first view Gibraltar seemed a bit shabby and expensive does matter. It’s actually very important. Sure, there may be great stuff going on elsewhere (like the impressive marina development) but Jo’s experience was no different to any other visitor's. Or to put it in the words of one commenter: Seems like Jo is just another day-tripper who spent their day treading the tarmac on a packed Main Street and eating tasteless grub in some tourist trap pub. (posted by Impartial)

Yes, she is. That’s absolutely the point.


Blog posts are more real. Travel writers often get the red carpet treatment. They get shown around by PR people and tourist board reps and everyone knows they will be coming so everything is nicely polished. And that's usually what you get in features as a result. Blog posts let you see behind the scenes. You get the bits around the edges like queuing to get across the border and getting stung for expensive fish and chips that you wouldn’t see in a ‘normal’ travel feature. That's good.

A good blog post gets debate going and sometimes it’s heated. That’s fine. Jo was I think a bit shocked by the depth of feeling and some of the comments (they were quite personal) and I got the feeling she wondered if she should have published the post. I’d say yes, absolutely. The comment and debate it threw up was both interesting and actually ought to be very thought-provoking reading for the Gibraltar Tourist Board.

In short blog posts and features are very different things. BUT readers don't appreciate the distinction. And this is important.


What would I do differently?


Make the blog space more distinctive from the main website. Help readers understand that this space is about opinion and debate, not researched journalism. Explain that too. Clearly.


Publish rules of engagement. Make it clear that overtly aggressive comments, particularly if they are personal in nature (eg you should be sacked) will be deleted.


Moderate the discussion. If you start a conversation you have to keep participating. I haven’t read all 83 comments, but I couldn’t see any comments from Jo in response. In fact a very quick glance at other posts on the blog suggests that the writers don’t respond to comments at all. Now, I know everyone is mega busy and that it’s difficult to know at what point to engage. But for it to be ‘real’ (and essentially to make it a 'proper' blog-space rather than just a bunch of opinion-pieces not dissimilar to a column on a magazine) there needs to be 2-way conversation taking place. Yep. That could be a pretty full-time job. Ultimately, they could do with someone as a fairly full-time moderator.

What do you think?

28 thoughts on “The difference between a blog post and a feature

  1. Jeremy,

    I agree with your points. I feel the problem lies with what people expect of journalists. Readers are used to a travel feature having an eclectic 'feel', generated by the unique ability we are meant to have to take in our surroundings.

    With a blog there is a danger , for journalists at least, they will bite the hand that had so graciously fed them.

    So then it's the link between feature and blog when they are both inside the domain of the publication that drives this issue.

    Perhaps revealing your real opinion should be kept for a separate personal blog? I for one would prefer everything I read from high-profile publications to be painted more with personal experiences, than tainted with the stains from the free lunches...

    As you noted, the feedback is good for the tourist board. That said, if Jo didn't put her comments in the context of a wider experience, then she may have a case to answer.

    Ultimately, a blog is a personal space. Without the individual it's just a marketing ploy to 'engage' with readers who now have a voice.

    And if that's the case then you need to make extra effort to actually give a shit about a topic, or don't bother at all.

    I've not read her piece yet, but will do. I've enjoyed her work on Travelmail - an oasis along the Daily Mail's desert trek to madness.

    Cheers, Mp

  2. I'm going to disagree with you here slightly. It's not whether it's a blog post or feature that matters, but whether it's put online and opened to comments. You can read just about any online article on any vaguely controversial subject and find out of proportion comments. And, in many cases, personal abuse towards the writer.

    I do a lot of online work, and have just learned not to bother looking at the comments. Mention anything to do with Macedonia or Northern Cyprus and the page will be beseiged by tetchy Greeks. Express a slightly negative opinion - or even express that some people may have a slightly negative opinion - about a place, and you'll get people from that place accusing you of not knowing what you're talking about.

    A classic example is a feature (certainly not a blog post) I did on safety in South Africa - http://travel.ninemsn.com.au/world/1039958/south-african-safety-guide. I got called pretty much everything under the sun (discussed later in a blog post on my own site - http://www.grumpytraveller.com/2010/07/01/the-curse-of-feedback/).

    You bring up an interesting tangent, however. What is the difference between a feature and a blog post? I'd say it's along these lines (although there is a hazy gap in the middle)...

    FEATURE: More likely to be commissioned, structured, about the place, have factboxes and word count. More likely that every word will have to pull its weight Less likely to be written in the first person and start in the middle of the action, more likely to be written in the active.

    BLOG POST: More likely to be personal, first person, past tense and about the writer's experience than the destination. More freedom with word count and licence to be expansive. More likely to start with explanatory preamble, be designed to create debate and overtly show writer's opinion.

    1. Features in the travel sections of US newspapers are never commissioned, always on spec. Magazine features are commissioned. Also, first-person narrative is very popular in travel features these days. I agree that blog pots often tend to have explanatory preamble, though of course they don't have to.

      1. Caitlin, I've been commissioned by US newspapers before, USA Today for one, plus stories that were syndicated to a score of papers, incl. Houston Chronicle, Washington Post etc. Not for a few years, and they'd contacted me, haven't pitched anything in quite a while so don't know if it's changed since the crisis perhaps.

  3. A-hem. Apologies in advance.

    A blog post is a post on a blog. That's ALL.

    A blog post can be feature length, with deep research and reporting to represent all nine sides of a story, or it can be short and ranty and personal. A blog post can be a personal essay. It can be a slide show. A blog post can be whatever the person posting to the blog wants it to be.

    Recently, Gadling ran a multi-part series of blog posts by Jon Bowermaster on the oil spill in the gulf. That was feature length stuff, and good reporting. And also, those posts ran on Gadling, a blog about travel. But if I click through right now, there's a very short post about a flight diverted in Poland and deals on gear. Those are also blog posts.

    Some folks like to make up rules for what a blog post can or should be as though they were the editors for the Internet -- including me, I'm always wanting to attack the tubes with my virtual red pen.

    But a blog is just a format for delivering material. Typically it's linear, categorized, and time sensitive. But some blogs also use magazine format to pretend they're not just personal blogs, so they're not even restricted by the classic newest post first format.

    In my mental Venn diagram, if it's on a blog, it's a blog post, if it's not on a blog, it's something else.

    1. Pam is, of course, technically correct... though I still notice that blog posts and/or features often have certain tendencies common to the format. They're not rules but that doesn't mean they don't exist either.

    2. I see your point Pam. I'm certainly not prescribing what people should or should not write on a blog. But I do think it's useful to try and make distinctions.
      Coming at it with my marketing agency hat on (I work for one part time) we get lots of travel clients wanting to 'start a blog' because 'that's what everyone else is doing'. This gets us into interesting debates about 'what is a blog and what is it for compared to your existing website'. That's firstly where I come from when I make the distinction.
      And secondly... long term travel writers are inevitably grappling with the distinction too - people like David (who comments below and above). When you are pitching ideas at editors, trying to get work you are very focussed on what exactly they want from you. And I think that often they want different things for a blog post compared with an online feature.

      1. It's supremely useful to think about what you want your blog to do, especially if it's for commercial purposes. You are spot on with that. It's also really useful to think about who controls what's on that blog, the writer or some other party. And yep, some sites hire bloggers to crank out "content." I'm just starting to edit a commercial blog, and I'm looking to publish short features on that blog, I'm not so interested in starting debate, the goal is to inspire readers to travel. But it's a blog, and to muddy the waters, the same stories are delivered by newsletter to subscribers. What's suitable for a blog post is driven by the editor/owner/author/powers that be and not by default limited to being a specific type of writing.

        YMMV, etc., of course. And thanks for the food for thought -- it's good for me to think about these things as I take on an editorial role for a client.

    3. Great post, Jeremy. David makes some good points too, but I'm going to agree 100% with Pam here.

      On my 'personal' (and sadly neglected) blog Cool Travel Guide, I wrote first person, highly opinionated, and occasionally rambling posts, whereas on Grantourismo (http://grantourismotravels.com/), by all measures still a blog, we're mixing it up more but mainly writing in a journalistic style - structured stories, based on research, presenting multiple viewpoints, and fact-checked.

      I think anything goes now in the blogosphere, and I'm loving that about it - I love that I can read long narratives I might once have only found in a compendium of short travel stories and I love that I can read more journalistic style feature stories that are better written than those in many newspapers.

      Jeremy - something that you didn't mention is the ability of particular destinations to divide people and it doesn't matter whether it's a blog post or feature on that place. Gibraltar is one, Cyprus another (no pun intended), and Dubai is most certainly another. It doesn't matter what you write, there will always be strong opposing reactions.

  4. I think you hit the nail on the head both of you. Most people are so used to reading fairly anodyne stuff in supplements and in-flight mags that a bit of personal opinion comes as a shock to the system. Or maybe even some local tourism businesses there are quick to react and shout down any negative press, a cynical thought perhaps but you do hear stories about 'fixed' reviews on Trip Advisor and the like.

  5. Oh dear. I'm monopolising here, but here goes anyway. The problem with online comments sections is that the only people who will tend to bother commenting are those with extremely strong opinions on the topic.

    Most will have read Jo's Gibraltar piece and by and large agreed or disagreed somewhere along a sliding scale. The vast majority of this vast majority won't have been moved to comment.

    Those with a strong opinion (and I'm suggesting a few Gibraltarians with weighty chips on their shoulders) will have weighed in instantly, sent the article on to those who will agree with their astringently defensive viewpoint and then they too will comment in much the same manner. It's very hard to get balanced discussion because those who would provide the balance aren't interested in discussing. It's the same phenomena you get with radio phone-ins.

    I don't know Jo and certainly don't want to try and tell her how to do her job, but I'd suggest that certain pieces shouldn't be left open to comments. I know that somewhat goes across the open-to-all ethos of the internet, but sometimes its OK to just publish without feedback. If the piece is designed to be read and enjoyed, rather than debated, then why detract from it by letting the commenters lead it off on a lengthy, angry tangent?

  6. Nothing useful to contribute... yet. I'm still chewing some of these ideas over. Very thought-provoking.

    But I just wanted to nip in and give a big 'hat-tip' to Mark for this beautiful line: "an oasis along the Daily Mail's desert trek to madness."


  7. Me again... Another example for you. I did a piece on 20 cool European cities you can't fly to from the UK for MSN (http://travel.uk.msn.com/inspiration/city/photos.aspx?cp-documentid=153969680). The editor reslanted the intro and headline so that it was about getting away from the Ryanair crowd.

    The comments? A beautiful selection of personal abuse towards the writer for being snobbish about people who take Ryanair flights, outright spam, and Greeks banging on about what constitutes Macedonia. Do these comments add anything of value to the casual reader? I think not. Sometime interaction just doesn't need to be the name of the game.

  8. "Travel writers often get the red carpet treatment. They get shown around by PR people and tourist board reps and everyone knows they will be coming so everything is nicely polished. And that's usually what you get in features as a result. "

    That's only the case if the feature writer takes sponsored press trips. A lot of reputable publications, especially in the US, don't allow this in order to avoid that very pitfall. Conversely, bloggers are now being offered press trips, especially in the US. So it's not a true difference between blog posts and features, but rather about the funding of the trip.

    1. Just to clarify, before I end up accidentally offending anyone... I'm certainly not saying that writers (whether they be bloggers or feature writers) are shills just because they accept sponsored trips. Nor am I saying that all writers who don't accept sponsored trips are able to deliver fascinating insightful and prose. That depends entirely on the individual. All I'm saying is that the question of whether the trip was sponsored or not, really has nothing to do with whether it's a feature or a blog post.

    2. Agree with you 100% here, Caitlin. Terry and I wrote well over 40 guidebooks and for the vast majority of those nobody even knew we were 'there' researching. It was only when Terry was also shooting photos for books and we had to get in touch with hotels, museums etc in advance to organize permissions and shoots that we had the red carpet treatment.

  9. Those comments on your msn piece are something else David! But be fair, I for one will now make a beeline to visit 'Whitworth, home to the world famous Whitworth screw thread'!

  10. Very good post, Jeremy. You're right the editors need to make it clear that this is a blog piece rather than a considered travel article - and that comments must be moderated, fiercely.

    This is a shame, because some comments on pieces like Jo's are thoughtful and interesting, and make good points. But so often they are not. In cases like this one, it's borderline harassment of the journalist by anonymous posters. I also think it seriously undermines the quality of the publication as a whole to have all these randoms spout off ad hominem attacks beneath published articles, without censure. It doesn't help that commenters are anonymous - though I'm aware that getting around this is very difficult. (And, admittedly, I'm posting this comment anonymously. But hopefully with no ad hominem attacks!)

    I also agree that a way to address this would be to have a full-time moderator. But, so far, most publications seem reluctant to pay for one.

    Some editors encourage journalists to get involved in the fight themselves. But, honestly, when a blog piece for a major newspaper often only pays £60 or £100 for a freelancer, and staffers are being hit up for more and more copy on a daily basis, how can either freelancers or staffers be expected to give up two days of their time afterwards to monitor comments and reply to all 83 of them?

    If proper debate or moderation is required, that's going to be expensive, one way or another. Once again, this seems to raise the question of whether readers are actually prepared to pay for the blogs they read and comment on - or whether those blogs can be made to finance themselves in some other way. If not, there's no way this situation can improve, short of banning comments altogether. Which is an option, as David Whitley says above.

    1. Not banning comments per se, just being more judicious about which pieces to leave them open on. If the piece isn't designed to start a debate, why host one?

      1. Now you see... I'd say that if a piece isn't designed to start a debate it's not a 'proper' blog post.
        - Blog = debate and opinion
        - Feature = research and context
        YES of course you can put whatever you want on a blog... that's just my definition OK! ;-)

        1. Are you saying that blog posts can't be researched and have context? I contextualize and do research no matter what I'm writing, whether it's a commissioned feature for a magazine or a story for my personal blogs. I think you're conflating form and format here. Two very different things.

  11. Hello again,

    There are clearly different types of blog, and we follow some because they are irreverent and others for their relevance.

    I agree with Pam's sentiment:"A blog post is a post on a blog. That's ALL." Because, let's face it, we could be the only people thinking about this!

    We are all acutely aware that blogs exist as personal and commercial spaces. Travelblather, and I hope Jeremy has no problem with me saying this, is a mix of the two.

    It's a great way for travel writers to explore these pieces, and the example he gives is spot on; it's a great blog post - for us!

    We are all aware of this commercial/personal splice; the content is informative and genuine, and is written with authority and sincerity.

    The only blogs we can say this about, and be 100% certain there are no agendas, commercial or otherwise, are personal spaces. And that's the point.

    Whether this applies to blogs that have been monetized and are linked to national media is another issue.

    I blog commercially and keep one rule: Don't ever write to get traffic, write because you have something to say - the client can use this how they choose, but it will always be genuine.

    Here's where I drop a link to my work. Only joking!

    (Great post, I got it into LinkedIn and to a group
    of travel writers, could be another useful space for us.)

    Best wishes,


    Thanks Alistair

    1. Hello
      Actually that's not correct. Travelblather is not commerical. No ads, nothing. I gave up on the idea ages ago. I do have a sponsors/guests category which may in future be about getting the occasional complimentary trip or whatever to write about it... but even that is a maybe. Nothing so far has been written from a commerical perspective.
      Just to clarify!

  12. I don't think there's a mutual exclusive dynamic between getting so-called red carpet treatment from a tourism board or whomever and being passionate about researching what you find that is real on the ground. That's my obligation to do that - as much for my own journalistic integrity as it is for their long-term benefit. By the same token, some people can possibly be just travel-blogging on completely unsponsored trips and still not tell you much that's meaningful about the reality of environment they encounter, instead it's all about them - exactly because they're under no imperative at all to be observant at any level. As far as blog style, is there one correct format or shoe size that fits all? I doubt it. Sometimes I tend toward being detached and sometime I prefer to use a more engaged style - it really all depends on the topic. I think by varying your approach stylistically is in fact how a reader comes to know you and what you're about.

  13. Thanks for clearing the commercial angle up. It's great that there's no ads - I really can't stand the intrusive horrors we face on some sites.

    As its towards the end of the discussion, and as I live in Brighton and as the weather is still great, I'd like to invite you and anyone else who commented to carry on the debate over a pint / coffee this weekend.

    private email: markp6@mac.com

    Cheers everyone!

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