Journalism Travel

Worth Reading: An In-Depth NYT Travel Story on Cuenca, Ecuador and the Country’s Southern Coast

Long-time readers will recall that about a decade ago I spent a year living and working in the fascinating, staggeringly picturesque city Cuenca, Ecuador, which is situated some 8,000 feet high in the Andean foothills.

I loved my time there, met some great people who remain my close friends, and think of the country often.

Indeed, I still keep an eye on international news about Ecuador, and came across this recent New York Times travel story by Michelle Higgins, headlined “Three Sides of Ecuador“:

On our nine-day trip in July we focused on three of these offerings — beaches, mountains and colonial charm. The plan was to head north along the Pacific coast, then head east into the Andean highlands for high-altitude trails before spending time with family in the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca, where my mother was born. (We ended up doing it all, but not in that order, given our detour.)

Many travel pieces about the country focus, understandably, on other places: destinations in the north (the capital, Quito), the east (the Amazon jungle), and/or the far west (the Galapagos).

But this story, I was delighted to find, is not just about Cuenca, but about other areas I know well, like Cajas National Park and towns along the country’s southern coast coast, such as Puerto Lopez.

The food, the people, the insane driving conditions, and even the whale watching: there’s lots of good stuff here. And there’s a slideshow of photos by Meridith Kohut.


More on Matt Gross, the NYT, and multimedia travel journalism

In Jan., 2009, I wrote a post praising the work of the New York Times‘s Matt Gross, aka the Frugal Traveler.

For the last several years, Matt has been combining text, blog posts, and videos to create a unique brand of personality-driven travel journalism for the Times.

Matt has supplied readers — and viewers — with not just conventional, written travel stories. He has also provided advice on the best travel gadgets under $50, he has offered Q&As with fellow travelers, and he has even given us tips on traveling with a baby. Matt covers it all, from big picture stories about travel trends to narrowly-focused pieces on specific destinations and emerging technologies.

In terms of outreach, it’s interesting to note that Matt’s home on the Times site contains amble social media integration. There’s a Frugal Traveler Facebook page, and Matt is active on Twitter, interacting frequently with his more than 14,000 followers.

Matt’s latest story is a typical example of his multimedia storytelling. It appeared last Sunday, and it’s about a ramen noodle expedition he undertook in Tokyo. We get a lengthy (nearly 3000-word long) text story, “One Noodle at a Time in Tokyo,” as well as photographer Basil Childers‘s gallery of memorable images.

Matt also gives us a blog post with the back story about why the assignment was his dream trip, and readers can even find an annotated Google Map of the establishments he visited during the journey.

Moreover, the video that Matt (and, presumably, the NYT multimedia folks) has produced is useful, as well. And at four minutes long, it’s at least as long as a standard TV news/feature package. (You can find the video on the lower left side of the main story page.)

Another interesting tidbit: In the ramen story, Matt mentions that one of his guides was Brian MacDuckston, an American who lives in Tokyo and blogs at The NYT story links to Brian’s blog, naturally, and I noticed an interesting meta-twist: Brian has a blog post with images of one of the eating expeditions he took with Matt. ((One of Brian’s photos, in fact, is this one, which shows what I assume is photog Childers snapping a series of images of two women, one of whom has blonde hair, slurping noodles. One of the pics Basil snapped must be this shot, from the gallery. So here we have the digital contribution from the blogger/noodle enthusiast who guided Matt’s research — and some pics of the shooter in action.))

Is there a larger point here? I’m not sure.

But perhaps, in recounting all of this, the message is that in order to engage with audiences who are increasingly consuming their material online, travel journalists shouldn’t — can’t — think of themselves as simply writers anymore.

It helps if they’re insightful bloggers and understand the digital world. It also helps if they snap their own photos to accompany their stories — as Matt often does. And travel journalists have to be adept at producing videos and curating links to corresponding multimedia materials — blogs, bloggers, Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter — so that their audience can get the most out of their work.

It seems to be working for Matt and the Times.


Matt Gross and multimedia travel journalism

What’s the best way to tell a travel story?

Newspaper and magazine travel journalism, as we know, typically aims to pair descriptive, compelling text with illustrative photography. But what if you add complimentary video and a blog to the mix?

The New York Times‘s Matt Gross — the Times‘s Frugal Traveler — has been producing some really, really good travel journalism over the last few years. ((Disclaimer: I’m lucky enough to call Matt a pal, but I was a fan of his work before our paths ever crossed. In fact, before I ever moved to Bangkok, I ate up his NYT travel stories from Southeast Asia, particularly “To Be Young and Hip in Bangkok.”)) And he’s been doing so using not just well-crafted words accompanied by well-shot images. He’s also been using a blog and sms alerts to connect with his readers. And some of his stories are plotted on Google Maps. There’s even a Frugal Traveler Facebook group (latest count: 1,345 fans).

Matt has traveled around the world in 90 days; he took a road trip across the US; and he re-created the European grand tour. All of his stories are formatted as blog posts, and many of them receive over a hundred comments. In some of the comments, readers give him travel tips on where to go and what to do when he gets to future destinations.

In short, though I’m not a fan of the phrase “Web 2.0,” Matt is a travel writer for the Web 2.0 age.

His stories are not only rich in practical details that are helpful in planning a trip, but his dispatches are often emotionally revealing. For example, during his grand tour last summer, he filed a story called “Tracing Family Roots in Vilnius.” The article describes how he tracked down his Lithuanian ancestors. And the accompanying video (embedded below) is also interesting — but it’s more lighthearted:

The written article, blog post, and images were one story. The video was another.

I also like “Spying on Bucharest’s Cool Underground,” which ran with this video (embedded below):

In the end, I think that traditional newspaper and magazine travel journalism will continue to thrive, as will travel TV shows. These meet a need. But it’s interesting to see how Matt’s work has blended traditional and multimedia elements to create something different entirely.

For more reading, I suggest: