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Beware Fake Travel News

Are the travel magazines that you read filled with fake articles?

There has been a lot of talk about fake news in our culture recently, especially in light of the recent presidential election. And while there’s no need to get political here, I have found the discussion about fake news intriguing because it dovetails with a problem that has existed for a long time in the travel trade press: fake journalism.

Most of the fake news being discussed in the culture now consists of articles that have been fabricated, falsified or grossly exaggerated, often to demonize a public figure or to support a political agenda. Because these stories are presented online and disseminated through social media, they can often look very similar to the content created by established, reputable publishers. As a result, casual readers may not always realize when an article they see online is a phony unless they stop to take a second, more critical look.

Although this is a relatively new phenomenon in online publishing, the problem of fake journalism in the trade press has been around for decades. Here’s how it works: Trade publishers make money almost exclusively through advertising sales, and many of the organizations that buy those ads are also eager to get editorial coverage in magazines. So, publishers incentivize the potential advertisers with a clever hook: If you buy an ad, you get a free article along with it. And to make it even more attractive, you can write the article yourself and say whatever you want.

In the advertising industry, this kind of deal is known as “added value.” But there are a few terms that describe it more accurately: “advertorial,” “pay-to-play” and, my favorite, “fake journalism.”

This fake journalism isn’t fake in the sense that it is false or incorrect like much of the fake news online is. It is fake because the articles are being generated by marketing directors, public relations firms and ad agencies, all of whom are more interested in promoting their agendas than producing good information for readers. But the publishers who run these magazines don’t want you to know this, so they make these sections look like real articles written by independent, professional journalists and editors.

Many publishers have made a lot of money passing off these pay-to-play articles as real journalism. And when they do, it’s the reader who suffers.

The bad news is that this practice is widespread in the group travel industry. If you receive other tourism industry magazines, you should read them critically to see if any of the articles are fake journalism written by the advertisers.

The good news is that you will never find fake journalism in The Group Travel Leader or our sister publications, Select Traveler, Going On Faith and Small Market Meetings.

From the outset, our company has been committed to integrity in travel journalism. We don’t sell articles in any of our magazines. Nothing you read here has been written by an outsider with an agenda. Instead, all our articles are researched and written by professional travel writers and editors, many of whom have traveled to the places about which they are writing.

Everywhere I go, I hear from people like you that our magazine is their favorite publication in the industry, and I like to think that our professionalism and commitment to integrity is a big part of that. That’s why I review every word of every magazine with you in mind.

Our sales staff does a great job of selling ads, but you can always rest assured that they haven’t sold the articles you’re reading. We’re here to be the voice you can trust — in print, online and in person.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.