An Interview with Laura Bly

Laura-Bly
Laura Bly is a reporter, editor, and photographer. A self-diagnosed “dromomaniac” (that’s someone who’s addicted to constant travel!), Laura has traveled to all seven continents, writing for the likes of USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Orange County Register. She also blogs at her personal blog, blyonthefly.com. In our interview, Laura discusses the fact that the new travel writer must not only be able to write but also be able to take good photographs and navigate social media outlets. Enjoy!

Laura, you’re a veteran travel writer and photographer. How did you get your feet wet in the industry?

I started out as a cub reporter for a chain of daily newspapers in suburban Chicago, back in those heady Woodward/Bernstein days of manual typewriters and the conviction that journalism was a higher calling. I gravitated quickly to features, and discovered during a mid-winter press trip to Cancun that travel writing was a darn good gig. Three decades, seven continents and 85-plus countries later, I still think so – even though the profession, like the mainstream media and travel industries that support it, has changed dramatically.

Do you believe that in today’s market, travel writers must also be good photographers, or should photography still be left to photography professionals? Why or why not?

For proof that writing and photography silos continue to be dismantled at a rapid clip, consider the  Chicago Sun-Times, which recently  eliminated its entire photo staff in favor of providing reporters with iPhones. As a backpack journalist, I’ve been taking my own photos and smartphone videos on the road for years – and am convinced that successful travel communicators will need to develop and hone multiple skills, including social media.

How is the iphone (and other smartphones) changing the travel photography industry? (I’m thinking specifically about your iphonography series on your website!)

I’ve always been an intuitive shooter rather than a technical one, and smartphones are democratizing  both  the art and the business of travel photography. They’ve replaced the tyranny of F-stops,  light meters and heavy lenses with the joyful reminder that the best camera is, indeed, the one you have with you.  Granted, you wouldn’t want to document an African safari with an iPhone. But the proliferation of  editing and sharing apps, combined with the fact that most images are now viewed on smartphones and tablets, has made a huge difference. As professional commercial photographer (and avid iPhoneographer) James Bareham wrote recently in The Verge, “at 1024 x 1024 pixels, who can really tell whether a photo was taken on an iPhone or a Canon 5D? More to the point, who cares?”

If someone asked you for advice on getting started as a photographer or writer, what would you tell this person?

Just as smartphones and YouTube have democratized photography and videography, the “TripAdvisor effect” has revolutionized travel writing, with more Joe and Jill Vacationers turning to each other for advice and inspiration. To stand out and thrive as an expert in today’s cacophonous market,  you’ll need the skills to communicate a passion for and knowledge of a specific region or subject. And respect for readers and viewers is key. Too many wannabe travel bloggers/writers are incestuous, emphasizing personal experiences at the expense of Laura-Bly-traveler-storyteller-photographer-logo-2translating them into actionable advice.

What are you hoping to do with your writing in the next few years and how do you see your income stream changing?

Right now, I’m in a transition phase. I took an early retirement buyout from USA TODAY this spring, and am fortunate that I no longer have to earn a living with my reporting, writing,  and photography skills. But as my Twitter bio notes, I’m a confirmed dromomaniac (someone addicted to constant travel) –  and I’ll continue to share my adventures through my own website and other channels.

For those of us who weren’t able to attend TBEX, could you tell us some of the highlights from your panel, Expedia Blogger Partnerships: Case Studies on Content Marketing and Innovation?

I moderated a discussion on the ways Expedia is working with travel bloggers,  including their latest effort,  Viewfinder, that will feature road trip  posts from 10 different blogs. If the scuttlebutt at TBEX is any indication, such sponsored posts are the wave of the future; the panelists addressed potential concerns about conflicts of interest by emphasizing that transparency (and confidence in a sponsor’s products or services) are key.
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Veteran travel reporter, editor and photographer Laura Bly has slurped scum-covered pond water during a week-long survival course in Utah and shared a bottle of rose with Peter Mayle in Provence; strolled along a five-foot-wide railing 116 stories above Toronto and communed with giant manta rays in the Tuamotus. A winner of multiple Lowell Thomas travel journalism awards and a fellow at Knight Digital Media Center’s Multimedia Reporting and Convergence Workshop at UC-Berkeley, she worked at USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and Paddock Publications. Her favorite place: a window seat,  headed somewhere she’s never been.
Interview conducted in July, 2013 by Kristin Mock.

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