Norie Quintos is an Editor at Large for National Geographic Travel Media, contributing content and representing the iconic brand. She is also an independent consultant for the travel industry on editorial packaging, communications, media relations, custom content, and storytelling. This week Norie tells us how she broke into travel writing and how she ended up as part of the National Geographic team for all these years.
Let’s start with the present and clear something up for people. What does it mean to be an “editor at large”?
It may mean different things at different publications. I represent the Nat Geo Travel Media brand at events, forge and foster relationships, and pitch and write stories on topics that interest me.
Tell us about the first few articles you published and how you broke into travel writing.
This could be a plug for internships: I’d quit my first job out of college as an association newsletter editor and was freelancing mostly local stories. I dreamed of a job at a travel magazine, so I’d haunt the local newsstand (practically extinct today except in airports and bookstores) and peruse through the travel magazine section. I found a magazine about the Caribbean, and discovered that the editorial offices were nearby, in the suburbs of Washington, DC. I got myself an unpaid internship fact-checking, doing administrative work, and writing short items. My first story was about a steelpan festival in Trinidad. At the end of the summer, there was an opening for an editorial assistant. Guess who got the job!
You’ve landed multiple staff editorial jobs over the years. Was that your goal from the start to be on the masthead (and getting a steady paycheck) instead of being a freelancer?
I was always more comfortable as a full-time editor than a full-time writer, so the ambition was to be a travel magazine editor and the goal was to move up the masthead. I was a staff editor at Caribbean Travel & Life, then moved to U.S. News & World Report, before moving to National Geographic Traveler. Along the way I became a single parent; if I had any thoughts of being a full-time freelancer, they were instantly eradicated. I needed the paycheck and the benefits of working for a company.
How did you get so intertwined with National Geographic for all these years?
I started there as an associate editor and grew, and changed, as the publication and the publishing business evolved. It’s an incredible experience to be part of an iconic and venerable institution. And it was enormously fascinating to have a seat on the roller coaster caused by the digital disruption of media.
You and I were just together at the Adventure Travel Summit in Alaska. Do you like writing about adventure travel more than other types? What draws you to testing yourself in the outdoors?
If you include culture and place and sustainability in the definition of adventure travel, as so many do now, then yes, I do prefer this space. The places adventure travelers are visiting now are ahead of the curve. And this type of travel allows one to more fully engage in the place in a cultural and sustainable way. Nature and the outdoors are the primary players in adventure travel; sometimes that’s not the case in other kinds of travel. Testing yourself, going beyond the comfortable, that’s what leads to transformation.
Now you’re running a consulting business where you advise travel companies and destinations on how to tell their stories in an engaging way. What problems do you usually need to solve for them and what have you learned in this process?
Interestingly, the digital disruption has opened the door for companies, brands, and other non-legacy media to produce their own content. But often they don’t know how to do it, or how to do it well. I’m applying the expertise and discipline amassed from years of working for a travel magazine to the industry. The biggest challenge is to get clients to make a shift from thinking promotionally to thinking editorially.
You’ve got a $10,000 travel budget, no writing obligations, and plenty of time. Where are you going to go?
I’d take two trips. One, rent a house outside Seville and spend a month or two improving my Spanish. Two, do a silent retreat somewhere in northern California. Both external journeys with strong internal components.
Norie Quintos is the former executive editor of National Geographic Traveler and was an editor at U.S. News and World Report and Caribbean Travel and Life. She has lived abroad, speaks several languages, and is on the advisory board of several travel companies and organizations. She bikes, hikes, and tweets @noriecicerone.
Interview conducted in October 2016 by Tim Leffel, posted by Terri Marshall.