Archive for October, 2009

Klezmer Musicians in Krakow

October 29, 2009

Earlier in the year I travelled back to my ex-home of Krakow Poland to write a couple of features that I had been commissioned to do by Jetaway. One was on Communist Tour, another a vodka article (which eventually got dropped as Jet2 stopped flying to Krakow… luckily Ryanair have picked it up and it should be published soon!). I was also lucky enough to get a third assignment with Wizzair, interviewing me old mucker Monsieur Trebacz about his free-wheeling life as a bike tour guide and part-time DJ.

Anyhow, in an attempt to make the trip yet more profitable I decided to take a chance and research an article that no one had commissioned but I hoped to sell to the broadsheets thus paving the way into the lucrative business of travel writing for newspapers… naturally this plan didn’t work, and I must say still a bit flummoxed on how to break into this market. By chance I have the email of the NY Times Travel Editor’s email and he told me that due to the economic crisis they weren’t commissioning any more articles, instead publishing the large backlog of stories they have gathering cyber dust in their inbox. This could of course have been a polite way of saying we’re not interested but it certainly tallies with the reports of newspapers under strain and slashing budgets (one my reason why I launched Urban Travel Blog).

Anyhow the upshot of all this is that I had a very well-researched 1500 word article on the modernisation of traditional Jewish klezmer folk music in Krakow which I had spent the best part of a week polishing kicking around on my desktop for six months. Shame really as it was a good ‘un… but what with my funky new concept of an online travel magazine now up-and-running I have handily provided myself with the perfect publishing platform. Ok, sadly no one is paying me just yet but with the digital revolution well underway who knows, self-publishing my articles may prove even more profitable than writing for other editors.

Hope you enjoy my encounters with ‘The New Klezmers of Krakow‘.

Urban Travel Blog

October 24, 2009

The last couple of weeks have been exciting times for me, as ideas for an online travel magazine, which have been floating in my head for the last eight or nine months, settled into a concrete plan – which I quickly turned into an up and running website! I’m delighted to unveil the Urban Travel Blog!

For some time I had been discussing the creation of an online travel magazine with my web developer friend, but I guess it was always wishful thinking to suppose he would find the time in his already packed schedule to knock up a site for me. But then I realised I didn’t need him! With publishing technology like WordPress, a few plug-ins and a willingness to step out of the knowledge comfort zone even a techno-retard like myself can launch a respectable looking and functioning site. Great!

As for why I wanted to launch my own travel magazine, it’s a point that I think is worth discussing. You don’t have to be trends forecaster to see that traditional media is increasingly being replaced by the Internet, and whereas I think there will always be room for physical guidebooks, magazines and newspapers undoubtedly that market will shrink rather than grow. Ultimately people don’t want to pay for information that they can access for free online, and with the trend for laptops small enough to actually carry around with you (such as my lovely Samsung NC10 notebook) combined with a growing number of places offering WiFi access, plus of course smartphones, an increasing number of travellers can access the Internet at any time – not just from their home or office.

So with the Internet still growing in power as a media tool, an online magazine is clearly the way forward over a traditional printed one. But there are already tonnes of travel magazines online I hear you cry – what’s different about your one? Well firstly, I don’t agree that there aren’t hundreds of travel magazines online. There are hundreds of printed magazines who at some point clumsily post their content in a user-unfriendly way onto a website that is merely a support mechanism for their paper product. Then there are hundreds and thousands of online travel guides, but these tend to concentrate on practical travel information, reviews, tourist attractions, and – as someone who has browsed a lot of such sites knows – are basically hotel booking sites dressed up with content. Finally there are some catch all contributor content tipping bins, such as Suite101, where all and sundry are encouraged to write about their every turgid moment over such a scope of topics that it hardly makes compelling reading. The model is basically designed to make money via Google adsense and fair play to them, but it’s not a route I’m interested in following, even if I hadn’t left it too late!

So what I’m trying to say, is there is still tonnes of room for an online travel magazine which is a) designed as a web medium b) publishes articles, not reviews, in the manner of a traditional magazine c) has a defined focus (urban travel/cities) and quality control. Phew, I think that’s it!

Hopefully this is something for city lovers to get excited about and enjoy, and if you’re one such person you can follow all the latest developments by signing up for the blog’s RSS feed (see homepage), or catching us on Twitter.

Cheese All That

October 13, 2009

My latest published article is a ‘People’ piece for Wizzair Magazine, in which I interviewed Spanish cheese expert Katherine McLaughlin, a 20-year Barcelona resident. I had chanced to go by her shop, Formatgeria La Seu, one day and we got talking and so I decided to pitch a piece about her interesting life/profession to the Editor. Naturally it didn’t turn out as smoothly as I had planned! My first error was not replacing the batteries in my digital recorder at the first sign they were low… you guessed it, we were a good 40 minutes into our conversation before I realised that for at least 25 of those we hadn’t been recording! It’s never the same when you try and go back over material and we pressed on, although barely had her phone stopped ringing than the customers started arriving and the interview was becoming increasingly disjointed. A further problem materialised when it came to picture time. Wizz had asked me for photos as part of my commission and, whereas I had managed to supply some natty shots with my compact Canon for a previous piece (interviewing a bike tour guide in Krakow), that had been outside and with an interviewee who I knew and was easier to direct. A reluctant model, no tripod and a mere 4.0 megapixels to work with the results were pedestrian. But with a bit of Photoshopping they just about turned out all right.

As for the text… well I typed up the transcript, but when I started working on the article I really felt it was lacking some fizz. In the end, rather than try and string out what I had, I called Katherine and she kindly agreed to do a second interview! This time around I got a great anecdote about her being chased by a bull in Galicia, as well as some better all round info. It was a bit of rescue job and I’ve definitely read better People pieces in Wizz, but a couple of lessons learnt at least. I think there’s always a bit of luck involved when your piece is heavily reliant on an interview with just one person, and – even though Katherine and I struck up a great rapport – you’re not always guaranteed that the information they impart is delivered in pithy quote-size chunks! In other words an interesting or pleasant conversation doesn’t directly correspond to great material for copy.

Anyhow you can judge for yourselves by reading the article here.

If you are in Barcelona and interested in Spanish cheeses then I can thoroughly recommend dropping in on Ms McLaughlin as she is a great no-nonsense Scotswoman who really knows her stuff on her specialist subject (farm house cheese). Her fare could make a good, if somewhat smelly, souvenir for the folks back home too!

Recycled Sounds for Easyjet Magazine

October 2, 2009

Ah, you wait months for an article to be published and then two crop up at once! Credit due to the Easyjet web content manager who could certainly teach their counterpart at Ryanair a thing or two about timely posting…

Recycled Sounds: Barcelona’s maestros of rubbish rhythms

As I mentioned in my previous blog post the idea for this article came from the same Time Out stub (thanks guys!) about recycling projects in Barcelona as the idea for Trashion Victims, and was particularly great from my perspective as it enabled me to get my first feature article with Easyjet Magazine… not a bad publication to be in with! The pitch for the article was little more than an interview with the band, Cabo San Roque (who are based in Barcelona); and whereas the editor was keen on the eco angle (the whole point being the band play with recycled instruments) it turns out that the recycling is done more from a practical than world-saving perspective. I don’t feel it detracts from the interest of the piece.

I must say the research could have gone a little more smoothly. The band’s manager, for some reason, invited me to a performance that was taking place at some kind of Catalan business event in a huge conference room full of suited and booted executive types (I was in my scruffy jeans and T-shirt). I had to sit through 2 hours of presentation in Catalan, alleviated with the odd video presentation and Coldplay soundtrack, before the performance – which lasted just 15-20 minutes – got underway. Luckily the band’s leader, Roger Aixut, was an extremely nice and interesting guy (he apologised for the strange set up) and we talked for a good 30 or 40 mins afterwards, whilst my digital recorder faithfully took notes. By the end it was a case of having too much, rather than too little material, but that’s always a nice problem to have (kind of like Fabio Capello deciding who to play on the right wing). The editor barely touched the piece at all (although reading the exorbitantly long second sentence, perhaps it would have been better if he had!), and generally I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.

Ok enough foreplay. I hope you enjoy the piece. I managed to squeeze in a couple of funnies – I was somewhat surprised the baguette didn’t get edited out. Read on!