Like most travelers – and indeed most people – I have certain pet peeves. People with selfie sticks in crowded areas. Tour groups blocking passage for others. Anyone who can’t properly queue. But recently, one has gotten to me more than most others: people who so severely edit photos and descriptions of experiences as to render them completely out of touch with reality.
Most of us have Instagram, and most of us follow accounts that share great photos. That is good. But some of those photos are edited to show an image that has little basis in what the original was. Filters to make colors more vivid are one step, but it goes much further, to showing a place as being deserted via the use of an editing program capable of removing all other people from an otherwise crowded image.
We all want to capture the best possible photo of a place, and to do so, we often wait for people to clear out of a shot. But where is the line between showing a perfect version of a place versus being objective in what one is portraying as truth? It’s something I’ve been struggling with.
It brings up an interesting concept I’ve done a lot of thinking on recently. Where is the line between objective and subjective? After all, we all experience things through our own lenses, so two people who do the same thing on the same day can have completely different takeaways. So how do I, as a writer, differentiate between my personal subjective experience and the basic objectivity of what you might be likely to see and do in a similar circumstance at a later date?
So many writers post articles of things they don’t even personally experience. If you look back to the earliest days of The Royal Tour, when I just wanted clicks, I was the same way. I’d do “composite” articles, where I’d invite random bloggers I didn’t know from Eve to each give me their best XYZ (best side trip from Tokyo, or best food in Charleston, or any number of other things) in the hope that having such a list would lead to more clicks. And it did. But I was guilty of publishing content that a) was unverifiable for me since not only had I not done these things but I didn’t know the people who had and b) was subjective (the BEST xyz) posing as objective truth. I am rather ashamed of such things in my past, but I don’t delete them because they are part of The Royal Tour’s history and evolution.
When you read an article about something that claims to be the best, it is important to note that you are dealing solely with the subjective. The writer probably has zero basis to call something the best, as that would require experiencing the rest of the things that would therefore not be in the top spot. So one must ask: why is the writer calling something the best? Is it because it sounds better and is therefore meant for clickbait? Or is it because there is compensation for saying such a thing? Or, almost worse, is it out of sheer ignorance as to what the word best connotes?
As writers (or Instagram influencers or anything else in this realm) we have two main responsibilities. One is to the destination, or attraction, we are talking about. If being compensated, whether monetarily or via a comp as is my most common form, we are being basically hired to write about something. There is a duty there to portray things in a relatively positive light. However, the overriding responsibility is to our readers (or followers or viewers), to give an accurate objective description regardless of what makes a museum or city tourism board happy. After all, if I tell you that a visit to the Colosseum in Rome is a solely positive experience because they comped my visit and I want them to be happy, I’ll be ignoring some very real issues with that experience that you might want or need to know before making your own arrangements.
(Likewise, if I show a crowded beach as being deserted by use of an editor, I’m also being dishonest to those who count on my Instagram account to show images based in reality for use in their travel planning or learning.)
I realize this comes off as rather high horse of me, but I am in a profession that has some real issues with trustworthiness, from people who are just looking for freebies to those who only care for clicks and ad revenue. Throw in AI as a substitution for actual experience, and it is no wonder so many look down on all bloggers as being charlatans. (And yes, these are issues many professions face, with some really dedicated to doing the best they can and others dragging the lot down.)
I pride myself on trying to separate out what is objective (how to do something, history, and other basic facts) and what is subjective (my own experience). Just because I see something one way doesn’t mean you will. And should I fail in that, I hope you’ll call me out on it. Remind me that my primary duty is to you, not to my click rate or to keep a tourism board happy. And expect that of the rest of the blogs and Instagram accounts you follow.