Noted travel writer/editor John Flinn leaves the SF Chronicle

It used to be that the Sunday edition of most newspapers was a gold mine of travel information. The internet largely killed the need for the Sunday Travel section, but there are still some notable newspaper travel desks that continued to publish insightful and helpful articles on destinations around the world.

Once of my personal favorites has long been the San Francisco Chronicle’s travel section, which, admittedly, I mainly read on the web. While the Chronicle’s Travel section doesn’t appear to going anywhere (thankfully) its long-time editor and noted travel writer John Flinn has stepped down.

If you’re a fan of travel writing and have ever searched the web for great travel writing, you’ve no doubt come across Flinn’s stories. He’s something of a rarity among newspaper travel editors, eschewing the Top Ten ______ to do _____ stories in favor of more in-depth writing, often about obscure locales than most papers fail to recognize.

Tomorrow is Flinn’s last day at the helm of the Chronicle’s travel section, though in an interview with World Hum, Flinn says he plans to continue writing, mainly for magazines.

However, while you’ll probably be able to still find your fix of Flinn’s writing (albeit perhaps not on a weekly basis), he offers World Hum a bleak outlook for the future of travel writing.

In a few years, do you think newspaper travel sections will look like they do today?

I don’t think so. I think the longer narratives that were the foundation of most newspaper travel sections are starting to fade away. Papers want more “top ten beaches”-style content, and lots of “charticles.” That’s not always a bad thing—there’s a lot of information that can be better conveyed in a list or a graphic than in a narrative. But I think there’s a growing assumption that readers don’t have the attention spans to wade through an 1,800-word travel narrative, no matter how well it’s written.

Personally I find the Top Ten-anything approach to travel writing nearly worthless — I’d much rather hear about someone’s actual experience than a simple list which is based on little more than aggregated opinion (or, if you’re more cynical and consult a list of recently opened resorts, you’ll find top ten lists are often suspiciously well-aligned with adverts and brochures).

I also know from first-hand experience that, despite what newspaper editors might think, there are plenty of readers out there who also prefer longer, more narrative writing. Thankfully, while it might be disappearing from the Sunday Travel section, there’s plenty of it to be found on the web.

[Photo courtesy of World Hum]

Posted by | Comments (2)  | December 30, 2008
Category: General

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