Burgeoning journalists gathered together to observe a panel from the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association (AMPA) in hopes of furthering their passion in journalism.
The AMPA panel was attended by 90 Journalism students on Friday Nov. 16, 2012 at 12 p.m. in R112 of the Senator Burns Building at SAIT in Calgary Alta. Four panelists were in attendance although only one was a travel writer.
Debra Cummings is an award-winning writer and the current editor-in-chief of WestJet’s inflight magazine, up! Prior to joining up! Deb was an editor with Travel Alberta, the Calgary Herald newspaper and spent a decade as the lifestyle editor of the Calgary Sun.
Debra was colleagues with Bruce Masterman from the Calgary Herald, but left to pursue other endeavors, “10 years saving to travel for a year with my family” said Cummings. Traveling is a huge part of her life, she backpacked after her first receiving her first degree stating, “Travel writing is very gratifying” but she still admits she misses elements of news writing, “It still has its virtues.”
Many travel writers don’t have a story, it’s just a plane ticket and a trip. To be successful travel writers must do their research. When asked about a trip to Central America Cummings stated, “I will read blogs or pick up a copy of lonely planet for my long flight to Costa Rica” said Cummings “Don’t go their with blinders on.”
When asked about the effects travel writing can have on it’s readers she talks of a story she was pitched by a couple who had gone canoeing in the Fraser, Thompson, Kicking Horse region and had flipped in Class 4 water. Still shaken up after three months the couple wanted to create a buyer’s beware story. “Different provinces had different regulations for paddlers and paddling”. A huge anchor of the story was the lack of regulations and the summer after the incident there were many deaths due to drowning. Cummings stated there was a voice of change after the story broke to change regulations, “We go into journalism to change the world.” “It was a soft travel feature that had meat to it” said Cummings.
When asked about details and pertinent information Cummings spoke about how important research is and being able to rely on the story to give complete and factual information and to avoid shoddy research. “It’s good to have Fact Checkers” she estimates her time as editor there have been only 2-3 retractions. In about 35 pages Fact Checkers verify nearly 3,000 facts. Fact checking is very important in her travel magazine. Cummings suggests that if you want to get into travel features you need to take lots of pictures, “Even with your iPhone”. Having a library of pictures can greatly enhance your story and can also help with fact checking and prove them when just your word isn’t enough. Cummings also tells us that note taking is of the utmost importance, reminding us to keep all our notes because you don’t know when you’ll need them. “When I travel all those convincing notes are in a notepad” said Cummings.
Cummings doesn’t forget that face to face is something that can’t be overlooked. She lists interviewing people is one of the top 3 things she loves about her job. “It’s a license to be nosey” said Cummings, telling us to make sure to be aware of our surroundings. To look at our surrounding environment for human contact triggers.
After the panel, first year SAIT Journalism student Kathleen Alenius spoke about her impressions of the AMPA panel in a face to face interview, “I learned a lot of things I didn’t know before coming in. My passion for photography and photojournalism has a lot to do with traveling and Deb’s insight into the world of travel writing is something I am very excited about.”