Steve Keenan travel editor, Times Online
We're in a time of constant change. Everything is getting faster - but nothing is absolutely right. Just better. The newspaper industry struggling to cope: papers are the past and present, digital the present and future. Thick travel brochures are going. Online marketing, SEO, and online sales are permanent. You couldn't switch off the internet now even if you wanted to.
PART ONE - WHAT IS NOW?
Let me give you some basics about the world I operate in. The Times newspaper sells 600,000 copies a day. Online readers are 750,000 individuals a day. The Times Online travel section has 1.5m individual users a month. We don't know how many people read the newspaper travel sections. We do know exactly how many people read travel online. Online sixty per cent of online readers are from the UK but only around 40 per cent of Times readers actually look at website - that figure is even lower for Sunday Times' readers.
So the online audience is only one-third paper readers - that's one million people every month who don't buy the papers. And the proportional gap is growing wider as online figures rise and newspaper sale figures slip. Essentially our role online is to support the papers - but we can also add video, pull in supporting copy and run picture galleries, for example. This week we added a video to a story about Inside Britain shooting inside Stonehenge
And we expanded a European festival story - there was only room in the paper for eight items. We made it 20 - and wrote the copy for the paper too
But people come to the site every day and we only get stories from The Times and Sunday Times at the weekend. So we have to generate our own stories, ideas and news throughout the week, for the half million who have already - presumably - read the travel stuff in the paper and the other million who are internet wanderers. We have no limit to space, only in time and staffing (three of us). So while papers can sit on stories for a year or more, then cut it in half, we don't have that restriction.
We also publish daily readers' questions which expand the 20,000 features we already have which are a mix from the paper and our own. For those who haven't seen it, here's our search - for France for example
and here's your say (readers questions)
PART TWO: WHAT DO WE WANT FROM YOU
Ideas we wouldn't get from the paper We get lots of press invites but take very few - we tend to do those stories which we're unlikely to get from the paper - there's no point in doubling up. We also take copy from in-house staff - we have no budget to pay for copy.
Hotel reviews We're now doing maps for all our hotel and spa reviews across Britain and continental Europe
We've now got more than 800 hotel reviews on our site - more than half we do ourselves to fill in gaps (and because we have no problem getting staff and trusted freelances to do them). But we're always looking for good new openings. Also, how many of you have started using maps?
Deals with deep links embedded in the story We don't want deals which send readers to the home page of a website. Any offer sent to us should have the right weblink embedded in the text so we can send readers straight to the right offer page. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/news/article5314276.ece
News But mostly we look at what suits our medium, which is digital. And that is maps plus breaking news, blogging, video, Twitter, photo galleries and communities. Let's start at the basics - news. The Times on Saturday no longer runs news in its travel section, while the ST has a couple more analytical, or off-beat stories. But anything that breaks we'll have. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/news/ So let's start there - be responsive - email immediate comments to us. Don't wait to send out press release after signed off by three people. A recent good example was Ryanair's "pay to pee" story. Which? Magazine had a reaction out within the hour of Ryanair release and quotes were used by virtual all online and offline stories.
Video We like video that can tell the story well. But we need it in the right format and the right style to suit our viewers.
New Zealand - twitchhiker, Dan Snow, has just arrived in NZ. Tourism New Zealand grabbed him, filmed him and posted the footage around the world.
Exodus - approached us with footage of a guide climbing Kilimanjaro to run in the week before the Comic Relief celebrity climb was screened.
Thorpe Park - rollercoaster. Unfortunately a grim day for filming so we asked for footage. It arrived late and in the wrong format rather than being set on a file-sharing server.
This is so important to you all - invest in footage.
Photography On top of the need for broadcast footage we need more images for photo galleries.
Most of these image galleries come from coffee table book producers. Why not your readers or customers instead? Offer us a good selection and we'll certainly look at it - also check out our smugs, and citizen traveller images.
Communities will develop Now, we don't yet have a social media/forum which will allow site users to talk to each other in a closed Times Online Travel community like Lonely Planet. But we will - would you be ready to add a platform for your readers to live within our site, al la Facebook?
Independent reviews We also like independent reviews like tripadvisor, which a number of travel sites now use - Cox and Kings, Thomson, lastminute.com to put alongside their own reviews. The point is being open, transparent and willing to listen to, and engage with, your readers or in your case, clients and media.
Twitter Now let's get technical - Twitter. Most have heard of it, most dismiss it, but it's but very useful in getting stuff out quickly. We push out features, news - as well as engaging with others out there. But if you have a staff member or pr agency, which is comfortable using this medium, it's another way of pushing reactions or comments very quickly. There are some very good users out there - TTG, Travolution and Travel Weekly are all on Twitter all the time, so is the BBC, New York Times Travel, Guardian etc. And quite often these people are looking for news or knowledge - if you've nobody looking at Twitter regularly, you'll miss these requests for opportunities. Twitter is completely changing the way we work. In the past we played around with blogs on Times Online - covering personal stories about road trips across the US, around Britain's coast, or opening a B&B. While they were good, they were never immediate enough, or that unusual to get people reading them.
Then along came Twitter. We opened an RSS feed 18 months ago but only really started playing with it a month ago http://twitter.com/timestravel. It's completely opened my eyes to the potential of travel. As I've mentioned, useful for pushing out features and news but incredibly useful for finding people who are brilliant at their travel jobs. These are two tweets you should all be aware of
Both now offer the opportunity to find the best people to talk about their destination in situ - both are now writing pieces for us and other national newspapers. Now that best blogger awards are up and running - Lonely Planet is again out there quickly - these also help us to find the best, most informative, most useful and enthusiastic people on the ground. You can see how we can take professional writers, put them together with live bloggers and travel is really well covered. Then add in the video, social media/forums and it's quite a different travel ball game.
But none of this we pay for - outrageous to pros, but it's the only way to for us to operate. Like music.... we need to collaborate with people all over the world to provide us with video, news, images, deals, research - it's a very open-ended way of working, much more collaborative and much more exciting.