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Self-confessed fibber Thomas Kohnstamm is taking heat.

LP writer Thomas Kohnstamm…in hell.

EDITOR’S UPDATE:

New information on this issue has clarified Thomas’ confessions and it’s now clear that the mainstream media sources on which Eva based her post were straight-up wrong.

We’ve decided to leave Eva’s article up, but please be sure to read her follow-up comment and BNT contributing editor Tim Patterson’s take on the whole hullabaloo.

Here’s the original article:

I’ve always been a big fan of Lonely Planet’s guidebooks.

I love their sassy, youthful tone, their emphasis on low-impact and alternative travel options, their rejection of freebies from bigwig hotel chains, and the way their authors manage to find vegetarian-friendly budget options worldwide.

So imagine my surprise when I made the rounds of my usual travel blogs this morning, and came across this item on Gadling: “Lonely Planet writer admits he never visited country he wrote about.”

It seems long-time LP writer Thomas Kohnstamm has outed himself as a fraud, telling News Ltd. that not only has he plagiarized or fabricated large portions of his 12+ Lonely Planet guidebooks, but he even failed entirely to visit one of the countries he wrote about.

“They didn’t pay me enough to go (to) Columbia,” he is quoted as saying. “I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating – an intern in the Colombian Consulate.”

My first thought (after a few four-letter words with alternating question and exclamation marks after them) was: Why? Why, if you’d gotten away with something so outrageous, would you own up to it voluntarily?

A quick Google search on Kohnstamm answered my question. His first travel narrative, “Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics and Professional Hedonism”, is due out next week.

Kohnstamm, it seems, is a believer in that old chestnut about there being no such thing as “bad” publicity. He is taking a calculated risk that the scandal surrounding his admissions, instead of leaving him blacklisted for life, will carry his book right onto the bestseller lists.

Sadly, he’s probably right.

The Plagiarism Double-Standard

The reality is that travel writing isn’t considered “real journalism” by the powers that be, and Kohnstamm knows it.

Think back. It hasn’t been that long since another major plagiarism scandal rocked American journalism. Remember Jayson Blair?

Blair was a young reporter who resigned from the New York Times in May 2003, after it was found that an astonishing 36 of his national news articles for the paper – including high-profile items on the Beltway sniper, Jessica Lynch, and wounded American soldiers in Iraq – had been fabricated or plagiarized from other authors.

After he was drummed out, the Times executive editor and managing editors followed, paying the price for their failure to catch Blair sooner.

Though he published a tell-all memoir in 2004 (even accusing the Times of racism) to my knowledge Jayson Blair has never worked in newspaper again.

So, will the same fate befall Thomas Kohnstamm?

I’d be surprised if Lonely Planet offers him a contract again anytime soon. But what about everyone else? Kohnstamm has also written travel articles for the likes of the Denver Post, the Miami Herald, Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle, Travel + Leisure, Time Out New York, and the Los Angeles Times.

Did he fabricate any of those pieces? Will anyone check? Most importantly, will anyone care?

The reality is that travel writing isn’t considered “real journalism” by the powers that be, and Kohnstamm knows it. So what ended Jayson Blair’s career could instead see Thomas Kohnstamm laughing all the way to the bank.

A Million Little Lies

Laughing all the way to the bank…and then his chair.

What about the book? Early reviews describe it as a funny and hard-hitting read that chronicles Kohnstamm’s boozing and womanizing in Brazil, while also exposing the ugly underbelly of the guidebook writing world.

But am I going to be the only one reading it with a whole shaker worth of salt? The man is a self-admitted plagiarizer and fraud. Isn’t it a safe assumption that some of his “wacky misadventures” and encounters with beautiful Brazilenas are figments of his imagination?

Again, that all-important question: Will anyone care?

Travel writing in newspaper form may not be considered hard journalism, but on the other side of things, travel writing in book form has always been closely related to memoir. And it’s clear that readers care about the honesty of their memoirists, as James Frey learned in 2006.

After the folks at The Smoking Gun cut his memoir of drug addiction, A Million Little Pieces, into, well, a million little pieces, Frey was dumped by his publisher and, most famously, confronted by Oprah Winfrey on national TV. Still, he’s an author on the rebound, with a new book – carefully labeled a “novel” rather than a “memoir” – due out this summer.

Will Kohnstamm’s admissions mean his book gets a careful going-over from The Smoking Gun, or even from a lone critic with time on his hands? Probably not.

It was the scale of Frey’s “embellishments”, and the emotional connection millions of readers had made with the subject matter of his book that led to the backlash. No one is going to feel hurt or betrayed if it turns out that Kohnstamm has tossed back a few fictional shots of rum, or “embellished” the size of some hot Brazilian chick’s tatas.

Things Get Personal

So if newspaper editors don’t care, and readers don’t care, you might be asking yourself: Why am I so worked up about this?

Let’s go back to those first thoughts of mine, when I came across that original Gadling post. After the four-letter words, the exclamation marks, and the “Why? WHY?” came this:

“Hey asshole! If you didn’t think the Colombia gig paid well enough to make it worthy of your time, why not pass on the assignment and let some poor struggling writer sitting in her tiny apartment waiting for a break take it on?”

Kohnstamm has done several things at once here:

  1. seriously undermined the credibility of an enormous publishing house that – in my opinion, anyway – does some pretty good work in the world
  2. re-proven in the minds of many editors that travel writers as a group are not to be taken seriously – and hey, guess what, it doesn’t benefit any of us in the long run to be considered a bunch of plagiarizing hacks
  3. taken opportunities away from other young writers who might have actually been willing to do the job they were paid for
  4. and done it all deliberately, in the name of his own self-enrichment. Nice guy, right?

What We Can Do

You might be thinking: Eva, aren’t you just playing his game by writing him up like this?

You might be thinking: Eva, aren’t you just playing his game by writing him up like this?

Well, yes and no. I won’t be buying his book, and I hope you won’t either. Read it in one of those comfy chairs at Borders if you must, but please, for the love of journalistic ethics, don’t spend a cent on it.

Furthermore, if you’d like to politely suggest to Kohnstamm’s book publisher that you don’t think much of them employing a lying, plagiarizing, self-congratulatory hack, you can email his publicist at jsones@randomhouse.com.

You can also contact Kohnstamm directly via his website.

I’ll also be keeping an eye on the response to the book as it comes out, and if I see many reviews running without a mention of Kohnstamm’s status as a guidebook con-man, I’d be happy to post the relevant editors’ email addresses in the comments section below this post for follow-up.

C’mon, Brave New Travelers. Let’s prove there IS such a thing as “bad” publicity!

If you’re not seething yet, try Aaron Hotfelder’s 5 Reasons To Be Outraged By The Lonely Planet Fraud.

For a more intellectual and far-ranging take on travel writing, memoir, and “truth”, check out Tom Bissell’s excellent World Hum essay, Truth in Oxiana.

Is Kohnstamm’s carefully timed confession a harmless publicity stunt or a shameful outrage? Please leave a comment below!

Read the editor’s follow-up to this post:

The Real Story Behind the Thomas Kohnstamm Affair

Writing

 

About The Author

Eva Holland

Eva Holland is a freelance writer, Senior Editor of World Hum and a longtime contributor to the Matador community. She lives in Canada’s Yukon Territory and blogs about Alaska and Yukon travel at Travelers North.

  • http:///www,twistedcompass.com/pnomads Jacob

    It was the plagiarism that shocked me, and I’m glad you echoed my sentiments: Plagiarism should always be regarded as the final nail in the coffin for anyone who regards themselves as a “writer”.

    For god sake’s, you’ll get thrown out of even the shittiest universities for plagiarism–even if you’re majoring in Sport Science or something!

    My recommendation for relegating him to a life of painful obscurity–don’t give him online keyword density. Refer to him in future comments/articles as T-Kone. As in “F*ck T-Kone and the horse he rode in on”.

  • http://www.rucksackwanderer.com/ Tim Patterson

    Jacob – as for keyword density, it looks like I screwed up the post slug and wrote “ohnstamm” instead of “kohnstamm”. So that’s all good.

    Hey, anyone else really dig that photo of T-Kone in hell?

  • Daniel Harbecke

    Stuff this guy. TWICE.

    This is no “David and Goliath” story. It isn’t “Rage Against the Machine.” It’s “Insult to Injury.” Lonely Planet is doing damage control because this guy decides he’s too good to do his job – and people out there are set to reward this by buying HIS book? DON’T BE THAT MALAKA.

    Of course, it’s only a “harmless prank” to him, because he’s getting paid on both ends while he shafts travelers. He thinks he’s following in the tradition of Hunter S. Thompson – he isn’t, because at the end of it all, Thompson had a REAL story. This is just some Error-in-Judgment crapping on people who buy books.

    People are always going on about how disgusted they are when some real scumbag gets ahead by taking advantage of others. Here’s your latest poster child for why worthwhile things suddenly aren’t worth a damn anymore.

    A title doesn’t make you a travel writer, your writing does. He’ll never know if travel writers go to hell or not because he never qualified. But he’s really that curious, he’s welcome to go on his own (lack of) initiative.

    Arrogant piece of crap. I wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire.

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    Testify, Daniel!

  • Daniel Harbecke

    Hey, look! You can tell Amazon what you think of this prick!

    http://www.amazon.com/Travel-Writers-Hell-Swashbuckling-Questionable/dp/0307394654/ref=sr_1_1/102-5950846-1220111?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1189744596&sr=8-1

    Don’t make me have to stand up… I’ll show ya’ll the REAL meaning of Christmas…

  • Michaela Lola

    Great article! I too, was completely shocked when I heard about this, especially because the “Lonely Planet” brand is held in such high regard and is often considered by many as the “pinnacle” of travel writing. A few months ago (heck, even a few days ago), I considered the LP Guidebooks as the “Mount Everest” of my writing career.

    I completely agree with your list of reasons as to why its so shocking and outrageous.
    It’s as though everything that writers have worked so hard to achieve, especially in regards to the legitimacy of travel writing, has been undone in one fell swoop.

    I really liked this part:

    “Hey asshole! If you didn’t think the Colombia gig paid well enough to make it worthy of your time, why not pass on the assignment and let some poor struggling writer sitting in her tiny apartment waiting for a break take it on?”

    For me, it completely hit home, as I would most definitely have given my left arm to get such an assignment. I’m currently working for a travel website, which is great because I get to write all day and allows me to live in Berlin, but it barely pays the rent (living on a steady diet of cereal and…cereal) and barely have the time to work on pieces that I really want to get into. Pieces that only a few days ago, I believed meant another step closer to becoming an LP author.

    So yeah, Im pissed off and poor and wondering what the heck I’m doing this for. Though I have no choice but to keep going (as I love what I do), it’s still frustrating and defeating. He’s basically ‘proven’ and ‘validated’ the assumptions that many people have regarding the genre of travel writing–that it´s a bunch of bull and is an excuse for some hippie kids to take an extended holiday from the real world.

  • http://www.vagabondish.com Mike

    I don’t know who Photoshopped (or perhaps it’s *not* Photoshopped?) that shot of K-Tone in hell but I’m definitely digging it.

    Regarding this:

    “seriously undermined the credibility of an enormous publishing house that – in my opinion, anyway – does some pretty good work in the world”

    Eva, although this seems like one hell of a news story among the travel blogosphere at the moment, my sense is that in 6 months time, it’ll be nothing but a blip, a footnote.

    Jayson Blair had his fifteen minutes of shame and faded rather quickly into journalist purgatory never to be heard from again. And he worked for the New York freakin’ Times.

    Most travelers – especially the hardcore budgeters and backpackers who make up the brunt of LP readership – are smarter than the average bear. Many read travel blogs such as BNT and Gadling and will likely see this entire shameless publicity stunt for exactly what it is. Tone’s clearly a media whore who will do anything to bolster his own name.

  • Carl

    This isn’t exactly new territory… another book came out that also exposes some of the tactics used by guide book writers.

    Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer

    http://www.amazon.com/Smile-When-Youre-Lying-Confessions/dp/0805082093/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208185017&sr=8-2

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    Hey Michaela, I feel your cereal-eating pain!

    Mike – you’re right, LP will likely come out of this OK. (I am curious to see if they take legal action against him…)

    Though, on a related note – this just in from Gadling: T-Kone may actually be exaggerating his own crookedness to milk the publicity even more! This guy is a real piece of work. http://www.gadling.com/2008/04/14/unethical-lonely-planet-author-not-really-that-unethical-aftera/

    Carl – Yeah, I was hoping to work in a reference to T’Kone being not just a hack, but a bandwagon-jumping hack at that! Though I got the impression Smile When You’re Lying had more to do with the magazine side of travel writing, and wasn’t so much about plagiarism and fabrication as selling out to advertisers at the expense of editorial freedom. Still, “exposing the seedy underbelly of travel writing” is definitely the theme for the season.

  • Daniel Harbecke

    The only reason Blair faded out is because enough people made a stink about it. Otherwise, Blair would still have a job and readers would still be grabbing their ankles. This guy needs to go to Blipland on a rail.

    I don’t believe any publicity is good publicity, because ultimately you better have something worth buying or no one will take you seriously anymore. What’s this guy gonna have at the end of six months, other than “I did it – you can, too (wink)!” Hell, no. Draw a line.

  • http://www.rucksackwanderer.com/ Tim Patterson

    Here’s our review of Smile When You’re Lying – same genre, yeah, but at least Chuck Thompson visited the places he wrote about and didn’t plagiarize.

    http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/2007/12/27/book-review-smile-when-youre-lying/

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    Here’s the latest official word from LP: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/about/thomas_kohnstamm.cfm

    It’s true, T-Kone apparently has fabricated the part about fabricating his trip to Colombia. The rest is under investigation. What a guy.

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  • Julie

    Eva-
    Great article, and important too. I really appreciate the fact that you give readers practical suggestions for taking action. I, for one, will follow every one of them.

    As a curious side note, before this whole scandal broke, I contacted Kohnstamm’s publisher for a review copy of his book… and of all the review copies I’ve ever requested, this is the only one that hasn’t been fulfilled.

    Americans’ memories are painfully short (has anyone asked what John Edwards has been up to since he dropped out of the presidential race?), so I hope BNT readers can help keep Kohnstamm’s memory fresh by continually prodding him with our expectation that he should have done better.

    On another note, I’m becoming increasingly bored with the flippant lives and narratives of a certain category of travel writers (of which Kohnstamm would appear to be one: note: “I got the information from a chick I was dating.”) These are the folks who take the attitude that, as you pointed out, travel writing doesn’t have a single ounce of substance or seriousness to it. They’re also the folks who constantly try to convince their audience (who fawns over them, for some reason) that their narratives are the only ones for which there’s space in the blogosphere or in print. Case in point? The link that Ian included in this week’s BNT round up about the reasons why “your” travel writing blog “sucks”. I’m all for funny, I’m all for having amazing sex in an exotic country, I’m all for the well-timed, well-used profanity in any language, and I’m all for being critical (when it’s substantive) but the reliance upon any of these as one’s own genre is both sad and gets really tiresome.

  • http:///www,twistedcompass.com/pnomads Jacob

    Tim – Pretty slick–I would’ve done red-orange gradient map on his face, but it’s good to get a visual representation of–you know–what it’s like when travel writers go to hell. ;)

    Eva–thanks for the follow up…it looks like his antics are already unraveling.

    Michaela Lola–I agree…if the baby is not getting “enough” money, then he should aspire to become a senior editor or something. Don’t take jobs from aspiring writers who are damn well happy enough to write for the sake of going somewhere (and not vice versa).

    Hopefully this guy will be picked to pieces, and what will be left is a thoroughly unemployable writer. Hopefully.

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    Julie, You’re so right re: the tiresome sub-genre of travel writing that relies on bad language, “hilarious” boozing, and “risque” accounts of drunken sex with locals. All have their place, of course, but there should be more to the story. Someone up above – Daniel, I think – mentioned T-Kone’s delusion that he is the next Hunter S. Thompson. He isn’t.

    One bit of Aaron Hotfelder’s “5 reasons to be outraged” that I link to above made me laugh out loud. After quoting a trite excerpt from T-Kone’s book, Aaron wrote:

    “You had sex with a girl? In a foreign country?! Cool!”

  • http://www.rucksackwanderer.com/ Tim Patterson

    Ian did the photoshop magic – I’m just signing up for the free online version now…a bit behind the times.

    Aaron Hotfelder is one of my favorite travel bloggers – great sense of humor.

  • http://www.lemurworks.com/lola Lola Akinmade

    Excellent comments so far!

    Eva – Thanks for articulating what we were all thinking.

    And it definitely speaks to the US culture that he’d presumed everyone would rush out to go buy his book after being slapped in the face by this scandal.

  • http://matadortravel.com/ Ross

    Great piece, Eva! I think Mike’s right. T-Kone will be exposed to most for what he is, thanks to posts like this. Hopefully his book will be a huge failure and his name will fade into obscurity forever. Thanks also for the publisher’s email. I’m about to take full advantage of the opportunity..

  • http://windowseat.travelocity.com Charlie

    Eva, great article. Well done. It’s too bad that we all get a black eye so this guy can sell another book with a too-long title.

    Tim: How clumsy of you to have mixed up that search term… oh well…

    Thanks,

    Charlie

  • http://www.southpacific.org David Stanley

    Eva, you said you’d be “curious to see if they take legal action against him”. Actually, Lonely Planet will have difficulty doing that because a standard clause in their contracts requires that all disputes to be referred to binding arbitration. They do this to protect themselves against embittered updaters who were forced to sign away their moral rights for a meager fee, but in this case it will work against them.

  • Molly

    Eva, I thought your article really hit this all on the nail. It really makes me mad, ’cause as an aspiring travel writer I would have jumped at the chance to do what he chose to do in a lackadaisical (to be kind) manner. Maybe this will make travel guides think twice about looking for writers with the most experience (no offense to the good ones out there) and look a little harder at ones like me with more enthusiasm, who don’t care how much we get paid but just want to do it because we can.

    I totally agree with your first point about what T-Kone has done.
    “seriously undermined the credibility of an enormous publishing house that – in my opinion, anyway – does some pretty good work in the world”

    But, as much as I really dig LP, maybe this will give the littler guys more of a fighting chance. Take a look at this one (www.vivatravelguides.com), it is one of my top 3 and it doesn’t ever seem like their writers review places after having sex with waitresses on the tables. But, then again……. who would say no to that freebie? (Just kidding)

  • http://www.wranglingrhinos.com N. Chrystine Olson

    Quote: “Kohnstamm, it seems, is a believer in that old chestnut about there being no such thing as “bad” publicity.”

    Authentic writers wandering the globe believe in another old chestnut “Write what you know.” Emphasis on first person experience, not post coital pillow talk.

    In my own case the stories I’ve written have found an audience amongst the most sincere audience….kids. I love blogging and hearing about other adventures from those of a similar ilk. But what’s even better is when little ones at the local library get all wide eyed at the idea of wrangling a rhino like you’d rope a horse, or the old logger sitting at the local sports pub, who’s never had a passport, coming up, offering to buy me a beer, and saying “So you’re the girl who went to Africa. Tell me more.”

    In the grand scheme there’s the larger audience who longs to hear about places they may never see. Karma will take care of K-Tone.

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  • http://www.communityofsweden.com/Pages/Mypage/mypage.aspx?userId=329 Cedric Pieterse

    Whoo hooo! This is interesting….
    I have not used LP as a travel bible, but I must say that LP certainly comes in very, very handy when you get in to a dodgy town, at night after a long day on the road. I have never found that they were off the mark, but I have seen a lot of backpackers using LP as a bible, and tick things off the list as far as attractions go. I just got the feeling that they miss out on so much if they do that.
    The fact that this asshole lied about his experiences in Columbia is a discrace to all of us, who are trying to eek out a living as writers.

    Maybe LP can now offer that job to me…

    I hereby promise that I will tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
    Dibs! I am first in line for possible job offers, the rest of you can qeue here behind me……..

  • Daniel Harbecke

    I wish you luck, Cedric – I think this position is more about creative fiction than travel writing. Can you fill these shoes?

    “As I look out of my hotel window here in Colombia, I see… er, cars, and people, and the sky. It is a, um, blue sky, as blue as the ocean that is next to Colombia, called the Pacific. It is also rather warm. Boy, am I warm! Warm warm warm! Perhaps even sultry. Yeah, that’s it! Colombia is a warm, sultry country!

    “Here in Colombia, people speak Spanish. There are many Colombians in Colombia. Some are men and women and children. Some of the women are pretty. I think I can find a pretty woman to have sex with me in this warm and sultry country! If only you were like me, an intrepid travel writer here in Colombia!”

    (Lonely Planet has verified that there are no factual inconsistencies in the above article.)

  • http://www.flexibleplanetblog.com dave prine

    Nice article, Eva. I had just learned of the book this morning, but chose not to buy it after reading this. (See http://www.flexibleplanetblog.com/2008/04/when-authors.html for a more detailed account of my reversal of decision. I mention you, BNT and Gadling as well.)

    Like travel writers don’t have enough to struggle with. Now we get this guy who’ll most likely put publishers (especially LP) on their guard. It’s like having heightened airport security for the travel writing world. (Bad analogy, I know.)

  • Venetic

    I have no admiration at all for this Kohnstamm guy, but his comments about Lonely Planet’s poor remuneration did ring bells. Your correspondents seem to have a very rosy view of what it is like to work for Lonely Planet. I was once in a position where I could have worked for them and concluded that the pay was not worth it and that any company that wanted to send someone (me) who specialises in Europe and speaks several European languages off to Asia to write about places and cultures he knows nothing about can’t be very professional.

    This affair also reminds me of all the mistakes and misleading information I have uncovered in Lonely Planet guides over the years, from trivial things like not being able to find a hotel on a street in Rome because it was incorrectly marked in the LP Italy guide, through to more annoying things like the hotel in Milan that LP listed which turned out to be a knocking shop with prostitutes lined up on the street outside, right through to the seedy fleapit hotel in Bordeaux in the LP France guide where I was up all night with the door firmly locked and clutching my travel kitchen knife whilst listening to an Arab getting the crap beaten out of him by some violent psychopath.

    Still, the grass is always greener, as they say…

    Love,
    Venetic

  • http://www.nerdseyeview.com pam

    I think there’s a key point missing from this story. If I’m reading it right (and hey, I could be wrong) said bad boy was writing historical stuff, not practical travel info. It sounds like he was contracted to do the “front of the book” kinda stuff that you don’t actually have to travel to write, unless it’s to your public library. It’s BETTER if you travel – you can provide context for history, but it’s not required. This isn’t to let him off the hook for the plagiarism, fraud, generally jerktastic marketing plan – and making honest hardworking travel writers look like obnoxious hacks.

    I do wonder what the specific terms of his contract were. My last contract stated in the terms that I’d “undertake travel to such and such a place” in order to do the work. He’s stated in the press that he’d never planned to go to Colombia. So is he actually a fraud or just a marketing prodigy? All that they didn’t pay me enough to travel” stuff might just be more noise in an already noisy story. If LP never intended him to travel, well…so what if he didn’t travel? You’re not required to travel for fact check work either, all you need is a telephone and incredible patience.

    For the record, I liked “Smile When You’re Lying” but there’s the added bonus that trading email with the writer made him seem like (secretly) a Nice Guy. TK seems like a jerk, showing off his “conquests”, making his publisher look bad, and biting the hand that feeds so many of us.

    Side note to Julie: That “your blog sucks” article, while mean, is really spot on. It’s worth a read.

  • Julie

    Hi, Pam-

    Good points– would be worth knowing what his contract included.
    I did read the “your blog sucks” article, and it has plenty of good advice. I just take issue with what seems to be the increasing trend of a catchy “Your _ Sucks” or “Who the F*%^ Cares About Your ___” tag line to draw people in. If you’ve got great content, then do you really have to package it up with a gaudy ribbon?

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    Hey Pam,

    You’re right, it’s since been revealed that Kohnstamm was never expected to go to Colombia, he just implied that he was supposed to (and didn’t) in the interview. When I wrote the essay, my understanding from the information at the time was that he’d bailed on what was supposed to be an on-the-ground research assignment.

    So… Take him a notch down on the “hack” scale and a notch up on the “disgusting methods of self-promotion” scale… Still adds up to asshole in my book. I mean, the guy has even lied about how much he lied about? Man.

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    This just in… T-kone tells all to World Hum. The line about plagiarism was “a joke” and his choice of words on the infamous Colombia/consulate intern line was “regrettable” – he didn’t mean to imply that he was expected to go there but didn’t. LP never expected him to write the intro chapters on site, apparently.

    Now I’m just confused… I do know one thing, though: if this whole thing turns out to be a “joke” it’s not going to make me like the guy a whole lot better. Anyone else starting to feel seriously toyed with?

    Here’s the link: http://www.worldhum.com/qanda/item/thomas_kohnstamm_the_firestorm_around_do_travel_writers_go_to_hell_20080414/

  • Julie

    I’ve just read Bures’s interview with Kohnstamm and I have to say that my respect for the guy as a travel writer has not improved. With a line like, “As for Lonely Planet’s reaction, I think when they actually sit down and read the book, they’ll realize it’s not such a hatchet job,”all I can do is cringe. How does one parse out where the hatchet job ends and where the “real” writing begins? And whose job is it to do that?

    The more I think about this issue, the more I don’t empathize with the LP writers. If you think the task you’ve been assigned (review the entire country in four weeks!) is impossible (and it is), then here’s a suggestion: Either DON’T DO IT or stand up to your sorry editors and tell them so! I’m sorry, but I can’t muster up the empathy that Kohnstamm seems to want us to feel for him. I was a tour guide for an educational tourism company and felt the same kind of frustration Kohnstamm described when the thought of repacking his backpack one more time to move on to the next stop and show folks the “real” country was totally overwhelming. But you know what? I jumped off the hamster wheel! If you’re really, as Kohnstamm says he is, addicted to travel, then find another way to get your fix. Writing LP guidebooks–especially if you’re paid a pittance and treated like a cog in a wheel–isn’t the only way to get your hit.

  • Joshua

    To me, the only truly perturbing thing is the harsh realisation that not everything we read is true. I like a good fictitious novel as much as anyone else. It’s a fun escape from reality. I enjoy reading or hearing about a -REAL- fun escape from reality even more. Having my best friend relate to me his escapades in Nepal.. New Zealand.. South Africa.. places that aren’t my day to day reality, but hopefully someday might, fills me with a sense of excitement which a fictitious tale could never match. Do we all embellish our stories a little as we recount them? Yes. Is that wrong? Maybe, but I think it’s to be expected.. The trouble is, when someone steps way past that line to the point that what they are writing is as fake as my parents new Christmas tree, it kills that excitement in a brutal kind of way.

  • http://www.wranglingrhinos.com N. Chrystine Olson

    We can “blame” the publishing world a bit for these sorts of antics. Non-fiction sells better. A new writer can float an idea and get a hit on memoir a whole lot faster than the most brilliantly conceived and written fiction piece. If you have a few mainstram bylines and some sort of following, getting a book deal is no big deal. The success of Eat, Drink, Love, Pray has lots of publishing houses looking for their version of instant travel “popcorn” success. It’s all about money and this sort of stuff sells books. I don’t know though. Seems like a bit of a bonehead play one week before release. Amazon’s been touting the title heavily. Any comment from them?

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    Ok gang… Seriously contemplating sending T-Kone this email. What do you think??

    Dear Thomas:

    I meant to send you this essay I wrote about you earlier today, but didn’t get around to it – too busy hitting refresh to see what new names my readers were calling you.

    Anyway, I just read your response to all this chaos over at World Hum (where I’m also a blogger) and it throws the basic premise of my essay into confusion. I’d love it if you’d take a look and even respond with a comment for clarification, though you may be a little busy fielding hate mail, or being served notice of lawsuits from LP, or who knows what. Maybe you could take a look?

    Or, you could not look, but email me to say you did. Or or, you could actually look at it, and then email me to say you couldn’t be bothered with it, just to get a rise out of me. Then a couple days later after I’ve gotten really worked up, you could email me again to say it was a “regrettable” joke and you really did read it. However you want to play it.

    Anyhow, here it is: http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/2008/04/14/lonely-planet-scandal-ohnstamm/

    Thanks!

    -Eva

  • Daniel Harbecke

    I’m beginning to think our boy is a little out of his depth. That, and it feels so slimy I think I need a shower.

    Days like this, I shoulda stayed in school and been a truck driver…

  • Daniel Harbecke

    How about this:

    “Dear Thomas,

    Please clarify.

    Love, etc.,

    An attentive audience”

  • Julie

    Daniel- You’ve got a great sense of humor; love the letter!

    Joshua- I don’t think there’s anything wrong with embellishing: if you’re writing fiction. The function of a guide book is not to embellish, fantasize, or otherwise indulge one’s creative impulses. It’s to provide information, straight up.
    There are lots of different literary genres… if Kohnstamm wanted to be inventive and imaginative, then he should have pursued a different kind of writing.

    The words people write matter. They can cause change, positive and negative, short-term and long-term. When I started the PhD program in Spanish literature at El Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe a few years ago, I almost got chased out of class when I criticized a book of “historical fiction” that had been published in a newspaper as a factual account. The other students loved the story and wanted to defend it on that account. My point was that if you’re writing historical fiction– a fascinating genre for precisely these reasons–then you have the obligation to categorize the piece as such (in collaboration with your editor). What happened when this piece was published? Within hours, people were protesting on the streets, calling the US government to open an investigation into the 1898 invasion on Puerto Rico because they believed that the imagined account of the author was the truth. The “funny” account of the US invasion of PR became so accepted as fact that years later, people are still trying to contest the line between fact and fiction in this text and it’s caused political, social, and economic tensions. That’s a big deal, and not to be taken lightly by some punk writer who just wanted to make either a fast buck or a fast byline.

  • http://www.communityofsweden.com/Pages/Mypage/mypage.aspx?userId=329 Cedric Pieterse

    I shall ride my Ostrich to Colombia and have a look for myself.

    It would be so much easier if the bugger could fly….

  • http://www.thomaskohnstamm.com Thomas Kohnstamm

    Eva,

    please email me at my website. if you had even read the introduction to my book you would see that I am trying to write a book about the truth in travel writing, not some plagiarist who is trying to turn a fast buck off of being an asshole.

    I must say that your coverage of my story does not exhibit any of the journalistic integrity that you espouse as it is all based off of second hand information, rumors, speculations and quotes from an Australian paper that were used out of context in order to be sensational.

    World Hum, The New York Times, The Guardian and other reputable news sources are now getting beyond the hype and writing more balanced stories about this unfortunate dust up – which literally led to me getting death threats today (is that the kind of publicity that any writer wants?).

    I hope that when/if you read my book (and I will gladly send it to you for free), you will see that you have been gravely mistaken.

  • http://www.carpetblog.typepad.com carpetblogger

    It’s really hard for me to understand all the outrage generated by this issue. LP is owned by a giant corporation that is interested in making money, not fostering the travel dreams or enhancing the bank accounts of dreamy travel writers.

    They hire the youngest, most inexperienced people and pay them nothing. The guidebooks reflect it, in terms of depth, quality and insight. But again, these are guide books, — not the bible or memoirs or works of literature. If you are relying on a Lonely Planet to navigate the hairier edges of Columbia or other unstable areas, you deserve to get taken on a much longer ride than this.

    Everyone wants to sell books, whether it’s LP or Kohstamm.

  • http://www.nerdseyeview.com pam

    Eva: I wouldn’t respond to a letter that included snark, and now, here it is for all to see, so I’d guess that ship has sailed. I could be wrong, maybe TK thinks it’s important enough to salvage his “reputation” to respond.

    Daniel’s comment might be right – TK is (maybe) another Max, out of his depth. But he took everyone with him by attacking the “industry” and we responded because we took his stories at face value and as personal attacks on our own hard work.

    The biggest problem with TK might be the hardest to fix: He’s not funny. Maybe he thinks the whole “friendly service” and “some chick from Colombia wrote my essay” remarks are funny, but his audience is staring at him, glassy eyed, waiting for the main act.

    We expect more from travel writing than “Dude. Went to exotic location.Got laid. Hot chick from far away place did my homework while I sold the blow I picked up to some stupid travelers for way too much money. Hilarious thing? I was totally get paid to do all that! Now, everyone’s talking about me? Aren’t I awesome?”

    Um, no.

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    Thomas Kohnstamm wrote: “I must say that your coverage of my story does not exhibit any of the journalistic integrity that you espouse as it is all based off of second hand information, rumors, speculations and quotes from an Australian paper that were used out of context in order to be sensational.”

    I have already emailed you for clarification, Thomas, and I’m sorry I didn’t do so earlier. (Although, as I said in my email – no one expects bloggers to personally verify every wire story from a reputable news source. Sort of like how no one expects guidebook writers to actually sleep in every hotel they write up. We all do our best.) I’ll look forward to your explanations about that context your comments have been so unjustly removed from.

  • http://cultureonthecheap.wordpress.com Olivia

    Hemingway ought to be revised: The road to hell is paved with inaccurate stuffed guidebooks.

  • Julie

    “It’s really hard for me to understand all the outrage generated by this issue….
    [T]hese are guide books, — not the bible or memoirs or works of literature. If you are relying on a Lonely Planet to navigate the hairier edges of Columbia [sic] or other unstable areas, you deserve to get taken on a much longer ride than this.”

    I, too, wonder about folks who depend upon guidebooks, but it’s not hard for me to understand the angry response of the masses. Kohnstamm had a job. Contrary to popular belief, writing travel guides (and the somewhat similar profession of guiding tourists around as a professional tour director) IS A JOB. It’s not a vacation. It’s not a chance for you to go get laid by the local honeys or slam pisco sours til dawn. I don’t use guide books. If I did, I’d understand that they’re subject to inaccuracies that arise over time– businesses close. Schedules change. But I have a huge problem with people who want to call themselves writers who don’t do due diligence that their profession demands… even on $25 a day.

  • Rachel Mortensen

    Comment by Eva — April 15, 2008
    “no one expects bloggers to personally verify every wire story from a reputable news source … We all do our best”

    So Eva, let me just verify a primary source to be sure i understand this correctly. You decide you’re going to take a bunch of jugular pot shots at someone whose writing you’ve never read for possibly being remiss in checking the factual sources of his 20-word objective writeups of hotels and restaurants, right? But yet you don’t make any attempt to verify the quite outlandish claims which you’ve pulled off the wires (which themselves are pulled off of stories printed elsewhere) before launching into a colourful 1300-word jihad [SIC] against him?

    Everyone loves to hate someone – I appreciate this. But believing everything you read was not on the application checklist to J-school, last time I checked. As one rocket scientist on this blog has keenly observed: “To me, the only truly perturbing thing is the harsh realisation that not everything we read is true.” I recognise that one need not study journalism to become a blogger.

    Instead of your “first thought (after a few four-letter words with alternating question and exclamation marks after them)” being “Why? WHY?”, perhaps it should have been “Hmm. Step back, self, step back. Why don’t I have a think about whether those kind of unbelievable claims I read were valid in the first place before I tear this guy apart for writing something I admittedly haven’t yet read?” To pretentiously cite Thomas Paine, “Time makes more converts than reason.” Unfortunately with blogging, once you press Submit, you don’t really have the luxury of taking back what you write, even if you realise you yourself might have been a bit remiss. So: have these past 24 hours converted you?

    You’ve done some insightful writing before (I haven’t yet read but it looks from responses to your writing that you have). I hope the past 24 hours don’t tarnish your reputation as a reliable blogger. I see that you work as a “historical researcher”. Also hope that the people who pay your bills don’t read your blog!

    To paraphrase you, “Who The F*ck Cares About Your Writing?” Well, we all might. But I would care more if I knew that you were more circumspect in whom, how and why you choose to tirade against. And in if you care to seek out and question the ‘truths’ on which you base your opinions.

  • Jenny

    My question is: he didn’t get enough money to go to Colombia, but he could afford to live in San Francisco? Am I missing something?

  • http://www.communityofsweden.com/Pages/Mypage/mypage.aspx?userId=329 Cedric Pieterse

    Thomas, hats off to you for writing back on this discussion.
    You made a remark about some of us not having journalistic integrity. I can in this case only speak for myself. My comments were based on the article that Eva wrote. I will do further research in to this, and make a informed opinion on this matter. If my comments were out of line, and offended you, please accept my humble appologies.
    It would however, regardless of World Hum, The New York Times etc. be interesting to see how one can soften the blow of your admission re. your writing the guide to Colombia.

    Some of us, like me, are just starting our careers in writing, some of us do it for fun and some of us might never be as good enough to be considered for Lonely Planet. After National Geografic, I personally rate LP as one of the many top companies to work for. Personally, I like the freedom that BNT gives us, as we can express ourselves here much more than other paid publications would allow.

    I am attempting a very late start as a writer, and at the rate the rejection slips are coming in, I am going to be forced to look for some kind of employment soon. I will not stop writing, as the people that did bother to read my stuff gave me positive feedback.

    As I said, I will do research in to this whole saga, and give you an informed opinion. I hope for your sake that the reasons you give for doing this is good.
    I think it was Madonna that once said, that it does not matter if the publicity is good or bad, at least it is publicity. She did re-invent herself time and time again to great acclaim and success. You certainly would have you work cut out for you if this is the case, and much bigger balls than me…

    ps. I do not want a free copy of your book, as I am afraid the ostrich will eat it! I keep him at the postbox, and he lives of incoming mail…

  • Daniel Harbecke

    In light of Mr. Kohnstamm’s recent comments, I admit to feeling a little guilty about getting so whipped up. But then I thought about it some more – you know, I don’t regret sounding off about someone unfairly taking advantage of others, and I think it’s awesome so many people rallied so quickly. Where did Thomas feel the pressure to set the record straight, from the communities or Random House?

    With respect, it wasn’t just some Australian paper AND Eva alone that purported this supposed grave injustice of journalistic liberty against Poor Tom. CNN carried the story as well, and if it comes from a news source as trusted as CNN… er, ah, never mind. The point is, it wasn’t JUST one Australian paper.

    I don’t blame Thomas for getting defensive. A lot of people took this pretty personally, not really seeing the “Rebel Taking on Corporate Evil” angle. But frankly, if I caught wind that someone was misrepresenting my words and work, I’d put something up YESTERDAY OR SOONER on my little website saying “Don’t believe the hype.” That’s just me, but what do I know.

    It’s a shame it got so heated, but flipping off LP and travelers like this (you know, as a joke or something) doesn’t make the company look bad. It makes the writers, and the travelers who (to some degree) rely on them, look bad. That’s not what I’d call a winning joke.

    So no, I think this is PR gone bad. It’s a rough way to start out, but if there’s anything to his book it’ll bear out. Somehow, though, I still don’t want to read it.

    (Either way, I think the travel writer fatah can be rescinded. I mean, who’s actually writing the guy death threats? Can we maybe take the pills that make the voices go away?)

  • http://www.hudin.com Hudin

    I wrote up a bit about this fool as well:

    http://www.hudin.com/blog/thomas_kohnstamm_is_your_typical_ass/

  • Jenny

    Hunter S. Thompson never plagiarized. He was famous for writing the hard truth when no one else did. For you to compare yourself with him is a joke.

    Now your name is forever associated with the words “liar,” “opportunist,” and “plagiarist” — whenever anyone Googles you, this story is going to pop up. Hope it was worth it.

  • http:///www,twistedcompass.com/pnomads Jacob

    Wow! A response from a celebrity! How cool!

    I think you make a great point, Daniel. A lot of them, actually.

    “I hope that when/if you read my book (and I will gladly send it to you for free), you will see that you have been gravely mistaken.”

    Gravely mistaken about what?

    Of the core concerns, why is it that Reuters, CNN, the Guardian, et. al. can maintain the visage of “reputable”? Why do they get to escape, unscathed, from this “out of context” fiasco? Hell, T-Kone even REFERENCES Reuters as a stark contrast to Eva’s crazy, on-the-fly, “journalism”. It’s not ok for Eva Holland to reference an Australian paper on behalf of BNT, but it’s ok for Victoria Thieberger to do it on behalf of Reuters?

    http://africa.reuters.com/world/news/usnSYD214401.html

    Maybe that’s his point. Yeah, all journalism is shit. Woo hoo, thanks for that amazing expose’

    This is what I loved the most:

    From BNT Comments:
    “…not some plagiarist who is trying to turn a fast buck off of being an asshole.”

    From WorldHum Interview:
    “At this point, I’m focusing on my second book, which is about the joys of illegitimate fatherhood. It’s a travel-oriented book, too. International illegitimate fatherhood.”

    So, he’s already planning on moving from f*&king waitresses (and writing a book about it) to being an absent father to their children (and writing a book about it). Wow, that just makes his response seem so…I dunno…credible.

    In the end, we’ll all settle down, the book will sell enough copies to put T-Kone “above” this rabble and that will be the end of it. The lesson we’ll ultimately pass onto our children is this: reprehensible behavior is rewarded, over and over again.

    Combine this with the Gogarty scandal and you’ve got a shining beacon of the worst that travel publishing has to offer.

  • Daniel Harbecke

    …yeeep! I mean, “fatwa.” Thankfully, Fatah hasn’t weighed in yet…

  • http://www.wranglingrhinos.com N. Chrystine Olson

    Has anyone checked on Ian? Does he need oxygen? I for one am exhausted. Siesta time….do they take those in Columbia? I think the ghost of Hunter took my copy of that country’s LP guide. ;)

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    Rachel wrote: “So Eva, let me just verify a primary source to be sure i understand this correctly. You decide you’re going to take a bunch of jugular pot shots at someone whose writing you’ve never read for possibly being remiss in checking the factual sources of his 20-word objective writeups of hotels and restaurants, right? ”

    No. Not for being remiss in checking the factual sources of his write-ups. I took pot shots at him for apparently not doing the work at all (the Colombia trip claims) and stealing from other writers (the plagiarism claims). There is a difference between shoddy fact-checking and plagiarism/fabrication. As those claims have been called into question, I have updated where possible, with links, here in the comments. I’ve also been in touch personally with Kohnstamm today (in a non-snarky way, even!) and am planning a follow-up.

    I stand by my statement that I don’t think it’s fair to expect me to pick holes in a Reuters wire story that even CNN bought into. Believe everything I read? I don’t. And I didn’t even have to go to J-school to learn that. But yes, I believed this story… I don’t think that should call my entire body of work (not to mention my capabilities as a professional historical researcher) into question as you have done here. I’m not going to apologize for coming down hard on someone who I had (what I thought was) good reason to believe had fabricated and plagiarized 12+ titles.

    I hope you’ll respond again to say you’ve read this. I see you haven’t left an email or a website, but I’d like to make sure I set your mind at ease about my reliability.

  • Daniel Harbecke

    Easy, Jacob. People get people pregnant accidentally without being dirtbags. He never said anything about being an absentee dadlord and loving it, just being an absentee writer. And Max G. was just mediocre in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s a line of Dennis Miller’s that comes to mind – “He committed the most unpardonable sin in America: he was bad on TV.”

    If TK got hammered by the media unjustly, I’ll take back every harsh word I said, and be glad to do it. In my “Who the Scatology Cares About Your Writing” piece, my whole riff was about protecting the meek and giving credit where due. TK’s entitled to that. But if this is just jerking with people to get attention, there are more constructive ways of doing that. Like, you know, bikini contests, or dressing like a gorilla in a pink tutu by the freeway, or breaking the secret code hidden in every 5th word. That sort of thing. The least he could do is show up for the promoting part…

    The big question is “if.” Per Thomas: “World Hum, The New York Times, The Guardian and other reputable news sources are now getting beyond the hype and writing more balanced stories about this unfortunate dust up.”

    I’ve seen WorldHum’s article, but nothing else. I’ve got an honest, unbiased question here: where’s the rest? Why hasn’t the NY Observer printed a retraction? What’s the Aussie paper TK refers to? If there’s another side to this in more “reputable news sources,” where are they?

    I’m not being thick, I’m serious. I’d really like to read more about TK than I have, but I keep seeing the same twirl of the moustache. When these corrected articles come out, someone please leave a mention here. I want to believe in the goodness of man. Please, help me believe.

    (BTW Eva, I the f*ck care about your writing. Can’t we all just the f*ck get along?)

  • http:///www,twistedcompass.com/pnomads Jacob

    “Easy, Jacob. People get people pregnant accidentally without being dirtbags.”

    This is true-I’ll lay off until I see jacket for the “new” novel. For the record, though, I’m not referring to the illegitimacy as being bad–merely its exploitation. I am inferring, perhaps unfairly, that this isn’t going to be a heartwarming tale about the trials and tribulations of child-rearing vis-a-vis Bill Cosby’s “Fatherhood” or even Jenny McCarthy’s “Belly Laughs”.

    However, given the current media “accidents”…I’ll just shut up. This guy has wasted too much of my time (and he didn’t even intend to do so).

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/jay-martin Jay Martin

    1) I don’t think bloggers should be held to the same standards as journalists. Eva was simply reacting to a breaking news story based on what she believed were his firsthand accounts of the situation.

    2) Hunter Thompson did the same stuff, like covering the 1972 Super Bowl from his hotel room, and he’s an icon.

    3) I hope everyone learned a lesson from this. Especially those who (allegedly) sent death threats.

  • http://www.teachabroadchina.com Robert Vance

    Great Article Eva. The beauty of blogging is that you can react instantly to a breaking story. I think the article was fair. And why would anyone be ‘completely shocked’ by the story? They employ a lot of people to write these books. There has to be a couple of bad apples. But it doesn’t matter because I stopped using their books along time ago. The internet is the best way to get that information and a much easier than carrying around one of those books.

    China Chat

  • Pingback: Could Thomas Kohnstamm Save Travel Writing?

  • http://peternh.blogspot.com Peter N-H

    What ‘reputation’ does Lonely Planet have to lose? This is hardly the first time this has happened, and plagiarism and taking short-cuts on research is commonplace in guide book writing. It’s only a few years since the last flurry of ‘Shock! Horror! Probe! Guidebooks aren’t well researched!’ stories. Whoever thinks they are, and Lonely Planet’s in particular although it’s far from alone in its problems, simply hasn’t been paying attention to what they’ve been reading. Kohnstamm’s revelations are about as surprising as the news that the sun rose this morning. For the views of a victim of five different guide book publishers, see http://peternh.blogspot.com

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/ianmack Ian MacKenzie

    Thanks to everyone for weighing in on the controversy here at BNT. (I believe 62 comments may in fact, be a record). Since Eva has been in touch with Thomas, we’ll be posting a follow-up article, as well as an editor’s note on the whole scandal.

  • http://www.thenewyorkcitytraveler.com Heather

    Unfortunately this is nothing new.

    In my travels, I have run into more than a few “Let’s Go” Harvard kids that never visit a quarter of what they write about. They lift passages from a healthy mix of Lonely Planet, DK, Frommers, etc.

    At least the Let’s Go kids didn’t use the “no money” excuse. They were very straight forward in saying that they would rather just party in the beach towns than go inland and hang with the guerrillas.

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    Hi again all, and thanks for your comments and interest in this post. I’ve been amazed by the response. However, it’s now clear that the initial news stories I based this on were deeply flawed – exactly how or why that came to be I still don’t know, and may never know. (Ironic, isn’t it, that a post about how travel writers aren’t held to the same standards as “hard” journalists has been turned on its head by flaws in mainstream media wire copy?) I’m going to be writing this off as a tough-love learning experience in the importance of reading everything, no matter how reputable the source, with a highly critical eye. It can also serve as a reminder that the anonymity of the web should not be an excuse to say things you wouldn’t say in person.

    Though I now regret some parts of my piece, I still think there’s room for an interesting discussion about the (artificial?) distinctions drawn between “journalism” vs. “memoir” vs. “travel writing” and the various ethical standards applied to each. I hope we can continue that discussion here at BNT in future!

    And now, to quote fellow travel blogger Aaron over at Gadling, “I’d like to, if it’s okay with everyone else, pronounce this “scandal-but-not-really-but-maybe-it-is” officially dead and buried. Rest in peace.”

  • http://www.communityofsweden.com/Pages/Mypage/mypage.aspx?userId=329 Cedric Pieterse

    This is getting interesting! I shall get some beers, and sit back and enjoy. This is better than TV!
    Eva, I cannot wait to see how all this is going to pan out. Good on you for coming clean on this, and I can only wish to get this kind of response, ever!
    TK, I am still investigating, will give you an informed opinion as soon as I have one…
    Ironic, that “real” journos were very quick to shoot us down, where it was their over-enthusiastic-sensationalism that got us here in this position in the first place…

  • Daniel Harbecke

    “Ironic, that “real” journos were very quick to shoot us down, where it was their over-enthusiastic-sensationalism that got us here in this position in the first place…”

    Right on there, Cedric. Right. It’s not the journalists, it’s bloggers who are sloppy. Got it. Eva, shame on you for not checking their sources for them.

    “Hey… psst! Want some candy? Don’t be shy! It’s candy! Mmm, yummy! Don’t you want some candy, too?’

    “…er, okay…”

    SLAP! “NO! Wrong! You took the candy! Bad bad bad bad…!”

    If there IS a moral to tsk tsk over, it’s about taking responsibility for what you do (or don’t do). Eva, at least you – and we – bother to follow up on this. I’m pretty sure I can stomach crow better than being indifferent about it all.

    There are more articles now about Thomas’ side. Amazingly, the April 9 article that apparently (I could be wrong) broke the story at the NY Observer… is suddenly missing. Every so often you can still find references to the “delinquent LP writer,” but those are disappearing pretty quick, too. Gee, pretending it never happened sure is a lot easier than printing retractions!

  • siobhan galvin

    Given all the brouhaha over the past week about Thomas Kohnstamm, it is odd to me that so few people have taken his side. Have we lost our collective sense of humour? Is the appeal of unchecked litigiousness so sexy that we can only see scandal, plagiarism and disloyalty where there is also clearly hilarity, fun and a self-deprecating poke at the lives we lead?

    I for one think it´s a hoot that, finally, someone has written, sometimes literally, about the ups and downs of his trade. I´m not talking about his Lonely Planet guidebooks, even though the ´plagiarism´ and ´fraud´ lines the papers picked up on by Sunday night have since been shown to be simply good old yellow journalism.

    Fly-on-the-wall documentaries are guzzled like fuel from our television sets, with exposes on everything from airline staff to hoteliers. We are used to being dished the truth from previously trusted figures such as Prime Ministers. I must have missed the announcement that the travel writer is a sacred cow, not to be tarred with the tacky brush of reality.

    Perhaps the bigger issue than us losing our sense of fun, as highlighted by Lonely Planet, is the extent to which modern day travellers rely wholeheartedly on information within their guidebooks. There is a book out there for everyone, whether you´re on a budget, loaded with cash or laden with kids. And these things sell. If you want a guidebook on Paris you have 2024 to choose from on Amazon.

    What this says to me is that our reliance on being guided is enormous. Too much so. Before the big boom in adventure travel in the eighties, the intrepid headed out into the unknown, often on a one way ticket only. Pre-Tony Wheeler´s seminal guidebook for backpackers “Asia on a Shoestring”, news of blinding white beaches and the tastiest pad Thai in Thailand traveled solely from mouth to mouth. Travelling was not cushioned by the certainty of knowing the exact coordinates of a three star hotel (whose fax and telephone numbers were at the ready to pre-book). Facts checked, rechecked and over-checked to death by the publishers and travel writers.

    In some way it is indicative of this overdeveloped culture of safety and ducking of responsibility we have managed to forge. If we can hold the guide book responsible for helping us to safety while on the road then we also have someone to blame when things go wrong.

    ´Things going wrong´ provides a doorway into some of our very best travel experiences. Not knowing forces travellers into discussions with locals on where to stay, what to eat and how to dress. Remember those days? Interacting with locals? Rather than following the rabbit-run through countries with the other biblically-serious-about-the-guidebook travellers, blind to the possibility of chance, to the spontaneous, the ´what-if´ seekers have the chance to create their own personalised travel experience.

    Years ago, arriving at a small Indian town, to find all the hostels full, I accepted an invitation to dinner and a room from a kind gentleman on his way to a wedding. Along with my travelling partner – also a girl – I was whisked off as a guest to the wedding. As we made our way in this very foreign land – we knew absolutely no-one at the wedding – we danced, sang and had a ball. We were even later offered a wonderful, air-conditioned double bedroom in the hotel, no strings attached. There was nothing sordid about the ordeal, and certainly nothing unsafe about it. I doubt one would find a listing for “how to get invited to an Asian wedding “ in a guidebook, nor should one.

    Mr. Kohnstamm may have had a more ribald time on his trip to Brazil than I did in India – He had sex? Shame on him! Did some drugs? Oh me, oh my! – but I can’t quite understand what’s wrong with enjoying oneself a bit on the road. Kerouac certainly did it. So, for that matter, did Marco Polo and Richard Burton. Whatever the furor surrounding “ Do Travel Writers go to Hell?”, I shall be reading it with glee on my holidays this summer. I hope to laugh, to cringe and to be moved to question – surely the point of his book in the first place – what use should be made of the guidebook in this century? In our era of now-time – internet, mobile phone images and get-it-out blogging – we must be aware that by the time any writer has visited, written and published a travel guide-book, errors will already have crept in, overtaken by the vehicles of the web. And the subjective views of the guidebook will be matched, I am sure, by equally subjective, up-to-the-minute information culled from blogs, websites or friends´ texts.

    Perhaps this shocking revelation that travel writers do not have the time nor the cash to get to every single hostel, restaurant and sight will see the rebirth of the real traveller, one who dares to carry a guidebook as a subjective companion – not a divine prophesy on where to eat dinner – or to travel without one at all.

    If travel writers do go to hell I look forward to meeting Mr Kohnstamm there in fifty years or so and having a rollicking evening of lusty tales over a few beers.

  • Julie

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having fun or being funny. But I don’t think Kohnstamm’s behavior is an example of either, really. It’s also not original.

  • steve

    has anyone seen this

    (editor: i shrunk the link)
    http://tiny.cc/IrOs1

    did you ever stop to think that maybe you were denigrating kohnstamm for coming forward about some bigger industry practices?

    way to represent big corporate interests against a single author. you really have that independent traveler spirit.

  • Roner

    God bless SIOBHAN for breathing some sensibility into this thread. C’mon folks! Let’s not take this whole thing too seriously. I am all for keeping the adventure in travel. Let’s not blame anything that goes “wrong” in our travels on erroneous travel guides. I agree that mishaps on the road are often times THE BEST entry way into the wildest most outrageous tales that I have experienced. God forbid you travel and have to TALK to local people cause the phone number that was listed in your guide book happened to be out dated or have the wrong area code.
    I tend to not like traveling with the people who have to PLAN every last detail of their trip BEFORE it happens and leave their presence as quickly as I find out they mess up my MOJO.

    Go on….travel and be free. Don’t travel to be bound.

  • Julie

    Roner-

    I’m all about freeing yourself from the guide book– precisely for the reasons you state, I’ve never used them in the first place.
    But I just don’t but the claim that guide book liberation was ever Kohnstamm’s point.

  • Daniel Harbecke

    “did you ever stop to think that maybe you were denigrating kohnstamm for coming forward about some bigger industry practices?”

    Nope. Did I ever think the lady who sued McDonald’s over scalding coffee wasn’t a frivolous lawsuit? Nope. Then I got the facts, just like now. Just like you did.

    “way to represent big corporate interests against a single author.”

    That was the plan, Steve. Travel bloggers are as corporate as you can get. Half of us are really shills for Let’s Go. But I’m sure you knew that all along, too.

    “you really have that independent traveler spirit.”

    Glad you could make it after the fact, Steve. If only the NY Times, CNN, etc. had your prescience, what a beautiful world this would be. We should’ve just asked you first.

  • Let’s be honest

    Aren’t their two sides to this story? Surely, if the publisher is not offering sufficient funds, an offer to pay expenses, etc. then they know they are a partner in crime in this fictitious guide?

    Before people act as judge and jury, they should find out how many hours are involved in research and how much these guide books actually pay. For many, it doesn’t even work out to minimum wage.

    Now, how could someone fly to Columbia, stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, enjoy the sites etc.on minimum wage or less? It’s a losing proposition. The plane ticket alone would eat up the entire payout, in some cases.

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  • nomad22

    im with “let’s be honest”, as far as ive heard these travel writers are paid LESS than minimum wage, and as you rightly state it’s impossible to travel to every little town and experience all that must be experienced to truly write a guidebook on this kind of money. it’s little wonder that places are overlooked and some “bribes” are taken. i bet there isnt a guidebook writer out there who hasnt done such a thing, nor hasnt given a more positive review about a place due to the way they were treated. come on!!

  • Kiki

    Just to share…

    Last year in Colombia I made the mistake of buying the LP. It was so off touch that it took the phrase “the book of lies” to a whole other level. It was common knowledge, at least around Colombia in 2007, that the author hadn’t been to the country for more than 3 weeks, and that the book was based on the previous edition. It was also no secret that certain key hostels (I’ll respect their anonymity) were contacted for info on their cities. At least one hostel declined assisting, and another throughly enjoyed the opportunity.

    I wrote to LP, telling them how disappointed with the edition I was. Surprisingly, I received a response, which began with “I am afraid that I must totally agree with your email. Our Colombia guide is not up to the standards of our other guides and has suffered from a lot of problems. In regards to the missing sections in the guide, there is a bit of a history behind that.”

    Basically, no one should be surprised by this story. Least of all LP.

  • Cássio

    The language spoken in Brazil is portuguese, not spanish. Brasileñas is spanish The correct portuguese word is brasileiras.

  • Tom McDonnell

    Kohnstamm is well aware that people read these memoirs to see how low they can go it’s an impulse that we’ve seen over and over. The sad thing is it will sell and it will pad out his retirement nest. I will follow your example of not giving the man a penny.

    I wonder if people would pay to read of my exploits where I pursue the literary gangsters, criminals, US interns, drug dealers and Thomas Kohnstamms of this world and kick them ugly in their local alley. I could call it “Do people who attack people who are going to hell go to hell?”. I’ll contact his agent.

    I found this link to a new Aussie comedy travel show about Colombia. I don’t think it irons out the inconsistencies in the Lonely Planet but at least they took the time to go and it’s nice to see something of the everyday existence of Colombians without mention of the usual.

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=z-TNGOHxnK8&feature=related

  • Gary

    Has anyone read the book? Is it good?

    If it is, all bets are off. You’re all a bunch of monkeys.

    His personality, his lack of ethics–that’s ad hominem. It’s about the book.

    Some people are talking about him like he is a womanizer, and somewhere along they way they have been burned by this kind of guy, so they overeact to something. The emotional reaction doesn’t match the situation.

    Really seriously, if the book works, I dont care what if he’s an asshole.

    Melville was rumored to get drunk and throw his wife down the stairs.

    So now you aint gonna read Moby Dick?

  • Gareth

    gary,
    first, the original article made it look like he was a writer intentionally taking advantage of LP, and if you write for a livng that makes you look bad. i dont blame people for getting angry. yeah they overeacted, but they cooled out when the facts came. whats youre excuse?
    second, if as you say its about the book ,which was originaly thought to burn people, youre coming in after all the facts are in. how conveinient for you. maybe you should actually look at the followup article and save the monkey comments for yourself, since youre also acting on half the facts. this thread is dead.
    third, i guess youve got no problem owning a whole wall of hitler paintings, because hes a good painter right? no ones a saint, but if someone is an asshole it does matter. if it doesnt to you, i feel sorry for you. just another mcshopper with no conscience. too bad thats ad hominem, but in a forum its not about the book its about the comments, and yours make you look like a souless jerk.
    fourth, if melvile was a wife beater, yeah,some people would read his books, and feminists would get on websites and complain. maybe youd go one the feminist site and tell them theyre monkeys and its all about the book, and id still feel sorry for you. but melville was gay so you lucked out. even though you still got no soul, and i really hope you dont have a wife.

  • Wise

    Reading about Thomas Kohnstamm did not come as a surprise to me as most guest house, restaurant, and bar owners in South East Asia will tell you how much they had to pay to be recommended.

    As for not complying, from a hotel that was listed as closed for refurbishment for years after it reopened, to a guest house slagged off when the owner of a neighbouring establishment was friends with a researcher, a restuarant owner who was threatened with a bad review for insisting that the resarchers paid for their meals, the list is endless.

    There was also the story of a researcher in Vietnam who admitted to being driven around by a local who only took them to establishments that paid him commision.

    Any one who trusts that pile of rubbish is an idiot/

    Now that the BBC now own 75% of it, I hope that it gets its act together and realises what a croc of s*!t it bought and sorts it out

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