MatadorU: The lives of travel writers in the modern world
YESTERDAY A RECENT graduate, AdventureRob, had this to say in his candid review of MatadorU’s travel writing curriculum: “The course doesn’t just concentrate on travel writing, but life as a travel writer in the modern world.”
It’s funny how hearing other people describe something can make you look at it with a new perspective. I never would’ve thought to express it this way (I never think of myself as living the “life of a travel writer” even though that’s the life I have essentially), and yet somehow this statement points at something fundamental about the course as well as something we like to call the Matador “vision” itself.
The other day I met Christie Pashby, a professional guidebook writer and director of the Patagonia Travel Company. We took a float trip down the lower whitewater section of the Rio Azul. She was asking about Matador, and then we realized she’d actually contributed to one of the very first articles here on the Traveler’s Notebook.
More than anything, Christie seemed to be lamenting the disintegration of old-school media, saying (with regards to blogging / creating a personal brand), that she “didn’t go to journalism school to ‘sell herself’.”
I told her I understood completely. The motivations behind one’s need to write and tell stories are often antithetical to earning a living. So when there’s a structure in place that allows you to do both (such as traditional journalism over the last several decades) you want to see it continue to progress.
But what I love about the media revolution, the “modern world” that Rob alludes to, is that it essentially is a progression of the old school. The elements of good reporting, good writing, good storytelling are universal whether you’re blogging or working on a profile for your local paper.
What’s happened though, is that as media has become democratized, liberated from location, traditional ‘training’, and workplace hierarchies (among hundreds of other changes) the new paradigms are unfamiliar.
As I talked about yesterday, we have no map.
This is where MatadorU comes in. In essence it all comes down to a question Christie asked me: “Are your students actually making it?”
“It’s early,” I told her, “But yeah. We’re already seeing students making the leap to becoming fully independent freelance writers . Others we’ve pulled aboard our team. It’s not overnight, but yeah, I can honestly say that it’s working.”
The thing is (and I think I can safely speak for everyone who participated in the creation of MatadorU), there’s no real credit to be taken on our part as far as students’ successes. This is perhaps the greatest lesson of MatadorU, and the way in which it most closely aligns itself with new school paradigms of becoming a professional writer, blogger, or whatever: it comes down to how bad you want it, how much energy you’re willing to put into it.
And a close second to this is the way we tend to organize ourselves into tribes. What’s now a social media buzzword, and one of Seth Godin’s bestsellers, has been known to teachers forever. As I said a few months ago during one of the more spontaneous and lucid moments in an interview (I get nervous during interviews and tend to drink beer) at Travel Writer’s Exchange:
“It’s not coincidental that many of the original staff and members of Matador have backgrounds in education. Teachers are different. We’re always seeking to build community.”
The bottom line is that at Matador we embrace new media and respect the vision of those who choose to support themselves traveling, writing, filming, recording, and taking pictures around the world. This is our tribe. MatadorU is just a way for us–both students and teachers–to help each other add our names and lines to the map.
How do you apply your training and skills as a journalist to the new media revolution? Please share with us in the comments below.