Do you need to ask permission to publish something about a place you’ve visited? The simple answer is: No… at least, not in the United States.
Here the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees us the right to free expression. And so as a writer, you can say what you like about a place — provided it’s not libelous.
In other words, say what you like — but make sure you have your facts right.
Now, as a travel writer, this is not hard to do. You’re not investigating scandals. You’re not setting up secret meetings with sources who insist they remain anonymous.
You’re writing in the interest of educating your readers about the world. You’re writing to encourage people to explore the planet. You’re offering up your observations and thoughts and, too, the practical information readers need to follow in your footsteps.
It is in the interest of the places you’re profiling that you have access to all the information you need. After all, most folks in the travel industry are itching for “press.” Good press leads to good business. (And, essentially, it’s free advertising. In fact, it’s arguably better than free advertising.)
So whether you’re dealing with a museum, hotel, cruise company, tourist board, restaurant, shop, tour operator, or any other travel-related firm, you’ll likely find the management eager to accommodate you… happy to provide you with as much help as possible… and anxious to answer your questions.
That said, you are under no obligation to inform anybody at the place you’re writing about (we’ll say it’s a museum) that you’re there to gather information for a story.
Nor are you under any obligation to show anyone at this museum your story before you send it to your editor. (In fact, most journalists would consider it bad form to do so.)
VERIFY THE FACTS — IT’S YOUR JOB
However, as I said earlier, you should make sure you have all your facts right. The editorial staff at the publication you’re writing for will insist on that and may even have a fact-checker verify what you’ve written.
So before you submit an article to an editor, double-check the facts yourself. Now, you could simply call the museum and confirm the hours of operation, for instance, by listening to the recorded announcement.
But you’d be better off talking to the museum’s public-relations or media-relations person. That’s because by doing so you put yourself on that person’s radar screen.
TURN YOUR QUESTIONS INTO PERKS
That is a good place to be for several reasons:
It can help you get more information (and more access) than you ever thought possible. So ask what questions you need to ask to be sure the information in your article is correct. But then think about what would make your piece better.
If talking with the curator of a particular exhibit could prove fruitful, then ask if it’s possible. Chances are, your contact may suggest just that, well before you ask.
It’s a way for you to stay plugged-in to what’s going on. Ask your p.r. contact to put you on her media list so that you receive regular press releases about the museum. And ask her what’s coming up — show genuine interest.
It can lead to some attractive perks. You see, it’s not just press releases the p.r. person holds. She is also the keeper of such bennies as free museum passes, invitations to preview new exhibits, wine-and-cheese receptions with artists, and so on.
And those are the coveted items she hands out (with pleasure) to the writers who she likes most. Those writers tend to be the ones whose articles have most benefited her museum in the past.
USE A THANK YOU TO STAY ON THAT RADAR SCREEN
Once your piece is published, make sure that you send a quick thank you with a copy of your article to the p.r. person who helped you out — even if it was simply to verify a few facts.
Remember, your article makes her look good. She’ll file it. And she’ll remember you. It’s a smart way for you to stay on her radar screen — and stay at the top of her “invite” list, too.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]