How to Pitch Series: Michael McCarthy, Canadian Travel WriterFebruary 18, 2016
Canadian journalist and adventurer Michael McCarthy started exploring the world as a teenager, hitchhiking and hopping freight trains to emulate his childhood hero, Jack Kerouac. He began his writing career as a freelancer covering controversial issues for top tier magazines and newspapers, until he was presented with the opportunity to combine his loves of writing and exploring as a travel journalist. He began writing locally-based articles in community newspapers and has since expanded to national publications like The Globe and Mail and National Post, and has weekly articles in BC’s The Province. Michael is also a published author of the novel Tracking Jack, as well as countless travel guides.
We spoke to Michael about pitching preferences, his thoughts on where print media is heading, and his most memorable travel experience:
1. What elements influence whether or not you read a pitch?
Usually the destination and the activities that are offered. I have been on so many trips over the years that I don’t enjoy typical tourism destinations anymore. I don’t do pack journalism based on popular themes. I am definitely an “off the beaten track” traveler looking for unique ideas. That’s exactly what most editors want as well.
2. What types of story ideas excite you personally – and motivate you to pursue them further?
Places and products are fine, but people are far more interesting. Buildings are boring compared to real life. I am fascinated with what I term “transformative travel,” experiences that change both me and the people I meet. I also enjoy wilderness and remote destinations, because the whole world is starting to look like Los Angeles.
3. When a publicist pitches you a travel related story idea, what three things should s/he consider before contacting you?
Knowing the market for which I write. I live on the West Coast, so my editors want stories that interest West Coast readers. My editors want Asia, western USA and the Caribbean, especially in the cold winter months. Next, how do I travel to the destination? I receive invitations daily, but I am somehow expected to pay the travel costs myself. Lastly, I don’t like generic invitations that clearly indicate I am on a mailing list, and no one has done any research about me, my market or readers.
4. What is your biggest challenge while working on a press trip in order to still meet editor deadlines?
I plan and design most of my own trips these days. If I have a deadline, I need to get the editor to guarantee publication in advance and in writing. I try not to bother my editors with any specific requests, if possible. I am published weekly because there is no need for fact checking, and I supply professional quality photos. Newspaper staffs are seriously overworked.
5. Do you have any advice you would like to share with tourism boards on how to work best with travel journalists?
Please ask writers what interests them, and what might interest their editors and readers, rather than telling the writers what you want. Trips designed by tourism boards seldom have any flash. Tourism boards should ask writers what their editors will approve for publication, not rely on what the board wants to publicize.
6. In your perspective – where is Canadian travel editorial heading?
Print advertising is dwindling, as are reader attention spans. New visual media like YouTube and others are the future. All publications, print or digital, need to move towards visual reporting. Travel writing continues to be the forgotten child in mainstream media, yet travel is now the world’s largest industry.
7. What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career?
I recently trekked 700 miles across the Himalayas in the midst of a civil war in Nepal and was captured by Maoist guerillas. I knew this would happen but did it anyway. I got a great book and documentary out of it. Every travel writer needs to plan and enjoy an adventure of some sort at least once in their life, although risking your life is foolhardy. You only live once.
8. Where are you off to next?
I have travelled the world so long that “more of the same” seems boring. I am concentrating on trips that “make a difference.” It’s not difficult to leave a 5-star resort in the tropics and wander down the road to the barrio, ghetto or seashore to meet local people, or to save the sea turtles. In fact, I really enjoy it. It’s meaningful, real life, not escapism. I’m looking at travelling through the islands of the Caribbean next in order to create a TV series on this topic.