How to Pitch: Toronto Star Travel Editor, Jennifer BainJuly 15, 2016
Jennifer Bain is the Travel Editor for the Toronto Star, the newspaper with the highest circulation in Canada. Before joining the paper, Jennifer worked in the city/crime field at various outlets across Canada and even a magazine in Hong Kong. In 2000, she began at the Toronto Star as an online editor before running the food section, where she remained until taking over the travel section in November 2015. Jennifer is the author of two cookbooks (Toronto Star Cookbook: More Than 150 Diverse + Delicious Recipes Celebrating Ontario and Buffalo Girl Cooks Bison) as well as multiple articles for the Star.
We spoke with Jennifer about what it takes to run such a busy travel department and what she looks for when working with PR professionals at destination marketing organizations. Here’s what she had to say:
What elements influence whether or not you read a PR pitch?
I get hundreds of emails every day but try to at least give a 15-second scan to most. I appreciate a very specific subject line.
When a publicist pitches you a travel related story idea, what three things should s/he consider before contacting you?
- It’s about the story, not the destination.
- I appreciate brevity and informality.
- Don’t ever call me. I only use my phone for outgoing calls. I’m on email 24/7.
What types of press trips excite you and motivate you to pursue them further?
I love getting press trip emails. I stop everything and ponder the destination and the story potential for each. We’re chasing a younger demographic right now – roughly 30 to 50 and so I’m looking for “on demo” story ideas.
What information should be included in a press trip invite to help you consider the opportunity?
The date and whether it’s solo or group. If it’s a group, how many people are going? I like to know what level of exclusivity to expect – i.e. the only Canadian publication, the only Toronto one, the only newspaper, etc. It’s great to see a draft itinerary. I need to know if it’s fully funded or if there are any exclusions (i.e. visas, mandatory health insurance, communal tip, etc.). I don’t mind a “heads up” email saying “save the date” so I can start thinking about the destination. I’m happy to receive a last-minute invite on a trip where there has been a cancellation.
What is your pet peeve when being pitched and/or working with public relations professionals?
I’m spreading the word that ALL press trips must be sent to me, so please don’t pitch writers who you think freelance for the Star. It’s my job to match the right writer with the right trip/story. I’m a one-person travel department (with a copy editor who helps out 2.5 days a week) so there is no travel “team” and I can’t get out for lunch/dinner/drinks/events. I’m more than happy to do desk-side meetings Monday to Friday between 9 and 5 and can give about an hour to any visiting destination/travel PR.
Being the Travel Editor for the Toronto Star and having a team of freelance journalists you work with regularly, how do you determine who is best suited for each opportunity? Do you work with them to structure the story?
I’m a control freak and my job is to make sure that everyone who represents the Toronto Star understands its standards and ethical policies. I’m vetting all the trip offers and want sign-off on all itineraries. If there’s a problem working out a trip, it comes back to me and I re-assign it to a new writer. If anyone approaches a destination saying they’re writing for the Toronto Star, I need to be alerted immediately. Usually, I introduce my writers to the destination.
I am not taking new writers right now, don’t take stories on spec and am not looking at emailed freelance pitches. I get to travel and I’ve been on a variety of trips – solo, small group and large group – so I think I understand the pros/cons/challenges of each. I try to match the right writer with the right trip. For example, I send the young, usually single, go anywhere/do anything writers on the long trip overseas. I send the food-enthused writers on culinary trips. For destinations that we cover a lot (like Florida, New York, Las Vegas, Iceland) I plan to send a variety of writers each year to get different perspectives. Some writers hate group trips. Some writers don’t have the time to work out a solo itinerary and are happier on group trips. Some like short trips. Some have time for long trips. It’s fun making the right match. For most trips, I pay writers a set $400 fee for a story/sidebar package with photos (a combination of handouts and their own).
Do you have any advice you would like to share with tourism boards on how to work best with the Toronto Star?
We launched the free Toronto Star Touch tablet app in September 2015 and right now we’re a tablet first media organization. All stories are written/formatted for the tablet and then spill into print and online. The tablet is free to readers and supported by ads. Travel is called Destinations and runs Saturdays. In print, we now have a full Thursday and a full Saturday travel section. It’s my job to think about all stories across these three platforms and to package them appropriately. The visual demands are very high. For a story package on the Azores that I wrote, I had 50+ photos and more than 20 ran in the tablet. We rely heavily on great, magazine-quality, horizontal only handouts from tourism offices and from the restaurants, bars, attractions, etc. that we write about. It would be a huge help to have destinations send a professional photographer along on press trips when appropriate/possible.
What has been your favourite place to travel for a work or personal trip and where are you most looking forward to visiting next?
I’ve never liked to go to the same place twice, so for me it’s always about the next destination. I personally like to tell untold/little told stories and go to “emerging destinations,” so I loved going to Nebraska this year for the Sandhill crane migration and prairie chicken mating rituals. I grabbed a two-night Iceland trip for myself because there is such buzz about that country. My personal bucket list is “everywhere” but eventually I’d like to get to Nunavut, Tibet and Madagascar.