Editorial: My Concern About How Travel, Miles and Points Are Reported

Something which has been on my mind for quite some time has been causing me some concern — and that is the evolution of journalism overall in the day and age of electronic media. Information — real or fake — is easier than ever to disseminate with the use of social media; and the double-edged sword of mixed blessings it has created has eventually led to the increasingly difficulty of the struggle to survive for many traditional media outlets. This, in turn, has led to fewer journalists reporting on the news in a way which is fair, unbiased and informative — and is part of the reason for the overall declining quality of information in general.

Editorial: My Concern About How Travel, Miles and Points Are Reported

When The Gate was launched almost 13 years ago, it joined the ranks of one of the pioneering weblogs in the travel, miles and points space. For me, the primary focus was to continue what I had been doing for what is now almost 17 years on FlyerTalk: exchanging information and helping others get the most out of travel, miles and points — to earn some money on the side doing what I enjoyed was a welcomed bonus — and unlike some others who all but abandoned FlyerTalk to concentrate on the success of their weblogs and award miles services, I still visit there every single day and still post there.

Since that time, several weblogs have become wildly successful — and, frankly, I am glad that they achieved their goals beyond their wildest dreams. What bothers me is how those goals were achieved — as well as what is currently happening pertaining to journalism in general.

I decided long ago not to promote credit cards because I felt that pronouncing how you can “travel for free” is disingenuous at best. Travel is not free. Travel has never been completely free in terms of cost — even in the best of times and in the “good old days.” Although it may not be you, someone is paying for that “free” travel.

Even worse are the stories of readers of those articles who decided to take the plunge and acquire those credit cards — giving the writer of the article a nice commission for selling the product — only to earn those tens of thousands of points but paying far more in interest payments than the cost of those points or of the “free” travel in the first place. I did not want to be associated with that chain of shared irresponsibility. If I ever decide to promote credit cards in the future, I plan on including a clear disclaimer pertaining to financial responsibility and culpability — which to me is not really all that much different from articles which promote gambling or drinking. I likely left a lot of money on the table over the years as the result of my decision; but at least I can put my head to my pillow at night and sleep soundly.

The main reason why I have not promoted credit cards for a commission is because I did not want any outside entity to affect or control the editorial content of The Gate for the sake of money — and thus forsaking you as a reader who seeks information. Although I have committed errors along the way — as any normal human being would do in the span of almost 13 years — I have strived to gain and earn what I believe is one of the most important things I can receive from you: trust.

Late in 2016, I hesitantly decided to include affiliate links here at The Gate so that I can earn some extra money — but I vowed to myself that I would not let them interfere with the editorial content of the articles which I write. The latest example is this article pertaining to my criticizing IHG Rewards Club for its most recent Accelerate promotion — despite the fact that InterContinental Hotels Group is an affiliate partner of The Gate.

Also, when I see offers by affiliate companies which do not seem to be all that great, I typically ignore them and do not include those links in my articles, as I am usually rather selective about that. Exceptions to my policy include offers which I may not necessarily be interested in participating — but might be of interest to you.

I do not want to simply parrot the euphemistic musings of public relations departments and disguise them as articles here at The Gate. That is not my job. I hold myself accountable to you — not to corporate entities. If I see something with which I disagree or if there is something which might potentially affect you negatively, I strive to include that in the articles I write — not to bad-mouth them; but rather that I provide information for them to improve the products and services which they offer to you.

The good companies understand my philosophy and continue to work with me; the not-so-good companies disassociate themselves from me, take their toys, and go home.

The End of Journalism As We Know It?

Unless writing is nothing more than a hobby or a side job, no entity can be supported primarily by the views of readers and clicks for advertising. Creative methods must be conjured to supplement the income — whether via subscriptions, affiliate links, or outright selling custom items. For example, one idea which I am actually considering is creating a line of products which feature some of my best photographs here at The Gate.

Many major media outlets have indeed been feeling the pressure for quite some time. For example, you no longer can read a single article from The Wall Street Journal without first paying for a subscription.

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: The Wall Street Journal.

Numerous news outlets — such as The New York Times, Bloomberg and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — only permit a few free articles per month to readers who are not subscribers…

At the bottom of the image is the following statement: “You have 4 free articles remaining. Subscribe for unlimited access.” Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: Bloomberg.

…and some respected entities have resorted to what may be considered little more than begging — such as The Guardian — while simultaneously striving to keep articles available free of charge to all readers.

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: The Guardian.

Speaking of Bloomberg, here is what I consider a disturbing excerpt from this article proclaiming that public relations jobs are booming while newspapers are dying as written by Alexandre Tanzi and Shelly Hagan:

Employment for public relations specialists will expand to 282,600 in 2026, up 9 percent from 2016, according to projections from the Labor Department. Meanwhile, jobs for reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts are forecast to decline 9 percent to 45,900 over the same period.

For the news business, that would extend already sizable declines. Newsroom employment fell 23 percent to 88,000 from 2008 to 2017, with the number of newspapers dropping 45 percent to 39,000, according to a Pew Research Center study.

The article proclaims that “Public relations jobs exceeded those of reporters by more than six-to-one last year, up from less than two-to-one 20 years ago, according to data from the U.S. Census” and that “Journalists seeking work after being squeezed out of shrinking newsrooms often turn to public relations.”

I personally know quite a few journalists who have since left their jobs at respected news outlets — including the Associated Press, USA TODAY and The Wall Street Journal — to work at the public relations and corporate communications divisions of airlines and lodging companies; as well as at certain profitable entities which launched as mere weblogs only several years ago.

Why?

A number of reasons come to mind: better salary, more benefits, and greater job security are only three of those reasons. Does this mean that those journalists have sold out and compromised their own integrities for the sake of a perceived better career and a brighter future? Perhaps — and then again, maybe not. The answer really depends on which perspective you view: do you perceive it as the price of compromising objectivity for producing biased — and even manipulated — content; or does a journalist understandably have to do whatever it takes to keep a roof over his or her head and feed the family?

What you may not know is that everyone who writes articles at BoardingArea receives a monthly e-mail message from Randy Petersen — who is the founder of BoardingArea — with updates and statistics. For example, April of 2019 was the best month yet in the history of BoardingArea in terms of numerous metrics, which includes 15,845,058 readers for that month alone — but although BoardingArea has been doing relatively well overall, he repeatedly points out in each e-mail message the dire state of advertising and traditional news media elsewhere in recent years. It is not always pleasant to read; but his information is supported by articles such as the aforementioned one from Bloomberg.

My Own Experience — and What I Would Like to Do

Microphone at laptop computer

Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Despite art being my primary interest, I published my own “newspaper” for the street on which I lived while growing up in Brooklyn when I was barely 10 years of age. I gathered my own news stories; wrote my own articles; created a comic strip; and even solicited paid advertising. Once finished, I personally delivered each issue to paid subscribers. I even eventually recruited a couple of friends as part of my “staff”.

I took a journalism class in the special high school for art which I attended in Manhattan — my teacher was Mrs. Gluckman — and excelled in it. I was on the staff of the school newspapers in both high school and college; and I was active in the video department in high school. Just after graduating college, I worked at a local weekly newspaper in Brooklyn — twice — as an art director, columnist and reporter while launching my career in the graphic arts industry; and I was eventually employed by a trade magazine in New York…

…yet you will never hear me call myself a journalist — I do not consider myself one — but I have always had the utmost respect for the profession, which is why I am saddened with the aforementioned latest developments.

Still, I would like to write more articles and produce more audio and video programs with original information — as well as do in-depth investigative stories which uncover valuable findings to readers — but with a staff of one and working with limited resources, that is virtually impossible to do. I have even reached out to various entities — including those in the newspaper and television news industries — to partner with me and do a joint venture on uncovering the hidden truths pertaining to travel, miles and points…

…but, sadly, to no avail as of the time this article was written. I remain optimistic, though.

Summary

I am concerned more and more every day that the almighty dollar is what dictates corporate propaganda to be disguised as impartial news; is what causes the egregiously wild spin of a significant devaluation as promoting an “enhancement” which you have supposedly “asked for”; is what attempts to sell rather than to fairly report on a constructive basis; is what condones headlines that are blatant “click bait”; is what causes marketing and sales entities to be falsely perceived as legitimate sources of news and information; and is how information — mediocre or otherwise — is generally disseminated these days.

More than ever, we need to be better informed and more educated pertaining to the information with which we are constantly bombarded, as the plethora of tentacles of corporate propaganda seems to increasingly be deceptively passed off as legitimate and objective news. We need to know what information is actually worth our time and effort reading. We need to better help each other towards enacting mutually beneficial situations, as opposed to those who only seek to blatantly enrich themselves — often at our expense…

…but unfortunately, there is only so much that I can do — and that is where you come in. Please tell me your frank thoughts in the Comments section below as part of what I hope to be an ongoing discussion. Should we be concerned as to how the dissemination of information has morphed in recent years to more sensationalistic topics which are funded by vested entities whose subjective interests seem to be more motivated by profits than by genuinely helping readers and providing you with valuable information which you can use?

All photographs ©2014 and ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

6 thoughts on “Editorial: My Concern About How Travel, Miles and Points Are Reported”

  1. Debit says:

    BBC, PBS and npr have been widely successful government supported or sponsored news channel. Capitalism is not the answer to everything. Especially news controlled by vested interests. Like the ugly idiot from Australia that controls the minds of half of the Americans. It would be very easy to use capitalism to tailor the narrative to a small vested interest and the correction mechanisms in capitalism take too long to activate and correct. Free market is not the answer for somethings. News does well under strong regulatory framework. Weblogs is not journalism . They do not adhere to same regulations. Its more entertainment than journalism.

  2. dayone says:

    Your voice is always valued. You are independent, informative and insightful. Those other blogs may be “successful,” but too often they are shills for credit cards and mouthpieces of airline PR departments. Best wishes and much success pursuing writing about what interests you. If you’re looking for a suggestion, I’d be interested in learning about the Customer Relations side of frequent traveler programs. Airlines, and to a lesser degree, hotels seem to have gotten slower, less personal and less accommodating replying to customer complaints. Perhaps that could be called out and maybe responded to.

  3. Willy Nilly says:

    I like the first amendment. If you hear something you don’t like, too bad. If you read something you don’t like, again too bad. If you’re too dumb to know which end is up, then repealing the first amendment isn’t going to help you get any smarter. They’ll still be three deep to get one over on you.
    Try as you may, you’ll never legislate away differences in humans. Pass all the laws you want, those with in-born advantages (i.e., superior intelligence) will always find a way to leverage them.

  4. Randi says:

    Personal integrity must always dictate the way we conduct our business and our responsibility to our readers/customers/partners. Affiliate marketing has morphed greatly as had the landscape of advertorial vs journalism. The market wants information in easy to digest bites and with as few clicks as possible. It also thrives on sensationalism and hyperbole. If you lose respect for yourself, you are lost. We may not be able to control what others do, but we can definitely control both what we do and how we react to what others are doing. We each fill a different need to a different audience. Putting people into debt with unrealistic expectations of reward is really a partnership of the credit cards and banks who approve multiple cards for those who cannot afford them is definitely an issue, just like when banks were approving mortgages without sufficient funds to support them during interest hikes. We all pay for other’s bad credit with userous interest payments.

  5. Aleks says:

    Always wonder why there are so much negative “news” in all the media: papers, web, TV… Why people fall mostly for information of something bad happen, instead of looking up at something positive and trying to do the similar good deeds?
    I suppose the answer is that good deeds take time and effort, and bad news are just sad stories that mostly not requiring any action. What most people are not realizing is that by simply doing positive things daily they reduce the number of negative things happen around the world.
    Most so called news in modern media are just garbage – and consumers eat it without thinking much – because it easy and already giagested for them, or support their egos. One of prime examples: POTUS self-made news of self-importance and self-indulgence, and most media are faulty by keep publicizing such garbage daily. There are much more importaint things in life that require our attention!

  6. Dean says:

    I find your travel insights to be more honest and to the point than many of the other travel blogs I read on a daily and weekly basis , many of the other blogs promote credit cards over and over again ,which in many cases are NOT worth the annual fee , and or the ridiculous minimum spend requirement along with the annual fee.,they also will promote the same credit card companies cards while there are obviously better choices out there which get minimal promotion by the said blogs, I appreciate your straightforwardness…[is that a word?] anyways ,thank you and keep up the good work.

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