LOWELL THOMAS TRAVEL JOURNALISM COMPETITION
27 Years of Rewarding Journalists for Outstanding Work in the Field
| 2011 Judges Comments
SATW Foundation Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition
Society of American Travel Writers Foundation
Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition
Awards for Work Published in 2010-2011
Faculty members of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication, coordinated by Monica Hill, judged the competition. There were 1,209 entries. For questions, contact: Mary Lu Abbott, SATW Foundation administrator, 713-973-9985, or email@example.com. The results, along with judges’ comments, also may be viewed online at the Foundation website, www.satwfoundation.org
Category 1: Grand Award — Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year
Gold: Rick Steves, author and TV/radio travel show host
Everything you wanted to know about Europe’s top 20 destinations is included in Smithsonian Presents:Travels with Rick Steves, a 104-page magazine. This premiere issue covers some of the best destinations on the continent, including Paris, Rome, Istanbul and Prague. And Steves conquers each location with advice and language to soothe the most discerning traveler. Of Rome he writes: “Rome can be grueling. But taking a walk after dark is a delightful way to enjoy the cool of the evening and some of the best people-watching in all of Europe.” Of Gimmelwald, Switzerland, he writes: “...if you’re looking for Heidi and an orchestra of cowbells in a Switzerland that you thought existed only in storybooks — take off your boots in Gimmelwald.” There is helpful and abundant advice on what to do in each location, too, as Steves writes: “Find places where you catch Europe by surprise.” Indeed, Travels with Rick Steves is a must read for trip planners and travelers alike. In one of his syndicated columns, “Europe Travel: What to Do When You Lose Everything,” you can find out step by step how to survive losing your passport, credit cards and bags. There is life after panic, and following Steves’ tips will help you pull it together. The strength of Steves’ writing is his embrace of diversity, the range of topics and everyday candor. “People always tell me how lucky I am to be eating my way through Europe,” he writes. “But my appreciation of good food was slow in coming.” For candor, excellence and outstanding writing, Rick Steves earns the gold in the Grand Award category.
Silver: Andrew McCarthy, freelance writer, actor and director
What can you say about Andrew McCarthy’s writing? It is very visual and descriptive, so much so, that you are transported into his stories. His range of travel topics is expansive, covering the wonders of Kauai, Hawaii, to Morocco and the ultimate ski lift in northeast Nevada. He has been there and McCarthy knows how to take us along. In “The Art of the Deal” he fashions a perfect lead: “‘Bezaf!’ Sam barks. The soft-featured merchant cocks his head. He looks over to his shop assistant. A smile plays on the corner of the younger man’s lips.” And suddenly we are along for some serious bargaining with Moroccan merchants and an 8-year-old to boot. In a Victorian pub in Dublin, he quotes a local who captures the spirit of Irish culture: “You can feel it in here, the feeling of years of hospitality and warmth, the relief of arrival. You feel the history of Ireland in a pub like this.” McCarthy can even make midtown Manhattan sound appealing: “I’ve discovered that much of what makes New York unique — the history and infrastructure vital to its day-to-day well-being — hangs from this ‘waistline’ of the city.” Reporting from faraway islands, deserts or cities, McCarthy makes each destination appear all at once adventurous and familiar. Time and again he puts together a tour de force of compelling writing and this year earns the silver in the Grand Award category.
Bronze: Kate Siber, freelance writer
There is a reason why Kate Siber’s travel writings are featured in so many prominent publications: She is a storyteller who knows how to put together a compelling lead and follow it up with a colorful piece you can’t stop reading. In “Lost Rivers” she draws you in: “The setting sun washed the 1,500-foot canyon walls in hues of coral; cotton-puff clouds dotted the pink-tinged sky. The still surface of the river so perfectly mirrored the cliffs and sky that it was hard, at a glance, to know where the river ended and the cliffs began.” Siber invites us along on a ride with five paddlers in three canoes down the Colorado River. In “Pure Fluff” we are treated first to a helicopter ride on the way to a perfect day of skiing down virgin slopes. Siber reveals her passion for the white stuff: “Snow as soft and deep as this is naturally forgivable and allows a kind of creative freedom,” she writes. “I sliced through the buttery boot-deep powder, launched off pillows of snow, and slalomed around trees.” These are words to entice the uninitiated into taking up skiing. For those who’d rather keep it warm and dry, Siber invites you down Highway 12 between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks in Utah. The scenery she describes is equally enticing: “... the two-lane byway packs some of the Southwest’s most beautiful landscapes into a single 124-mile strip of winding blacktop. This is remote country — nothing but waves of Navajo and Wingate sandstone, slot canyons, and funky little towns.” Siber’s colorful sentences that weave into wonderful stories are the stuff of great travel writing and earn her the bronze in the Grand Award category.
Category 2: Newspaper Travel Sections
2A — Newspapers with 350,000 or more circulation
Gold: Los Angeles Times, Catharine Hamm, Travel Editor
The Times adapts to the times. Travel editor Catharine Hamm doesn’t think User Generated Content is a dirty phrase. She gleefully takes advantage of her audience’s knowledge for money-saving tips, family journals and other features to broaden her section. The staff material, of course, dominates. On July 18, the section took a surprising turn: a massive report on the Gulf oil spill. The Times set the catastrophe in context with a headline, “A New Glimmer of Hope,” on a large photo of a blue heron at rest. The section reported on the resolve of Alabamians; numerous beaches along the Gulf that were untouched; and a reminder that New Orleans is “fine, thank you.” This was no whitewash, but rather an inspiring lesson in human endurance — tastefully done in the region’s can-do spirit. On July 25, the reader was taken aback by a vertigo-inducing aerial shot of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. Christopher Reynolds’ Wyoming package, headlined “Elk, Blowups and Cowboys,” shone with storytelling. In Old Trail Town in Cody, there’s a grave monument to 19th-century trapper John Jeremiah “Liver-Eating” Johnson and two cabins that apparently housed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid between bank robberies. What a pleasant reminder that these people — and the place — are real. The Times also helps us laugh. On Oct. 10, 2010, it delivered “Our Lucky 10,” a snappy summary of unusual travel adventures, ideas and tips for 10/10/10, such as “10 Wonderful Western Hikes" and “10 Terrible Travel Mistakes.” Light, tight, bright. The Times hits all the chords: imagination, strong narrative writing, humor, customer service. I wish I could subscribe to the Sunday print Los Angeles Times.
Silver: The Dallas Morning News, Mary Ellen Botter, Travel Editor
The word splendor leaps to mind upon viewing the Morning News sections. The design is bold — happy, reflective, somber — with large, gorgeous photos that (cliche alert) put the reader there. Any newspaper can print large photographs from colorful venues. However, these eye-grabbing displays shout motion. They jump outward and sideways. They remind me of the phrase “architecture is frozen music.” For example, the photo of row upon row of mariachi musicians — a portion of the total group of 549 — splashed across the front page stopped me in my tracks. Each performer had a different expression. Writer June Naylor took us to Guadalajara, Mexico, the hometown of mariachi, where 35 bands play across the city every weekend, and shares their importance to the Guadalajaran culture. Naylor tells how the mariachi costumes evolved from the charro, or cowboy, as the state of Jalisco grew to prosperity through cattle ranching. The happiest-ever travel front adorns “Special Needs, Special Places.” We visit the world’s first theme park for disabled children in San Antonio. Photos of laughing children on a carousel melt the heart, and the writing by Lisa Martin lets the parents speak. “It was one of those jaw-dropping moments,” says Clay Boatright… “My daughter, Paige, left the Sensory Village and ran to the seesaw. She sat right down behind a girl who was already on it. No one freaked out. There was a sense of independence in that, a huge gift to our family.” The sections feature the usual range of helpful columns, if-you-go graphics and sidebars that mark any competent travel section. The front-page centerpieces, in bold strokes, make the difference.
Bronze: The Washington Post, Joe Yonan, Travel Editor
The Washington Post sections remain consistently strong. In one issue, a striking color display called “Rock of Ages” takes us to Montenegro. The descriptions by Robert Rigney are vivid: “You go through countless tunnels, skirting the precipice of one of the world’s deepest canyons. The mountains here are indescribably rugged, barely cultivable and scarcely inhabited. …You see a lonely hut surrounded by grassy plots cleared of stones for the grazing of sheep. But you see no people.” Another centerpiece, “Now That’s Weird,” takes us to Austin, with the display photo of a couple enjoying the Cathedral of Junk. This joke is corny, but it works as a lead here: “How many Austinites does it take to change a light bulb? Four: One to change the bulb, and three to talk about how cool the old one was, before the yuppies came along and changed it.” I felt I knew this offbeat college/music town a lot better after reading Joe Yonan’s report. The “Country Roads” display photo surprised me. Anchoring The Europe Issue, it introduces a section full of places to enjoy Ireland, Portugal, the Ukraine, Scotland and France with an emphasis on walking trails and out-of-the-way locales to “settle in.” Brian Yarvin writes a sprightly “Oh, Those Scots and Their Charming Ways,” about a 169-mile walk through the hills and the lochs. An outstanding travel section should take us to places we’ve never seen, while educating and entertaining us. The Post offers a sweeping variety of compelling ideas.
2B — Newspapers under 350,000 circulation
Gold: San Francisco Chronicle, Spud Hilton, Travel Editor
Spud Hilton’s sections always are an adventure. His breathtaking centerpiece on Gibraltar’s “The Rock” takes us to the upper limestone stretches, across the rest of the 2.5-square-mile territory and well into southern Spain. The writing sparkles: “One of the not-so-well-kept secrets is that, for all of Gibraltar’s quaint British-ness — slathered liberally across the landscape like Marmite on cold toast — residents fiercely defend it as a separate culture, a quirky blend of Anglo tradition, Andalusian ease and small-town bonding that comes with living in a geopolitical sore spot on a geologic sore thumb.” A centerpiece on Seville blends the modern city (flamenco, tapas and history) with reminders of long-ago years of Roman rule. Artifacts include Columbus’ tomb. The writing is fast-paced and clever: “It seemed I had about as much chance of finding Christopher Columbus as he had had of finding India in the Caribbean.” Another highlight was “Three Faces of Lake Tahoe,” including little-known beaches just five minutes from casinos. The piece illustrated options ranging from cheap camping with gorgeous lake views to the Ritz-Carlton Highlands amid the ski slopes at Northstar and in between, cute cottages and paddle-wheel riverboats on the lake. I learned lots of detail about Tahoe beyond skiing.
Silver: The Oregonian (Portland), Alex Pulaski, Travel Editor
Three words sum up The Oregonian: comprehensive, crisp, diverse. On the way to a jump, you stop and read three other stories. With a good proportion of staff-written narratives and articles done specifically for the paper, we see a carefully crafted package with a unity of purpose. There is the practical: “Holiday Travel Lessons Learned,” survival tips from someone who found out firsthand. Brad Hooker details a harrowing experience getting snowbound while trying to go home for Christmas. Section editor Alex Pulaski does an eye-grabbing section front on “Pretty San Diego’s Delicious Alter Ego,” writing about the region as a getaway from the Pacific Northwest in winter. After scene-setting about the usual attractions, the story focuses on “ … the city’s emerging slow food and craft beer scene.” Reader Roundabout invites travelers’ input about their adventures and included details from an Ocean Park, WA, vacationing couple trying to leave Cairo during the Arab Spring revolution. Their descriptions of chaos at the airport take us there.
Bronze: The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA), Gary Warner, Travel Editor
The Register’s sections are well-written and graced with thoughtful design. There is a clever “Ten Top 10 lists to top off 10-10-10,” with collections of travel editor Gary Warner’s favorite destinations along with travel trivia for the Oct. 10, 2010, issue. For example, “The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the world’s great train trips.” Warner even has 10 things he misses about travel. Then, a burst of imagination: “The A-Bomb's Second City,” with a display photo of neatly dressed Japanese children at the Aug. 9, 1945, memorial. The story by Warner tells of Nagasaki’s tumultuous history with the West, centuries before the atomic bomb. Then a twist: “Nagasaki, both real and imagined, has been in Western eyes for half a millennium. But no eyes had more effect on the city than those of a Texan named Kermit Beahan.” Beahan, we learn, saw the city through a break in the clouds (“pretty as a picture”) moments before he released the bomb from the B-29 in 1945. What an arresting and, to this editor’s mind, untold story from World War II.
Category 3: Magazines
3A — Travel Magazines
Gold: Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Nina Willdorf, Editor-in-chief
From cover to story, Budget Travel speaks to its readers, intrigues them, makes them feel like they can actually enjoy exotic journeys the magazine proposes. Helpful tips for and from readers fill the magazine’s pages and propel you through the issue. Add to that great photography and easy-to-follow maps and graphics and you’ve got a winning formula. It’s extremely appealing and easy to read.
Silver: Afar, Greg Sullivan, Editorial Director
Great story ideas and a winning format continue to make Afar stand out. The See section especially sets it apart, with its photo-essays and its fun graphics. The magazine’s longer stories and packages often provide new twists on old topics: Who would have thought that a bus journey through Paris’ ethnic neighborhoods could prove so rewarding? This magazine is always a treat to pick up.
Bronze: National Geographic Traveler, Keith Bellows, Editor-in-chief
This magazine connects with the armchair traveler as well as the real one as it explores destinations around the world. Gorgeous photos combine with great writing to make the magazine hard to put down. National Geographic Traveler nicely balances short pieces (a walking tour of Portland, ME) with the longer (a visit to Istanbul) for a magazine with lasting bedside or coffee-table appeal.
3B — Travel Coverage in Other Magazines
Gold: Southern Living, Rachel Hardage, Executive Editor
The stunning large photos stopped me and the titles and text elements kept me intrigued. The helpful content kept me reading. For the most part, the journeys weren’t far off the beaten path, but intriguing angles added zing to what otherwise could have been ordinary stories. These articles aren’t just for armchair travels; they lay out where to go and what to see in easy-to-follow form. I especially liked the “You’ll love it if/You won’t love it if” tips in the farm hideaways story to help readers see whether one suits their interests. Also, as a small-town boy, I appreciated the look at what some smaller communities had to offer.
Silver: Westways, Elizabeth Harryman, Travel Editor; John Lehrer, Editor-in-chief
Pub crawls in Dublin and a day trip to an ethic neighborhood in Southern California; visiting a camel fair in India and planning an annual family reunion. Variety is the spice of this magazine, but it’s also chock-full of helpful information. I especially appreciated the reader focus of the TravelSmart feature. The magazine’s design is attractive though not stunning; it doesn’t overwhelm the content and presents the right tone for an American Automobile Association club magazine.
Bronze: Outside, Abraham Streep, Senior Editor
You would expect the exotic from a magazine like Outside, and it delivers. But at the same time, it makes the extraordinary (rafting in Bhutan?) seem downright possible with its helpful advice. The magazine speaks directly to its readers in tightly organized articles with sections topped by appealing subheads. The articles have a “here’s what you can do” tone, avoiding the “see what I did” approach of too much travel writing.
Category 4: U.S./Canada Travel Article
Gold: John Flinn,“In Bay of Fundy, the Tides They Are a Changin’,” San Francisco Chronicle
A great opening line: “If Moses drove a late-model Dodge Caravan, he’d know exactly what we’re going through.” And however catchy that may be, it’s appropriate to the story. The remarkable tides in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy allowed the writer to drive across the dry seabed, but he had to return at the appointed time before the tide came in, which the writer duly noted in his closing line: “I wondered if Moses ever parted a sea because he was late for a dinner reservation.” But this story is not all clever lines. It offers vivid images of the various sites, from the new Fundy Trail Parkway, which “meanders for 11 cliff-top miles through some of the last coastal wilderness between Labrador and Florida” to the “handsome little seaport of St. Andrews … where the shingle and clapboard storefronts are largely unchanged from the 1800s.” The writer’s reporting and research enable the reader to better understand the remarkable tides: “100 billion tons of water — as much as the flow of all the world’s rivers combined — floods into the bay, producing tides as high as a five-story building, causing mighty rivers to flow backward and even depressing the Earth’s crust in places.”
Silver: Andrei Codrescu, “Ten Reasons to Visit New Orleans,” The Rotarian
A city with the history and traditions, cuisine and music of New Orleans, written about and written about, poses a challenge to a writer: how to describe it, share it, pass on its charm to a reader in mere words. The writer here has met the challenge with not only some writing that verges on perfection but also an organizing technique that, while it offers the titled 10 reasons to visit New Orleans, does not fall back on a list. The reasons are deftly woven into the story and simply break down the component parts into manageable lures. The weaving of the city’s past, be it the kind found in history books, on TV documentaries about jazz or annual newsreel footage of Mardi Gras, is a strength of the article, uniting the reasons to visit. The article is laced with interesting anecdotes and tidbits. Who knew F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “This Side of Paradise” in a small apartment overlooking Lafayette Cemetery or that William Faulkner wrote his first novel, “Soldiers’ Pay,” in the French Quarter? Or that New Orleans is the city that invented the cocktail? Or that “the latest sound that conquered America from New Orleans is called bounce, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art had a great show on this local version of hip-hop.”
Bronze: Wayne Curtis,“Main Street Takes a New Turn,” Via
This visit to four Main Streets on a drive through California and Oregon, turning off the highway occasionally, offers a nostalgic look at the small towns of yesteryear, opening with a visit to Main Street U.S.A. that welcomes visitors to Disneyland. The writer notes that Disney modeled it after his hometown, Marceline, MO, between 1890 and 1910, a period the writer says Disney saw as “the sweet spot of American life, a moment of delicate balance when the country looked both forward and back, when Americans still kept horses but saw cars coming and the ‘gas lamp was giving way to the electric lamp.’ He called his Main Street ‘the crossroads of an era.’” That time was lost and reshaped by future decades until, “the 1980s Paso Robles (CA), like so many other small communities, found itself hollowed out like a pumpkin as chain stores sucked commerce to the fringes.” But more changing times and some community planning brought the Main Streets the writer found and enjoyed. In Cottage Grove, OR, after walking into the Backstage Bakery & Cafe, the writer then stepped through an interior door and found himself in “a space between a pub and a bookshop, or what I like to think of as the Eternal Dilemma.” In Troutdale, OR, the general store, though opened only nine years ago, brought the past era to life for a 90-year-old customer — a time when, as the store owner recounted, “Everybody knew everybody in town, and everyone said ‘hi’ on the streets.” A time, still to be found, when “Main Streets are the heart of America.”
Category 5: Foreign Travel Article
Gold: Peter Gwin, “The Telltale Scribes of Timbuktu,” National Geographic Magazine
As if the subject was not remote and mysterious enough, the writing here is so filled with atmosphere and memorable people it might have been written by John le Carré. The name itself is a veritable synonym for a place so far removed it epitomizes the other side of the world. And the writer takes us there — with facts, history and unforgettable descriptions. “Sand blown in from the desert has nearly swallowed the paved road that runs through the heart of Timbuktu to Abdel Kader Haidara’s home, reducing the asphalt to a wavy black serpent. Goats browse among trash strewn along the roadside in front of ramshackle mud-brick buildings. It isn’t the prettiest city, an opinion that has been repeated by foreigners who have arrived with grand visions ever since 1828… Yet it is a watchful city: With every passing vehicle, children halt soccer games, women pause from stoking adobe ovens, and men in the market interrupt their conversations to note who is riding by. ‘It is important to know who is in the city,’ my driver said. Tourists and salt traders mean business opportunities; strangers could mean trouble.”
Silver: Steve Hendrix, “Austria’s Zillertal, an Alpine Valley of Great Skiing and Domestic Fun,” The Washington Post
Fact-filled and informative, giving the reader all the background he could be expected to want, this is also fun to read. For example, looking down from the writer’s third-floor balcony in Zell am Ziller: “Below was a flesh-and-blood diorama of domestic life in a tiny Austrian mountain town: the Playmobil-style train that trundled by every few minutes; the timber frame barns, the wholesome Holsteins; the schoolyard full of kids who knew that with hard work they, too, could grow up to be the governor of California.” And a bit later on the charm of the valley in the Tyrolean Alps: “The Zillertal is a place where the keen schuss of the slopes is followed by the mellow hush of the hills, which are alive with little more than the soothing clank of cowbells and the hiss of glacier melt tumbling down the Ziller River. It’s the Lost Horizon with strudel. Shangri-lederhosen.”
Bronze: Robert Draper, “The Call of Crete,” Virtuoso Life
The writer sets up the story in the first paragraph: “If there’s something distinctly American about the ice cream truck, consider this about Crete: On any given day, you’re likely to hear the megaphoned voice of a man driving through a neighborhood and calling out the day’s offering of produce and meats loaded up in his vehicle — a service to elderly folks who can no longer walk to the markets. You don’t have to understand Greek to know that the girologo driving the food truck is saying something very fundamental about what fresh food means to the Cretan identity.” There’s history, geography, mythology — it’s Crete and Greece, after all. But this is mostly about food and what the native fruits and vegetables, seafood and meats can be when enjoyed with a glass of wine … and why they’re so good. The secret? One, at least: olive oil, “which seems to gush from every spigot on the island.”
Category 6: Photo Illustration of Travel
Gold: Karla Gachet and Ivan Kashinsky, “The Road Less Traveled in South America,” Afar
Echoing the feel of the 2004 film, “The Motorcycle Diaries,” the winning entry, “The Road Less Traveled in South America,” captures the energy and boundless life of the people of this continent and the raw spirit of discovery and exploration. It’s a visual expression of the quote: “The journey is the destination.” And like no other entry in this category, this body of work makes you want to pack your bag, grab your Chacos and buy the first plane ticket you can find to Ecuador.
Silver: Carolyn Drake, “The Spirit of Istanbul,” Afar
“The Spirit of Istanbul” is quiet. But when you look a little deeper you’ll find subtle moments, intense expressions, revealing body language and aesthetic details that tell a story beyond the surface. Carolyn Drake’s images allow you to keep discovering new emotions, details and insights every time you look at them.
Bronze: Andy Isaacson, “Amazon Awakening,” The New York Times
Exploring the Ecuadorean rain forest and the people who live there, the Achuar, “Amazon Awakening” reveals the “old ways” of an indigenous culture hidden deep in the Amazon. It’s provocative. The photography takes the viewer to unknown lands and artfully reveals an unknown way of life.
Category 7: Special Package/Project
Gold: Christopher Reynolds, “Southern California Close-ups,” Los Angeles Times print/online
Christopher Reynolds and the staff of the Los Angeles Times are creating a model city guide — robust and evergreen while also fresh and social. The “Southern California Close-ups” package takes advantage of both print and online media. In addition to the excellent writing and photography featured in the paper at monthly intervals, the website includes an interactive map as well as additional editorial content in multiple media. Through the video interviews on the website, we hear interesting voices of the neighborhoods. Through audience photographs, we see fresh, creative and intimate shots of Southern California’s diverse neighborhoods. And through the site’s Facebook integration, it’s easy for readers to quickly share their reactions and tips. What a fantastic tool both for visitors and residents. Next year, I hope the printable PDF guidebook for each destination will become an iPad app.
Silver: Mark Boster,“Yosemite in Four Seasons,” Los Angeles Times print/online/other media
Mark Boster’s yearlong photo expeditions to Yosemite National Park really come to life in the online presentation of this package as well as in a full-color book of pictures. Boster’s tour of Yosemite in all seasons uses multimedia to tell the stories behind the photographs, to help people navigate the park and to allow them to submit their own photographs of this wildly popular destination. Online, the content includes smart tips for travel that aide users drawn in by the amazing images.
Bronze: Andrew Evans, “Bus2Antarctica,” National Geographic Traveler print/online/multimedia
This package is a model for how to execute an unusual idea — take a bus to Antarctica. Andrew Evans updated the audience on his progress via blog and Twitter posts and later in a multimedia package that appeared both in print and online. When the trip was over, Evans used his Twitter audience to drive traffic to his next adventure — which I can’t wait to see.
Category 8: Cruise Travel
Gold: Jill Schensul, “Back Channels of Eastern Europe,” The Record (Hackensack, NJ)
Why is this so good? Let me count the ways. First, it has what Eudora Welty says all good writing must have: “a voice.” It’s heard loud and clear throughout and setting up the subject: “Nine countries. Fifteen ports of call. Five languages. Three alphabets. Twenty-five-plus centuries of history. In 15 days.” Second, the writer finds a truly inspirational way to cover the various daily stops and trips to points of interest, setting it up with the question: “How does one write about this sort of trip, black-hole dense with images, ideas, history, themes and assorted flotsam and jetsam?” Then she seamlessly slips into the story with the answer: “Because in the end it is all about that flotsam and jetsam you pick up along the way. The aspects of your journey that your mind somehow snags while the rest of your brain is taking a photograph, reading a map, finding a place to change euros into ‘Hey, what’s the currency here?’” Third, it has good reporting and use of historical sites and figures. For example, the famed organ at St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Passau has some 17,000 pipes (built right into the wall of the church), which the writer contrasts with the smaller, 4,000-plus pipe organ in Kalocsa, Hungary, where her tour group attended a concert, its organ much admired (and played) by Franz Liszt.
Silver: Jad Davenport, “Galapagos: Does Darwin’s Laboratory Still Hold a Lesson for the World?” Islands
The opening draws you in with the first sentence: “A flock of blue-footed boobies whirls down from the sky like a beaked tornado and plunges into a school of sardines. The ocean erupts in hundreds of geysers. Dark fins crease the roiling water as blacktip sharks join the feast. This is what Charles Darwin called ‘the struggle for existence.’” A few lines later:”I was hoping that moments like this would help me understand how these isolated islands inspired the greatest biological discovery in history, helping Darwin crack the code of evolution.” Beautifully researched and reported, with facts and figures to spare, the article offers interesting sidelights on Darwin’s time. And the author provides magnificent images and descriptions. “Planks of sunlight slant into the abyss, and sea stars the size of dinner plates decorate the barnacled walls …” and later, “The closer we get, the more barren and inhospitable it appears, a slag of wrinkled black lava fields rising more than a mile into a crown of mist.”
Bronze: Craille Maguire Gillies,“In Praise of Slow,” Canadian Geographic
The writer takes the reader not only down the Columbia River and its respective banks but also between the time periods of yesteryear, be that geologic time or the time of Lewis and Clark and the modern world. It’s an effective and interesting blend of past and present. The writer even makes the contrast between what Lewis and Clark would have eaten at “campfire cookouts of fried squirrel” and the dinners that he enjoyed — “leisurely three-course affairs with local salmon one night, halibut another, washed down with pinot gris from the Washington vineyards we sail past.” There’s fine writing, too, as the author details the seven-day cruise retracing the journey of Lewis and Clark, taking the reader through a gorge “where bighorn sheep seem to outnumber people 10 to 1” and past “hills quilted with vineyards.”
Category 9: Adventure Travel
Gold: Rowan Jacobsen,“Heart of Dark Chocolate,” Outside
Rowan Jacobsen goes on a Heart of Darkness journey into the deeps of Bolivia in search of wild cacao, a natural bean which, as he writes, is “unmolested by millennia of botanical tinkering.” As someone who has written extensively about chocolate, he leads us through his journey with authority, taking us deep into the jungles of Bolivia, its people and cacao itself. This is a very engaging read, one to savor, maybe, with a hot cup of tea or coffee and a nice piece of exquisite chocolate.
Silver: James R. Petersen, “The Long Road,” Playboy
Some of us are afraid to get on a motorcycle in good weather and when we’re feeling perfectly healthy. James Petersen rode one for six weeks, over treacherous South American roads, in extremely inclement weather and sometimes at night, and all while going blind. This is a personal story of great courage and of the human spirit, of a man who refuses to surrender what his body wants to take away from him: his adventurous spirit.
Bronze: Michael McRae,“Rolling With Thunderbolt,” Outside
Michael McRae wanders around Mongolia’s forbidden Ulaan Taiga and almost ends up dead for the effort in this fascinating story of a journey to places few Western eyes have seen. This is no vacation piece. It’s for readers who are looking for an adventure story, not a place to take the family.
Category 10: Travel News/Investigative Reporting
Gold: Joshua Hammer,“A Mountain of Trouble,” Outside
This is a wonderful old-fashioned first-person investigative piece. Joshua Hammer retraces the steps of three young American hikers who ventured into Iranian territory while traveling through the lush mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. Their subsequent arrest and imprisonment in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran received relatively little news coverage at first, but their story is a fascinating and frightening one. Hammer explains how the incident must have occurred and takes readers step-by-step through the ordeal. It’s well written and suspenseful and leaves the reader worried about — but hoping for — the three hikers’ return home. Note: The last hikers were released this fall.
Silver: Gary Stoller,“Are These Batteries the Next Threat to Flier Safety?” USA Today
This investigative piece shines light on a safety issue that seems to have gotten lost in the louder discussion about terrorist threats to the flying public. Simple private use of lithium batteries in devices that passengers often carry onto planes — such as cell phones — can pose a real safety risk. Stricter rules have been passed for companies that ship lithium batteries in cargo holds, but this article clearly explains that very little has been done to address the risk of devices carried into passenger cabins. The piece is well sourced and explains the political climate that has resulted in a lack of action. Fliers may not want to read this, but they should.
Bronze: Nancy Trejos and Andrea Sachs,“Amtrak Ridership Is Up, But Passengers Grouse About Frequent Delays,” The Washington Post
For those of us who romanticize rail travel, this piece is a real eye opener. Amtrak and other rail companies tout travel by train as a way to avoid the stress and expense of flying and driving by car. But as these writers make clear in this article, train travel has its own problems, the most serious one being persistent delays. The causes range from encountering cows on the track to having to share rails with other companies’ trains. The piece outlines the history of Amtrak and does a balanced job describing its successes and failures by profiling a series of Amtrak routes along the East Coast. Amtrak remains an alternative to more costly travel options, but the reader cannot come away from this article with a rose-colored-glasses view of rail travel.
Category 11: Service-Oriented Consumer Article
Gold: Dan Askin,“The Free Cruise Offer: Scam or Legit?”Cruisecritic.com
This is great investigative work into a company drawing hundreds of consumer complaints. Anybody who thinks they are getting a free cruise — touted on television, online or in “congratulations” mailings of award certificates — needs to read Dan Askin’s piece. He does everyone a service by calling the toll-free numbers and asking the right questions to show the workings of a wholesaler doing promotions for a line that operates two-night cruises.
Silver: Carol Pucci,“Travelers Lose as Airlines, Online Sites Square Off,” The Seattle Times
Carol Pucci does a great job of explaining the financial ramifications of what it means for travelers when airlines pull their tickets off online travel sites. She gives great examples of how people are paying more and what it means for future travelers, and she leads readers to the conclusion that they’re getting screwed without saying it herself.
Bronze: Maria Lenhart, “Labor Pains: How Should Meeting Planners Deal With Hotel Union Disputes?” Meetingsfocus.com
This is a great topic to discuss for frequent travelers and convention-goers. While this story’s primary audience is meeting and convention planners, it resonated with me — an attendee of many conferences — because I’d never thought of this issue affecting my travel plans.
Category 12: Environmental Tourism
Gold: Melanie Radzicki McManus, “On the Backs of Giants,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Melanie Radzicki McManus does an excellent job of telling the big story by getting the reader to care about the small story. “She had me at the first wave of her trunk” is the introduction to Khuan, a 19-year-old pregnant elephant at Patara Elephant Farm in Thailand. McManus tells about the care of elephants at the compound by a richly detailed account of caring for Khuan for a day.
Silver: Kim Brown Seely, “Out of the Mist,” Virtuoso Life
Kim Brown Seely hooks the reader with her account of Charles, a 400-pound, 6-foot gorilla in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The park is the only place in the world that mountain gorillas live in the wild. The author does a nice job of juxtaposing Rwanda’s efforts at preservation of the apes against the country’s genocidal past.
Bronze: Gregory Dicum, “Peru’s Lovely Bones,” Afar
Gregory Dicum visits the Ocucaje Desert in Peru and searches for fossils with guide Roberto Cabrera, who sees himself as a protector of the fossils and concludes, “What luck to have been born with a chance to see this place!” The author makes us yearn to visit the destination so rich in fossils of such creatures as the great shark megalodon.
Category 13: Cultural Tourism
Gold: Daisann McLane,
“Ghosts of Hong Kong,” National Geographic Traveler
“Ghosts of Hong Kong” takes you into the world of ghosts, both spiritual and physical. Daisann McLane starts off with an enchanting lead: “The Chinese believe smoke is a way to communicate between the world of the living and the world of the dead.” Next she reveals the intricacies of Chinese cosmology, from the fate of “hungry ghosts” to the “traces of once vibrant neighborhoods” that stand witness to the incessant construction boom that engulfs Hong Kong. Along the way we are introduced to the ins and outs of city landmarks, restaurants, ancient culture and what came of the souls in the aftermath of the bubonic plague. It is easy for the unknowing to reduce Hong Kong to simply a former British colony or modern-day banking and financial center, but that would be a mistake. “Ghosts of Hong Kong” tells us why the city is much more than skyscrapers and glitter and what the future may hold for older neighborhoods. Paragraph by paragraph it is simply excellent writing about culture and travel and enchantment. Daisann McLane earns the gold with this one.
Silver: Edward Readicker-Henderson, “Acoustic Venice,” Islands
Edward Readicker-Henderson is no stranger to good writing and with “Acoustic Venice” takes the silver in the Cultural Tourism category for the second consecutive year. Writing about his favorite city, he treats us this time to the sounds of what poet Joseph Brodsky once wrote is arguably “the most beautiful city in the world.” Travelers arriving in Venice are instantly introduced to unique waterways, architecture, shops and restaurants. It is a full-feted feast of art and commerce that intoxicates even seasoned travelers. However, Readicker-Henderson cleverly spotlights Venice’s other charm — the sounds of the city. Insightfully he writes: “Turn away from the crowds, and you’ll find — in the cry of seabirds over the Arsenale, in footsteps over a bridge — that the city sounds much like it did when Marco Polo came home, when the Doges ruled Venice and half the known seas.” From the near-complete lack of wheels and few motors running after nightfall to the richness of chamber music, hats off to another outstanding job of writing and bringing our attention to the acoustic jewels of Venice.
Bronze: Andy Isaacson, “Amazon Awakening,” The New York Times
If you ever want to experience what it’s like to come face to face with an Ecuadorean rain forest shaman, then read Andy Isaacson’s “Amazon Awakening.” In the first sentence, you are introduced to the real deal. Isaacson writes: “Illuminated by a single candle, the shaman’s weathered face appeared kindly, like that of a sympathetic doctor, with painted red marks also suggesting a calm, fierce authority — both qualities that I would rely on during the dark and uncertain hours ahead.” With all the skills of an accomplished writer, Isaacson weaves a cultural tale using sentences short and long that entice readers further into the Amazon. After partaking of shaman tobacco spirits, the writer finds himself resting under the night sky on a palm leaf: “Within this dynamic nightscape, the boundaries between waking and sleeping, between inside and outside — indeed between humans and nature — blurred to nothing.” A similar blurring occurs as you read Isaacson’s writing — you go from simply reading the words to experiencing them yourself. For a powerful job of writing, Andy Isaacson wins the bronze.
Category 14: Personal Comment
Gold: April Orcutt,“Loneliness the Same in Any Language,” San Francisco Chronicle
This is a beautifully written column about a small piece of life we encounter both at home and while traveling: A mother in this case leaves her daughter alone in a rail car, and our author masterfully tells the story of what follows. It’s a minimalist article, one I read very early in my review of more than 100 entries, yet it is a piece that I could not remove from my rankings of the top entries no matter how grand the adventures of other travel writers.
Silver: Gary Warner, “Stepping Behind Enemy Lines at a Tiny Japanese Bar,” The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA)
Gary Warner has found what separates the medal winners in this category from all of the other excellent writers and their entries: the truly unusual story. How many times have we started jokes with the line: A guy walks into a bar? But this story is no joke — it is a punch-in-your-gut account of how an awful code of military behavior, now defeated 65 years, survives in the hearts of people who mistake it for honor.
Bronze: Don George, “Making Roof Tiles in Peru,” Reece: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler
Imagine visiting the wonders of Peru’s Sacred Valley — Machu Picchu, Pisaq, Tipon, etc. — and coming away with one prevailing memory: making roof tiles with local workers at a site our author happened across along the road. Again, it is a minimal story, but it tells us why we should travel — to see people and their different ways of life just as much as their monuments.
Category 15: Special-Purpose Travel
Gold: Margo Pfeiff, “The Last Hike With Philip,” Explore magazine
“The Last Hike With Philip” is not your typical travel story. What makes it unique is the recurring polar pilgrimage of two best buddies. Margo Pfeiff teases the reader early, recalling a 10-day adventure to Baffin Island in the Arctic 16 years earlier. Reunited again with her fanatic sports buddy, Pfeiff drinks Cuban rum from Philip’s flask recalling their life travels and the special reason she has brought him back — this time in a white box. With poignant words and phrases, we witness the healing spirit of love between “an odd match” that earns Margo Pfeiff gold and much more.
Silver: Lawrence Osborne, “Drinking in Islamabad,” Playboy
With the boldness and defiance of James Bond, Lawrence Osborne goes in search of a drinking bar in a place where Muslims have banned alcohol for more than three decades. Having traveled from New York to the Pakistan embassy in D.C. for his visa, Osborne, two weeks later, has grown tired of orange juice and ice cream in Islamabad. In “Drinking in Islamabad,” Osborne gives us a history lesson on al-Qaida’s hatred for Americana and the bombings of socialite bars in Bali and other places frequented by Westerners. Before the adventure ends, we are taken to the one place where it’s legal to buy alcohol in Pakistan. With excellent writing and sober reporting, Lawrence Osborne earns the silver.
Bronze: Brian Mockenhaupt, “The Other Side of the Mountain,” Outside
Imagine a writer and 11 combat veterans climbing the Himalayas to prove they could reclaim a part of their lives left among the armored vehicles on bombed-out streets in northern Baghdad. Brian Mockenhaupt introduces us to Steve Baskis, who was blinded when shrapnel “punched through his right temple, ruptured his eyes, gouged holes in his left thigh and right biceps, and mangled his left forearm.” As battered military disciples, Baskis and the others had to avoid letting the “military mindset of pushing through, sucking it up, dominate” them during the climb. In “The Other Side of the Mountain,” Brian Mockenhaupt captures “the camaraderie, shared history and the thrill of the unknown” and earns the bronze.
Category 16: Short Article on Travel
Gold: Nathan Myers,“Little Nibblers,” Islands
This contest attracts many stories involving unusual adventures, but having one’s feet nibbled by fish? That is a first, and it earns a gold because the practice is so unusual and the writing is so good. I love the lead: “I’m being eaten alive.” That grabs the reader, or at least nibbles at him or her. And I love that our writer had enough left over from his gift certificate to possibly treat someone else to a nibbling.
Silver: Don George, “The Aerogramme and the Email,” Gadling.com
Maybe a younger judge would not have enjoyed this as much, but I remember the aerogrammes that arrived from Europe in fall 1968 when my sister was backpacking across the continent. I still have some of those I mailed to my mother five and six years later, when I took my tours. Don George masterfully hits the sentimental value that these aerogrammes have when compared to much more efficient alternatives, the instantaneous email: “a kind of palpable poignancy.”
Bronze: Jeannie Ralston,“The Dinner Hour,” National Geographic Traveler
Travel teaches us that there is no one best way to live, that the people of this planet have many alternatives and that different cultures have chosen different courses. Jeannie Ralston makes that point superbly in this story about hunter-gatherers on their daily search for dinner in Tanzania.
Category 17: Travel Book
Gold: Vanessa Woods,“Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo,” Gotham Books
In “Bonobo Handshake,” Vanessa Woods reveals fascinating aspects of our world that are both unimaginable and entirely familiar. She is as adept at describing the lighthearted interactions among people and animals as she is at recounting the most brutal aspects of these relationships or considering questions that are ultimately unknowable. Woods writes in a concise yet conversational tone, teaching readers about places, people, animals and ideas they would be unlikely to encounter on their own and inviting them to laugh along the way. She writes openly and flawlessly about her marriage, her family and her field — the three quests that ultimately led her to the Republic of Congo just as the U.S. State Department ranked it among the “top 10 most dangerous countries” — while supplementing her observations and experiences with historical and scientific research.
Silver: Ian McNulty,“Louisiana Rambles: Exploring America’s Cajun and Creole Heartland,” University Press of Mississippi
Ian McNulty’s enthusiasm for all things Louisiana is infectious and invigorating because it is so convincing. In “Louisiana Rambles,” McNulty portrays the medley of sounds, smells, sights, textures and tastes that arise from a land so rich in culture, heritage, landscape and lore, along with an overabundance of hardship. McNulty provides readers with every reason to visit Louisiana as well as all the information needed to plan a memorable trip.
Bronze: Julian Smith,“Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure,” HarperCollins Publishers
In “Crossing the Heart of Africa,” Julian Smith takes the reader on two parallel journeys, over a century and a continent, as he follows the path of a 19th-century British explorer who crossed the length of Africa to prove his worth before his wedding. His introspective account considers the history of Africa and its explorers, along with his day-to-day observations as he travels across eight countries and more than 4,000 miles before ultimately settling into marriage.
Category 18: Guidebook
Gold: Sara Benson, coordinating author, and team,“USA’s Best Trips: 99 Themed Itineraries Across America,” Lonely Planet
“USA’s Best Trips” provides you with everything you’d need to know about the quintessential American event: the road trip. But even better, it reminds you about how people used to travel — focusing on the journey as much as the destination — and what we may have lost by flying to destinations. One of the finest features of this book is its organization — by region, season AND by theme. It provides information for both short one-day trips and weeklong trips across the country. It has all the traditional details about where to stay and eat along with tips for quirky detours and even suggestions for what music to listen to along the way. Insider information from locals is provided, along with a brief history lesson of what you’ll see as you drive. This book is filled with helpful details, but it’s more than that — it’s a reminder of how cool road trips can be.
Silver: J.W. Ocker,“The New England Grimpendium: A Guide to Macabre and Ghastly Sites, The Countryman Press
As the book jacket notes, “every place has a dark side,” and “The New England Grimpendium” takes readers through the delightfully dark history of the Northeast. J.W. Ocker explains that a fascination with death is simply a part of life, and he keeps the book from being too grim by focusing on the fascinating personalities associated with the ghastly locations. Whether you’re interested in horror movie locales or haunted cemeteries or the hometowns of serial killers, this book will take you there. And even if you don’t ever plan to actually travel to any of the macabre locations described in the book, “The New England Grimpendium” is simply a great read, although maybe not at bedtime.
Bronze: Ayun Halliday,“Zinester’s Guide to NYC: The Last Wholly Analog Guide to NYC,” Microcosm Publishing
This is the perfect book for someone who wants to eschew the glitz and glamour of New York City in favor of the “on-the-cheap, warts-and-all exploration of the city that never sleeps.” Travel guides for NYC are plentiful, but this one takes an original angle and executes it with a somewhat warped sense of humor that matches its theme. The book immerses the reader into the grit and grime of the city and avoids the cliches of Fifth Avenue and Central Park. If you want to get a tattoo or buy vintage clothing or find a pinball machine, this is the book for you.
Category 19: Online Travel Journalism Sites
Gold: Traveler.NationalGeographic.com, National Geographic Traveler, Keith Bellows, Editor-in-chief; Jerry Sealy, Art and Web Director; Kathie Gartrell, Managing Editor, e-Publishing
National Geographic Traveler led the field of applicants for its effective use of multimedia such as audio and video. The digital audio and visual travel journalism this year flowed off the website and into its “50 Places of a Lifetime” iPad app. The app is filled with world-class photos, video and interactivity and is the single-most reason that National Geographic Traveler’s online journalism distinguishes itself from this year’s field. Additionally, Traveler’s use of Twitter as a truly two-way conversation tool is exemplary among the field.
Silver: MatadorNetwork.com, Matador, David Miller, Senior Editor; Julie Schwietert Collazo, Managing Editor
Through original video series “The Season” and its robust YouTube channel, the Matador Network demonstrates the value of collaboration and curation in multiple media. Matador’s TV section is one of those places on the Web you can end up wasting an hour of your boss’ time, just skipping from one curiosity to the next. The Matador Network — whether on the website, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube — may not be your first stop to plan a trip, but it’s probably the most interesting place to share your travel adventures and the adventures of others.
Bronze: BudgetTravel.com, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Nina Willdorf, Editor-in-chief; Lisa Schneider, General Manager digital; Laura Michonski, Deputy Editor online
Budget Travel incorporates multimedia through user-generated videos in its myBudgetTravel section, one of several ways the site highlights community and the contributions of its users. Those well-curated community contributions augment a solid core of professional, fresh and usable editorial content that includes appropriate
use of multimedia.
Category 20: Travel Broadcast — Audio
Gold: Rick Steves, “Travel with Rick Steves,” public radio
Rick Steves hosts a deceptively simple program with sophisticated production values. He draws listeners into animated conversations with unusual people who have taken extraordinary journeys. This program includes a doctor from San Francisco who drove thousands of miles from London to South Africa for the World Cup. Along the way, he found himself in the midst of a life-and-death adventure, struggling to save the life of a man who had been hit by a vehicle. During the same program, Steves converses with retirees who sold their home and launched travels that would take them through Europe and Africa. Steves provides worthwhile advice on typical travel issues, such as which type of Eurail Pass might work best for you. But his program goes far beyond the simple question of what you should do when you reach your destination. Instead, he also explores how your life might change because you have reached that destination. Witness his interview with woman who stood in the Acropolis and found herself experiencing a spiritual awakening. During the same program, Steves explores a musical awakening, occurring over centuries in locations ranging from churches to pubs, as he introduces listeners to the Celtic music cultures of Wales and Ireland. Steves is a pro, and his broadcasts provide a movable feast for the ears.
Silver: Willie Weir, Spain/Portugal Commentaries, “Weekday,” KUOW Public Radio, Seattle
Willie Weir paints some of the best word pictures you are likely to hear — and then to instantly see in your mind’s eye. He borders on poetry as he describes a bicycle trip through vineyards in northern Portugal including the flavor of “one dark blue purple grape … the single best grape I have ever tasted. It was earthy and robust and complex. It didn’t need to be made into wine. It had already achieved greatness. We camped next to those grapevines and watched the sunrise light up thousands of acres of vineyards.” Weir’s word choice is flawless; his vocal delivery is energetic and expressive, and he has a way of bonding with the people he meets on his travels. He charms them and gets them to describe their passions. Then he charms his listeners and gets us to share those passions. When Weir describes the experience of joining a group of grape pickers early one morning, he manages to make us feel as if we are standing next to him. Weir has a knack for finding fascinating people, and listeners will find his enthusiasm for life — and for travel — infectious.
Bronze: Joseph Rosendo, “Ireland — The West Is the Best,” Travelscope.net podcast and radio
It is a pleasure to travel with Joseph Rosendo — and that is just what we do in this trip to western Ireland. The feel is casual, and Rosendo’s approach to his interviews is informal and effective. He begins by chatting up the owner of a car-rental agency at Shannon Airport, and then we drive along with him to explore County Clare. Rosendo, of course, provides the expected highlights of such major attractions as the famed Cliffs of Moher, but his report also contains extra seasoning. It shares surprising discoveries, interesting places found off the beaten path and entertaining individuals encountered along the way. Rosendo writes well, and he interviews effectively. This report contains solid information, provided by knowledgeable people and punctuated with well-chosen Irish music. We end this journey feeling satisfied — and looking forward to the next trip we can share with Joseph Rosendo.
Category 21: Travel Broadcast — Video
Gold: Susan McNally, Richard Bangs, John Givens, “Richard Bangs’ Adventures With Purpose/Hong Kong: Quest for the Dragon,” American Public Television
Richard Bangs does much more than show us the sights of Hong Kong — he helps us understand what makes it one of the world’s great cities, noting that its “uninhibited energy is as clear as rice wine.” A very high production quality, including great photography and quick editing pace, combines with the expert voice to guide us through what we’re about to see.
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Silver: Joseph Rosendo and Julie Rosendo, “Thailand — From Golden Triangle to White Sands,” KQED/PBS stations
High production quality, including great videography and tour guide audio, makes this a fun piece to watch, and it delivers the important message of sustaining nature in the midst of development. The priest is quite a character — would love to see him centrally placed.
Bronze: Rick Steves, “Rick Steves’ Europe — Season Six,” American Public Television
Very good videography makes these snapshots a nice precursor to more in-depth information about the sights featured. The viewer can imagine a romantic getaway to places so rich in natural beauty.
Category 22: Travel Blog
Gold: Rick Steves, Blog Gone Europe, ricksteves.com/blog
This must be what it’s like to travel with Rick Steves. Steves’ behind-the-scenes videos and even his political commentary give us a real sense of the people and places he experiences. It isn’t so much raw as it is serendipitous. Don’t miss his conversation with a cab driver in Assisi, Italy. The driver is a huge fan of the Seattle SuperSonics, and Steves can’t bear to tell him the team emigrated from the Pacific Northwest years ago. The serendipity continues in the blog comments where his readers engage each other, on Twitter where Steves will often respond to their comments and on Facebook, which he used to help crowdsource the name of a recent show. I don’t know how big that Assisi cab was, Rick, but you managed to get the whole unruly lot of us aboard. Thanks for the lift.
Silver: Brad A. Johnson, food and travel journalist, Brad A. Johnson, the blog, blog.bradajohnson.net
Brad A. Johnson provides a world-class example for how to use a blog to cover a niche area with expertise and originality. His site is an absolute treat, especially for the high-end foodie/traveler audience for which he writes. His photography of food — even airplane food — is beautiful, and his writing can sweep you away. The site is clean and crisp in its design, which serves the reader and is consistent with his style of photography and writing. Johnson extends his Posterous blog with a Flickr feed and occasionally uses Twitter to give his blog readers an insight into “how I got that shot.”
Bronze: Ben Mutzabaugh, Today in the Sky, USAToday.com
It’s almost as if Ben Mutzabaugh’s blog on USAToday is trying to make up for the dearth of real, multisourced reporting on most travel blogs. Mutzabaugh continues again this year his long tradition of covering the airline industry from the traveler’s perspective. And in addition to the original — and nearly constant — reporting on the site, Mutzabaugh also smartly links out to stories in other media and information on trusted websites when those links benefit his readers.