How The Record’s travel section wins awards

The Record (Bergen County, NJ) travel writer Jill Schensul was – again! – named Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year earlier this month. “Since 1995, Schensul has won 29 Lowell Thomas awards for herself, and The Record travel section has taken 39 awards in total,” notes the Society of American Travel Writers press release.

The Record keeps winning, even as its travel section shrinks.

“We used to have up to 16 pages for our Sunday Travel section,” Schensul writes in an email. “Now it’s four. One page is dedicated to Record on the Road – our readers bring the travel section along on vacation and take a photo of themselves holding it up at their destination. Wildly popular.”

Schensul, who has been on The Record’s travel beat for 20 years, explains how the paper covers travel with a limited budget:

* We buy almost no freelance from outside writers. I believe we still take (and pay for) the occasional travel story from staffers if they offer to write something after they come back from vacation.

* We do more close-to-home trips. Not only are these less expensive, but if I go out on the road for a week or two, I am able to pick up fodder for multiple future stories. We use the same tactic for international trips.

* We’re doing more consumer advice stories, and more round-ups of hotels, spas, etc. No budget required. Readers appreciate the how-tos and the buyer-beware stories. We also manage to come up with some engaging lists – ideas for, say, one-of-a-kind accommodations (drain pipes, silver mines), the most extreme weather destinations and (also cited in the Lowell Thomas awards this year) where to see amazing animal spectacles (not eyeglasses, but huge migrations, synchronized firefly courtship flashings, etc.).

What about junkets? I asked.

Jill Schensul

Jill Schensul

“Ever since I’ve been doing travel at the Record, the policy here is we don’t take free trips,” says Schensul. “If we get ‘invited’ on a trip and it sounds interesting and would be a good fit for our readership, we’ll negotiate a press rate. It’s standard operating procedure. A few papers – The NY Times and the Washington Post, I think – pay for everything, and require their freelancers do the same. We negotiate a rate with the trip’s organizers that makes it possible for us to get out and test drive new places. It’s the way we have come up with to keep providing Record-generated stories, photos and insights rather than wire copy for our readers.”

The travel journalist adds in her email:

“This isn’t to say we only travel when someone offers us a ready-made press trip. We decide on at least a few big projects at the beginning of the year, and then I go about researching the best way to go. We may get a press rate at a hotel, or a guide through the tourist office, but almost everything else is full price. (I don’t eat gourmet meals very often … well, ever.). Still, we are always weighing the bang for the buck.”

* The Record’s Jill Schensul is named travel journalist of the year (