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Travel Writer Scandal Rocks Well Known Publishing House

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1. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 8y

Looks like the sh*t has hit the fan for Lonely Planet, author and former writer Thomas Kohnstamm has written a tell all book that shows how destructive LP's busines practices are and how the info in many books is recycled garbage.

Lonely Planet reeling after author's fraud
By James Campbell
April 13, 2008 12:18am

THE Lonely Planet guidebook empire is reeling from claims by one of its authors that he plagiarised and made up large sections of his books and dealt drugs to make up for poor pay.

Thomas Kohnstamm also claims in a book that he accepted free travel, in contravention of the Melbourne-based company's policy.

His revelations have rocked the travel publisher, which sells more than six million guides a year - guides that generations of tourists have come to rely on.

Mr Kohnstamm, whose book is titled Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? said yesterday that he had worked on more than a dozen books for Lonely Planet, including their titles on Brazil, Colombia, the Caribbean, South America, Venezuela and Chile.

In one case, he said he had not even visited the country he wrote about.

"They didn't pay me enough to go Colombia," he said.

"I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern in the Colombian consulate.

"They don't pay enough for what they expect the authors to do."

An email to management posted on the company's internal authors' forum describes Mr Kohnstamm's book as "a car crash waiting to happen".

"Why did you (management) not understand that when you hire a constant stream of new, unvetted people, pay them poorly and set them loose, that someone, somehow was going to screw you?" author Jeanne Oliver wrote.

Ms Oliver, an experienced travel writer - having written for Lonely Planet on eastern Europe, France, Germany and Greece - admitted to sending the email but did not wish to comment further.

Other writers believe some of the practices described in the book are widespread.

Lonely Planet's rules forbid their authors from accepting gifts or discounts.

Another email, sent in the name of Lonely Planet chief Janet Slater, states that Mr Kohnstamm's books were all being urgently reviewed.

The email said: "If we find that the content has been compromised, we'll take urgent steps to fix it. Once we've got things right for travellers as quickly as we can, we'll look at what we do and how we do it to ensure, as best we can, that this type of thing never happens again."

Lonely Planet's publisher Piers Pickard told The Sunday Telegraph that the company's review of Mr Kohnstamm's guidebooks had failed to find any inaccuracies in them.

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23527770-2,00.html

2. Posted by tway (Travel Guru 7273 posts) 8y

Quoting SamSalmon

"I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern in the Colombian consulate.

"They don't pay enough for what they expect the authors to do."

It sounds to me like Mr. Kohnstamm is trying to justify why he became a lying, deceitful drug pusher. He could have done like anyone else and QUIT if he didn't like his working conditions. And now he's exploitig the whole situaton to make a killing on a book deal. Seems to me he's not the innocent bystander in all this.

3. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 8y

trying to justify why he became a lying, deceitful drug pusher

Hardly the case if he didn't even visit the country he was writing about and his Editor never caught any of the countless errors in the Colombia edition-this was long before he took up dealing.

Note that his work isn't the only writing that's been criticised for being sketchy and innaccurate-he's just honest about the conditions @ LP.

(Nice try on your part defending the status quo though.);)

4. Posted by tway (Travel Guru 7273 posts) 8y

Quoting SamSalmon

trying to justify why he became a lying, deceitful drug pusher

Hardly the case if he didn't even visit the country he was writing about and his Editor never caught any of the countless errors in the Colombia edition-this was long before he took up dealing.

Note that his work isn't the only writing that's been criticised for being sketchy and innaccurate-he's just honest about the conditions @ LP.

(Nice try on your part defending the status quo though.);)

I'm not saying LP isn't innocent--they should definitely keep a tighter reign.

But this guy sounds like a disgusting opportunist who's trying to put the blame on LP (poor me I had to sell drugs to make ends meet!) while making a nice bit of cash on the side with a book deal. Sorry--personal responsibility is a huge issue here.

5. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4810 posts) 8y

So I just looked up this Colombian Lonely Planet. The chapters which Thomas Kohnstamm wrote were:

  • History
  • Culture
  • Environment
  • Food & Drink

Y'know... I can live with this guy not actually having travelled to Colombia for writing those chapters.

Which isn't to say that this guy isn't an opportunistic scumbag that Lonely Planet is far better off without - but I suspect that the actual damage he's done to the guides is very limited. He's definitely giving his own importance a heavy slant in order to sell more of his books...
(I wonder how these things work; if he was an employee of Lonely Planet, or works on commission - if it's the latter, I really hope the Lonely Planet contracts have some clauses which allow them to sue him quite heavily for not delivering as agreed upon.)

6. Posted by dbloom (Travel Guru 586 posts) 8y

Most guidebook publishers employ travelers/travel writers to visit the country or region for several weeks, stay in hostals, hotels and unique lodging places, get reviews from other travelers, positive or negative and tour around with local guides or when possible, on their own, you could say tell me to write a travel article on Mongolia and after several weeks of on line and forum/article/bloq research I could write a wonderful travel "piece" on Mongolia, claiming I'd been there. From what I read on an article regarding this scandal is that said writer stated "You could not pay me to go to Colombia..." Ok then pay someone else to go, there exists a wonderful forum on by and about Colombia, members are Colombians, Long term residents of Colombia and travellers in Colombia or going to Colombia. poorbuthappy dot com/colombia is the name well worth joining if traveling to Colombia.
Recently a native of El Salvador, British/Salvadorian who works with an Airline, was given a copy of that guide by a traveller returning home, the introduction and history was from an "elitist" viewpoint to say the least and the maps, directions, content on El Salvador was fair at best.
There exist far superior, more detailed country and regional specific guides, in my opinion.
Visit Amazon dot com and type in country or region for any and all specific guide books. Or visit travel section your local Book Stores and browse.

7. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 8y

This 'shocking news' doesn't really surprise anyone, does it? At least, it shouldn't; anyone who ever compared two LP editions on the same destination (or LP and another guidebook, it really doesn't matter) knows how much of the stuff is fixed, probably unchanged for decades. This includes not just sights, but also 'hot bars', 'hip restaurants', etc. In fact a large part of the travelling industry, publishers included, relies on these created myths to persist and be mentioned in all guidebooks...

Which in some twisted sense is a really good thing for truly independent travellers. By keeping all 'guidebook travellers' on the tourist track, be it a slightly broader track than some years ago, the rest of us have the remainder of this world all to ourselves to explore :)

Does this make sense at all? Love to elaborate on both topics, but sooooo little time

8. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4810 posts) 8y

No guidebook is ever the be all and end all of travelling, bentivogli, and I think you give the countless users of guidebooks (LP or otherwise) far too little credit if you believe that they stick purely to the content of the guidebooks.

What they are however (when done right, which all the Lonely Planets I have ever used have been), is a great starting point for getting to know a country which was completely unfamiliar beforehand. They're a reliable indicator for which areas of a country are truly worth visiting. They obviously can't be all-inclusive, but you know that if the description of an area which appears in the guidebook appeals to you, that the area itself will then be an area you will not regret spending time at. They'll list the prime examples of certain types of attractions - and if you have the time, you can always talk with the locals and fellow travellers to find others which can be just as good. (But per definition, a guidebook can't really list anything which isn't "on the track", as places find themselves on there by the mere virtue of being listed.)

A guidebook is.... well, as the name indicates, it's a guide. If you have limited time, and don't enjoy spending large amounts of time researching the best restaurants to eat at - you can rely on the guidebook descriptions for a "good enough" option. Sure, it might miss that one jewel of a restaurant that's also there, but hey, it's no disaster if you miss it - especially if you can use the time which you didn't spend on finding that place to instead head onto this mind-expanding trek into the mountains which also wasn't listed in the guidebook. And if a restaurant was good in the past, still exists, and hasn't gone horribly downhill - then I have no problem with it remaining in there edition after edition.

9. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 8y

Note that the Colombia guide wasn't the only one Kohnstamm worked on-when the book comes out many details of his relationship with the company will come to light.

He also accepted freebies left, right and center in direct contravention of LP policy.

LP response has been predictable-they claim to have checked the fact in his books and found no errors-they did this over the weekend from an office somewhere in Australia?

Certainly seems unlikely.

This blog entry has some intriguing insight into the murky and somewhat flaky world of travel writing for guidebook companies.

http://tinyurl.com/6nsosj

10. Posted by jaxstar84 (Respected Member 415 posts) 8y

to be honest... if i was a travel writer like that, and having a hard time makin ends meet, id prolly take a few freebies or gifts here n there too. just perks of the job, right? as long as its not something huuuuuuuuge, a free night here n there, free meal or something, then why not eh?