Drawing The Line

Jim looks at the strict membership criteria for the World Travel Media Guild and explains why a strict policy for accepting members is sometimes difficult to enforce. But, which results in bringing credibility and integrity to the WTMG as a journalist organization.
Drawing The Line

Where do obligations begin and friendships end?

This question came up recently in connection with criteria for membership in the World Travel Media Guild. Since the launch of this exclusive travel media group, we have received many requests for membership. Some come from people who we have not met – which is wonderful – while others come from people we know and have worked with in the past.

It amazes me that so many people think that they can ‘fool’ everyone into thinking that they are real journalists just to get something for nothing.One would think that dealing with those we know would be the easiest. Ironically, this often proves to the be the most difficult with decisions that bring emotional conflicts. The simple fact is that not all of our friends are also working, qualified journalists or media professionals. Most of us left one travel group because of their lax attitude toward membership, allowing anyone who seemed nice and had the money for the dues to be members.

It was for this reason that we also have decided that having national associations is not the best way to structure the World Travel Media Guild. Accepting all members of an association, means that there is almost no control over the credentials of the members. This is not to say that there are not many good members in most associations, but it does open the door to possible abuse. The numbers quickly get out of hand.

…our membership numbers may never be as high as groups like the one that we left. But it also means that we can provide our hosts and sponsors with an actual return on their investment.If you have a group with 20 national associations and each association lets one “friend” who is not, or is no longer, a qualified journalist to join each year, you have 20 people who should not be allowed to join. If this happens each year, within five years you have at least 100 non-qualified members. Add to this those who retire and just continue to be allowed to stay and you soon have as many or, perhaps, more people who are not qualified as those who are qualified.

In our case, there were several people who I have known for many years as member of the group we left and always assumed were qualified journalists, who have asked to be members. But, when they applied for membership in the WTMG, I was able to actually see their credentials. In all cases, their only “news outlet” was a club or association newsletter that is distributed only to about 30 or 40 of their own members.

I can only assume that they have been getting away with claiming this as a legitimate news outlet for so long that even they believe it to be true. In other cases, we see people who “publish” a magazine, the sole purpose of which is to gain access to groups such as the WTMG or to get “free” trips under the guise of being actual journalists. I know it is hard to believe, but some people actually have the nerve to write an article in their word processor and goes no where and is not read by anyone and claim that this is a “qualified” story!

It amazes me that so many people think that they can ‘fool’ everyone into thinking that they are real journalists just to get something for nothing.

I have a friend who is a medical doctor. He is always telling me about the wonderful trips that he takes as part of his continuing education. In some cases, the trips – which include locations like Hawaii, Tahiti, Paris and London – are sometimes underwritten by drug companies so they can introduce and explain some new remedy. Others trips are supplemented by the Medical Association or private firms. I would love to be able to go on these trips! But, guess what?? I am not a doctor, so I am not qualified to join this group.

Why so many people think that they are entitled to go on a trip for journalists when they are not journalists is a question that I do not understand and cannot answer.

For the record, the WTMG does not, and will not, accept club/association newsletters as being sufficient criteria for membership. Our members must demonstrate that they publish in recognized media outlets. In most cases, this is in newspapers and magazines that are distributed to the public and have a minimum number of readers.

Club newsletters, stories written in a word processor and not distributed to anyone, or articles “published” in magazines with limited distribution that are created solely to get free trips are not accepted by the WTMG as proof of publication.

In the case of those who are friends which I mentioned earlier, it means having to tell them that they are not qualified and cannot join. It may mean losing a friend, but that is part of what comes with building a group that is respected and seen by the international travel community as an important player in world tourism.

Of course, this also means that our membership numbers may never be as high as groups like the one that we left. But it also means that we can provide our hosts and sponsors with an actual return on their investment (ROI).

Yes, sticking to this policy of strict membership criteria can bring difficult decisions. But it also brings credibility and integrity to an industry that is all too often crowded with fraud and deception.

Jim Thompson
President, WTMG

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