When we last read Keph Senett (no relation), she was riding roughshod over lesbian and gay economics atop the only horse in her stable, lesbian soccer. What’s she up to now? Adamantly defending the unethical practice of journalists taking money from sources. And a major freelance writers’ group implicitly backs her up.
Look first at the piece Senett wrote for (the) Story Board – the freelancer blog that causes more bafflement even than J‑Source and even for its owners, as we’ll see. Both sites don’t know what their actual job is, but certainly one of Story Board’s jobs is not to defend payola and taking money from sources.
I’ve never seen a balder and less guileful description of what that latter actually looks like than what Senett wrote about herself:
The way it works is simple. I partner with a tourism bureau or destination-management organization and they fly me somewhere and show me some things. In return, I produce and place well-written travel articles in various media.
Shorter Keph Senett: My “partner” pays me to write glowing stories. (She keeps using the words “partner” and “partnership.” It’s actually just payola.)
Always attuned to social justice, Senett next broadens her scope to the most downtrodden among hacks, Times freelancers.
The New York Times won’t accept work resulting from a press trip reserves the right to reject work from writers who have received comps in the past…. Boiled down, this policy affects those writers without access to their own money, or a patron, or a grant. The nasty result is an implicit bias based on socioeconomic class.
No, actually, it’s a bias based on rejecting payola and refusing to work with unethical hacks.
I wrote comments on that article:
The implication was that in the face of sponsored relationships, my journalistic integrity could not be trusted.
It can’t. You’ve been bought.
The attack on my ethics ate at me; this was a publication that knew me and my work.
But this publication, unlike, say, the Toronto Star, understands it is is structurally impermissible for “journalists” to accept free travel or anything greater than a trifle. If we were talking about structural issues in, say, lesbian soccer you wouldn’t bat an eye at the analysis.
And as for your closer, it is in fact journos who “can’t have it both ways,” taking money from sources and from publications both.
Story Board refused to publish the comment. When I complained, editrix Rachel Sanders wrote: “Story Board’s policy is not to publish comments that read as personal attacks. Our editorial board agreed that both the line ‘You’ve been bought’ and your reference to lesbian soccer veered towards personal attacks on the writer…. We believe the issue of freelancers and press trips is a grey area that is worthy of debate and discussion.”
Because I don’t top-post, I am capable of carrying on a conversation by E-mail. Sanders ignored the following (links repositioned):
Our editorial board agreed that both the line “You’ve been bought”
and your reference to lesbian soccer
Do your research. Senett is a lesbian and writes about lesbian soccer. Do not deign to lecture a gay man about when and where he can call out lesbians lesbians.
Do even more research. Third-party payments to journalists are always wrong, yet they are the lifeblood of automotive and, yes, travel sections in newspapers.
We believe the issue of freelancers and press trips is a grey area that is worthy of debate and discussion.
Explain that to me much, much more carefully. Are you saying, again for attribution, that Story Board believes there are some occasions when sources or involved parties’ paying journalists to write stories is not an ethical violation? Please give three examples of when that might be true.
Also explain (we’re still on the record) if Story Board officially believes third-party advertising funders are mere “partners,” as out lesbian soccer aficionado Keph Senett claims. How does “partner” not mean “advertiser”?
Sanders also told me that “the Canadian Writers Group was involved in the founding of Story Board but is no longer formally affiliated with the blog. Story Board is currently run solely by the Canadian Media Guild.” That means a leading freelancers’ union allowed a writer to state it was A‑OK to take money from sources, and, when challenged, refused to repudiate this unethical stance. You can safely assume, as I do, that such is Canadian Media Guild’s official position.
Keph Senett is impossible to get in touch with. Her contact form borks 100% of the time due to this nontechnical user’s reliance on ReCAPTCHA. Mail to the obvious address bounces. The least viable method of electronic communication, a Facebook message, went without response. I told Story Board I couldn’t reach her and asked them to ask her to drop me a line, but I got no response from either. As her piece ran in late August, well more than enough time has passed for Senett to reply.
What might a “tourism bureau” or “destination-management organization” have to say about Keph Senett?
I note with interest an entire page on Senett’s site (“Tourism Campaigns”!) that lovingly publishes encomiums to exotic destinations (Vienna… Puerto Vallarta… Cleveland). I did not see an outright declaration that Senett took money or cash-in-kind from tourism bureaux. But you don’t need that kind of declaration when her postings are full of bons mots like these.
I met Keph Senett when I was… the lead faculty member of travel-writing course, in which she was enrolled. From the beginning, Keph was a standout student who was clearly invested in her writing…. It was for these reasons that I selected Keph for a writer-in-residency program in Turkey.
– Julie Schweitert Collazo, Writer and Editor
The very first thing I did was call the rep in New Brunswick to discuss an itinerary.
This is a terrific piece. I read lots of travel writing, and yours is first-rate….
– Heather MacDonald-Bossé, Travel Media Representative… Tourism New Brunswick
While there, I introduced myself to the Mexico City Secretariat of Tourism. In that meeting, I learned about their current marketing strategies, and shared how my work might help them reach their desired audiences, particularly in the international LGBT communities.
Since then, I’ve returned several times – including for two consecutive LGBTTTI Pride celebrations – and have continued to work in partnership with the appropriate organizations to place thoughtful, well-written pieces in targeted markets. My sustained interest in Mexico… has led to… being named an Ambassador for the Mexico Report’s Real Heroes of Mexico in 2014.
In 2014, I was invited back to Vallarta to report on the second annual Pride week. My work was in partnership with the Puerto Vallarta Pride Committee.
When Gay Games 9 selected Cleveland and Akron as the host city for 2014, it provided a unique opportunity to produce travel writing in concert with LGBT sports activism and journalism…. Working with the tourism department at Positively Cleveland, I developed a strategy that would place advance stories on the region in media in the U.S., Canada, and in Europe.
Keph is a travel writer who quite simply “gets it.” She has been a pleasure to work with throughout the planning, hosting and followup process. And it’s evident by the content she produced that she not only absorbed the tips and information we provided, but she did extensive research on her own and really got to know the city resulting in some fantastic coverage.
– April Ingle, Communications Coordinator, Positively Cleveland
Alberta: “n 2013, I partnered with Travel Alberta, Tourism Jasper, and the Jasper Pride Festival Society to explore the region.”
The Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce contacted me in late 2013 and invited me to visit. They… wanted to publicize their destination to an LGBT audience, and second, they wanted to draw attention to area in the off-season (winter).
In early 2014 I travelled to the region, met with local businesspeople and residents, and ultimately placed a travel feature focusing on winter trips with Canada’s national gay and lesbian newspaper, Xtra.
Keph not only produced an article that beautifully encompassed the authentic essence of Muskoka, she was genuinely interested in our northern destination and the locals who call it home. Keph was an absolute pleasure to work with and I would have her come back for every tour I host in the future.
– Jennifer Clute, Tourism and Marketing Coordinator, Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce
If you’re “a tourism bureau or destination-management organization,” there’s one hack in Toronto who’ll make you look good. It’ll cost you.