From travel writing to reportage: a bridge

First of all, thanks to Global Travel Writers members Philip Game and Karen Halabi for their most valuable inputs to this post. Philip served as an Australian diplomat in the Middle East, while Karen lived in the Middle East for an extended period of time – so their insights go far and beyond the observations of couch potato journalists.

Travel writing has a long and distinguished history – from the 13th Century Italian adventurer Marco Polo and the 14th Century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta to such modern luminaries as Bruce Chatwin and Bill Bryson. But sadly, travel writing today has become little more than advertorial mush. Travel reportage, on the other hand, has never been more incisive: take such Australian TV programs as Foreign Correspondent, Four Corners and (sometimes) Dateline – or PBS in the US and Channel Four in the UK – as fine examples of this genre.

It’s time for travel writers to shine a spotlight on what is REALLY happening in our crazy world, where power and wealth hold total sway. Such places as Palestine, Myanmar and Syria demonstrate how foreign governments and interference in the political systems and economies of these countries have made them victims of foreign power plays, thereby creating abject misery for millions of their citizens. And let’s not forget Manus Island and Nauru (Australia’s notorious offshore detention camps for asylum seekers ), or the disadvantaged of the USA.

Take just one example: the nation of South Ossetia, recognised by just four countries including, astoundingly, Nauru. Many Ossetians have fled their homeland due to an ongoing war with Russia. But meanwhile, the city of Grozny, in the formerly rebellious Chechnya, is said to be thriving and prospering. How can situations change so fluidly and rapidly?


A young lady of South Ossetia
Members of the Akhalguri Ensemble of South Ossetia, in traditional costume


Our traditional print media are notorious for reporting just part of a story. Take the example of the ancient city of Babylon, in Iraq. Our media would have us believe that the whole of Iraq is a no-go zone. But former residents of Babylon paint a different picture. “It’s perfectly safe to visit there now”, they say. “You can fly into Najaf and get to Babylon by bus in under an hour”. Daesh (ISIS) is reported to have ransacked the ruins of Babylon, one of the world’s most advanced ancient civilisations, but it’s impossible to totally erase history.

So, this post is basically an invitation to do your own reportage! Get out there and see the world for how it IS, rather than how you have been persuaded to believe it is.