Thank you to Jennifer Bain of O’Canadiana for her little chat with Cargo Lit, and congrats to Jen on her three recent writing awards from the North American Travel Journalists Association! – Mo
mdc= mo duffy cobb
jb= jennifer bain
My orders were to run travel as ethically and honestly as possible within this framework and to be fully transparent about the fact the stories spring from hosted trips.
mdc: How have you grown into your position as Travel Editor of The Toronto Star?
mdc: Tell us about your cookbooks. How much fun were they to research and write?
jb: I did two cookbooks back to back – Toronto Star Cookbook: More Than 150 Diverse & Delicious Recipes Celebrating Ontario (2013) and Buffalo Girl Cooks Bison (2014). The first was a big publisher and the book I had to do to get my foot in the publishing door. The second was a small publisher and was a passion project – my husband runs his family’s bison (buffalo) ranch in southern Alberta and I had an endless supply of meat. For Buffalo Girl, I called it an adventure cookbook because I went on a series of road trips to meet other buffalo people and write stories to launch each chapter. Nobody does cookbooks for money – they are absolutely a labour of love. Not only do you have to do endless grocery shopping, cooking and dishes, you are responsible for professional photo shoots. There’s a lot of secrecy about the publishing world, how to get a book deal, how much you get, how much you make, etc., so I wrote a story about my experience: The Making of the Toronto Star Cookbook.
mdc: How do you know if a story could be a good fit for The Star, and what should the pitch look like?
jb: We look for the new, the quirky, the untold. I didn’t take travel pitches from writers, but I received hundreds or maybe thousands of them. Most were fairly generic as in “I’m travelling here and could give you a story” which is not helpful. Many were based on the same press trips that we had already been invited on and just regurgitated the itinerary. As for how a destination should pitch, I liked to do deskside meetings when the destination reps came to town and came into the Star. We’d sit on couches near my desk and yak. The best story ideas, beyond press releases, would come out from these casual conversations.
We look for the new, the quirky, the untold.
I liked to show up early, stay late and lose myself in my work.
mdc: Describe A Day in the Life of a Travel Editor for a big Canadian newspaper.
jb: I’m a workaholic (recovering?) and was putting in 100-hour weeks. I liked to show up early, stay late and lose myself in my work to the point that I didn’t leave my desk for lunch and didn’t even like taking bathroom breaks. I’m trying to readjust that way of thinking because it obviously wasn’t healthy. But a typical office day might start at 7am, going over emails and opening up all my computer screens, making a to do list, editing stories, passing them on for further editing, fielding FAM [Familiarization] offers, researching a trip offer or destination, liaising with PR people for more detail, choosing a writer, liaising over their interest/availability, getting our “pages” (the editorial space left over for a section once the ads are laid out), writing a laydown (list of stories with lengths and photos to give to our layout people), having deskside meetings and planning many many months ahead. You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about the phone – I avoided it. I liked to keep paper trails. I needed them to help keep track of things.
I’m going to write a Canadian travel book told through a series of fishing trips.
I pledged to create a special issue for each province and territory.
mdc: What is O Canadiana?
jb: O Canadiana is my brand new travel website at ocanadiana.com. I debated whether to brand a site to myself or to a concept and went with the concept of travelling Canada and the world in search of quirk. It will host travel stories about Canada as well as global travel stories written by Canadians for Canadianas.
If you want to be a writer, write.