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BP pays travel writers to 'make it right'

Sometimes with major news stories it takes time and distance for the truth of something to come out. Often, that requires tenacious reporting by dedicated reporters.

Take the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for example.

Sure, national and international media outlets dispatched hundreds of reporters to gulf states for months last summer to monitor the effort to clean up more than 200 million gallons of oil. True, too, photojournalists and video crews captured images of oiled wildlife and devastated fishermen and followed President Obama as he chatted with beach cleanup crews. 

But we haven't heard the real story until now, according to a group of six travel writers just back from a whirlwind tour of Florida's beaches. Turns out their all-expenses-paid weekend of fact-finding was funded by BP.

According to the Pensacola News Journal, the oil giant gave the Santa Rosa County (Fla.) Tourist Development Council $551,000 to get the word out that Florida's beaches are open for business, with none of those pesky tar balls to be seen.

Most media outlets reported that Pensacola was never seriously affected by the oil spill. Tar balls did hit the city's beaches, but were quickly plucked from the sand by cleanup crews, which included, in at least one instance, the state's governor.

The half-million dollars to Make It Right in Santa Rosa County is in addition to the nearly $100 million the company has spent on advertising to get out its message that BP will remain in the gulf "as long as it takes" to clean up its mess.

The tourism council spent some of the BP money to bring in six travel writers, chauffeuring them to tourist sites in a white stretch limo, according to the News Journal. Their weekend included a tour of Pensacola's famous white sand beaches.   

The writers saw for themselves that, five months after the well blowout that killed 11 men, the Florida panhandle was not coated in oil -- just as had been reported all along.

One of the participants, Ron Stern, editor of, gushed over his "three-bedroom suite with sweeping views of the Gulf" in Navarre Beach, Fla., and the "beautiful white sand beach (actually comprised of quartz)." 

Ron "waded out into the emerald-green water and looked for signs of smelly slimy oil. Nope, nothing except for some swimmers, seagulls and families enjoying the sunshine, gorgeous water and clean shores. So much for everything I had been hearing and seeing, at least in Navarre."

While Ron was on the trail of the phantom oil, he fortified himself with a shrimp po' boy, grilled bruschetta and a charbroiled salmon filet with Swiss cheese and bacon, according to his blog. The intrepid Ron reports that he ended his investigation by watching "the orange glow of the sun slowly setting on the water."

Ron told Louis Cooper of the the Pensacola News Journal, "What the national media has been saying is totally untrue, for the most part, and blown totally out of proportion. What they are going to get from me is the truth."

Don't take just his word for it. Freelance writer Apryl Thomas, who writes for several websites and publications, including Southern Hospitality, also hit the beach: "I knew the spill was kind of blown up," she told the News Journal. "They way it was first covered in the national media, you honestly thought, 'It's gone,' but once I did a little research and calling, I felt like it was important to let people know that everything is good to go."

-- Julie Cart

Photo: A child plays on Pensacola Beach in June, as BP workers clean up tar balls. Credit: Carolyn Cole /Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (16)

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Post will disappoint all the travel writers ,Publisher should have to pay to the writers which have to gather information about the events or any thing else which happen in the give a good example to understand what he want to say?

Well, we already know most travel writers (I am a part-time travel writer myself) can be bought. That's why they spend so much time navel-gazing about whether it's appropriate to accept paid-for press trips. Guilt intersects with greed. This is just a logical extension of that mentality. And yes, I know this is a generalization. There are some excellent travel writers out there who apply principles of ethical journalism to their travel reporting. Problem is, how do you know the difference? Readers beware!

This article demonstrates why all the major newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune don't permit their writers (staff or freelance) to take press trips. If six reporters were going anywhere in the Gulf I would have thought they would have done their homework and headed to the worst areas of the spill where they could don some protective gear, grab a trash bag and pick up tar balls rather than becoming balls of tar themselves.

We Florida Gulf-coasters are really sick and saturated with British Petroleum and Corexit contamination.

It's a sad time for travel writers. We get squeezed from publications that either don't pay at all, or pay pennies a word. Travel is extremely expensive. And no publication wants to pay our expenses.

What's a travel writer to do? Rely on press trips. Editors, destinations, and writers have come up with a wicked arrangement. Destinations pay expenses, editors look the other way, and writers (generally) try to do the best they can.

The BP trip was particularly questionable and all but screamed that the trip would be a perfect vacation.

But if magazines want professionally written, independent and unbiased accounts, they need to pay for it. They can't, of course, and won't.

So, ya end up with what you pay for. BP, and readers.

Dangerously incompetent reporting.

Personally I enjoy irony and sarcasm so, as devastating as this whole debacle is, I appreciate Ms. Cart's rendering. It seems a shame that her apt handling of the story was lost on some as is reflected in the comment section.
So nice of Apryl (with a y) Thomas, who has no bias whatsoever, to expound on the subject matter and declare "everything is good to go", lol.
Yes Apryl, I'm quite sure all those complaining of internal bleeding are simply overstating and/or imagining things.

Thank you : I had a smile reading your paper. (I'mFrench and I run the only website in French on the Gulf.)

About those "reporters", let me quote M.Georges W. Bush (it's rare I do) :
"If you're not WITH us, you're AGAINST us"

The man was right (once) : in this war on info, the accomplices will have to give accounts.

That's what I try to threaten the French Press, who was lame until today.

I put a maximum pressure on them, the French journalists, to make them wake up, and it's a very hard job.

Yesterday, I posted a very hard article on one journalist responsible of the "Sciences" pages of the French newspaper "Libération".

I removed it because the journalist asked me to...and as soon as he is now "aware" that his job is under severe monitoring, I hope he'll soon publish something else than the 4 lame articles since the beginning of the spill.

Take care.

François Larquetout

It's great that everyone is angry about this -- I am too. But I think Julie Cart should be thanked, not berated. Her sarcasm seems apparent to me. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think anyone trying to spin this for BP wouldn't make so much about the payola and the fabulous hotel rooms.

Part of me wishes she'd blasted BP harder, but there are limits to what ethical journalists can do in a news story, and besides... this kind of thing has now become so absurd in the US that I'm not sure there is any real way to talk about it *without* resorting to sarcasm.

Thanks for the great video links though. Please keep them coming.

What a lame article by the LATimes.

Also, I would've touch any Gulf seafood without a trained dog that doesn't eat seafood, signaling to me that the seafood has neither oil, NOR DISPERSANT
in it.

A person sniffing it just doesn't pass the laugh test.
And I ain't laughing about any of this.

Way to regurgitate paid off American media. FAIL on you, LA Times!

Give me an all expense paid grand suite for the week-end on the beach and I'll say whatever they pay me to say. Give us a break. Millions and millions of gallons of oil a day do not flow into the Gulf of Mexico and have no impact whatsoever.

What a disappointing article.

I've been corresponding with the people who live in the Gulf and it's NOT all ok.

If you listen to BP, nothing ever happened - check out:

Gregg Hall has been videotaping the beach every day since this happened.

tar balls still on Pensacola Beach. When can the media and government stop accepting dirty money and start being concerned with U.S. citizens?

This video was taken today. Tar balls on Pensacola Beach still.

There are tar balls on Pensacola Beach as of right now? HELLOOO???? Can somebody in the national media get the real story soon? We all know it, why can't you guys figure it out?


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