Atlas Obscura, a Journey Website Centered on the Bizarre and Obscure, Digs Deeper

When the pandemic hit last spring, Atlas Obscura had just received a $ 20 million investment from an Airbnb-led investor group. Atlas Obscura at the time was focused on building the “experience” side of its business – tours and courses – which it expected to incorporate into the huge home rental platform. (The New York Times is also an investor in Atlas Obscura.) But Airbnb abandoned the initiative as it tried to weather the crisis. And like the rest of the travel media, Atlas Obscura has spent a year mainly devoting itself to the fantasies of homebound travelers. According to the company, this led to traffic and advertising income as well as new business in online classes.

Now the travel media and the travel industry are preparing – and are hoping for a surge in tourism. Although few travel media have revamped their product like Atlas Obscura, they are also trying to adapt to a changed political situation in order to find non-white writers who live in the places they write about or to have more different American writers tell the stories of travel destinations. Jacqueline Gifford, editor-in-chief of Travel and Leisure, said the travel media tried to ask, “Who is allowed to tell travel stories, why are they telling them, and how can we be more representative of this country? of the world we live in today? “

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May 28, 2021 at 12:54 p.m. ET

But there are also built-in limits to how much you can revolutionize travel writing, said Rafat Ali, founder of the travel business site Skift.

“It will always be outsiders who look in,” he said.

The challenge for editors and authors in all media is to make journalism inclusive, exciting and provocative, and not just an exercise in the corporate media box-checking. (A top newspaper editor last week described this genre to me as “DEI dutiful” referring to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.)

It shouldn’t be that hard. Complicated, surprising stories are often the best, as shown in the great “Reckoning With a Reckoning,” which Adrienne Green, editor of New York Magazine, put together last week. As the editor-in-chief of the magazine, David Haskell, wrote in an email, the aim was “to clarify the stakes and also to complicate them, to tell moral stories but to avoid simple morals”.

Atlas Obscura, which also publishes magazine articles such as the disturbing story of how the remains of a black woman were displayed in a museum in Philadelphia and the Secret Weird Story of Colonial Williamsburg, is another great example of how a publisher can face the moment by delving deeper into content with an investigation in particular of violence that Americans often forget.

Indeed, Mr Patel told me that he was not sure if “decolonization” was the right word for the project. “Decolonization suggests distance, and we don’t,” he said on Wednesday morning as we began our tour of unusual New York locations on the edge of the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. “Adding that perspective to travel and travel writing makes it less boring.”

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