Veronica Stoddart: Award Winning Travel Editor, Writer and Content Consultant

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those reports on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. In today’s episode, we are talking with Veronica Stoddard, an award-winning travel editor, writer, and content consultant with more than four decades in travel publishing. She spent 16 of those years as USA Today’s editor-in-chief for travel, reaching a daily audience of 6 million readers. She was also the founding editor of Caribbean Travel and Life Magazine, which she edited for 10 years. Veronica has also worked as a content editor for National Geographic Society, as a travel editor for America’s magazine, as a stringer for Time Life news service in West Africa, and was a faculty member of the SATW Institute for Travel, Writing, and Photography for five years. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Conde Nast Traveler, AARP magazine, Hemispheres, Los Angeles Times, Frommers.com, ThePointsGuy.com, CruiseCritic.com, and Travel Awaits among dozens of other outlets. Hi, Veronica.

 

Veronica Stoddart  01:28

Hello, Angela.

 

Angela Tuell  01:30

I am beyond thrilled to talk with you today.

 

Veronica Stoddart  01:32

I’m really happy to be here and look forward to this.

 

Angela Tuell  01:35

Great. So for those listeners who don’t know, we currently work together on the PR side of things through your role as a content consultant for travel clients. And though you work on both the journalist/editor side and the content creator side currently, what does your professional life look like right now?

 

Veronica Stoddart  01:54

Well, with so many changes in the industry over the last few years, especially during COVID-19, I consider myself really privileged to be able to use both my writing and editing skills in multiple ways. I not only freelance for a variety of really great travel outlets, which allows me to travel which of course is my first love.

 

Angela Tuell  02:15

Right.

 

Veronica Stoddart  02:16

Also, I also produce custom content for travel clients through my own content marketing agency, which is called VS Content Strategies, as well as for the travel clients of the marketing communications agency Percepture where you and I overlap.

 

Angela Tuell  02:32

Yeah.

 

Veronica Stoddart  02:32

What does that mean? In that role, I work with dozens of freelance writers who write editorial articles for my clients, which I assign to edit and deliver to them, so that they can then use them, for example, on their websites, in their newsletters, in their PR efforts, etc.

 

Angela Tuell  02:50

Yeah.

 

Veronica Stoddart  02:51

So I’m happy to say that I’m really quite busy these days. And I’m grateful to have so many wonderful clients and opportunities to travel as well.

 

Angela Tuell  02:59

Yes, and there’s nothing better than a journalist-written travel article. I like to say, you know, PR professionals can write as well, but nothing compares to when it’s a true journalist writing.

 

Veronica Stoddart  03:12

Well, thanks for that.

 

Angela Tuell  03:13

Yeah. You’ve had quite the professional experience. You know, as I mentioned in our intro. Including spending 16 years as the travel editor for USA Today. That is quite an accomplishment. How was your time there?

 

Veronica Stoddart  03:28

Well, I’m really proud of leading a fabulous team of 16 – can you believe – travel writers, editors, and producers at USA Today. We produce content for not only the print paper, which was, at that time, the largest newspaper in the country, but also the travel, its travel website, and other digital products. The combined daily audience of 6 million readers, was massive.

 

Angela Tuell  03:53

Wow. Yes.

 

Veronica Stoddart  03:54

And this was at a time when USA Today was considered the “traveler’s newspaper.” So travel was considered a key pillar of their coverage at the travel site grew into a top five for travel, news, and information. It was really a powerhouse. And it was a great privilege and an awesome responsibility to have that kind of reach and impact.

 

Angela Tuell  04:14

Yeah.

 

Veronica Stoddart  04:15

We did lots of groundbreaking coverage. And we won a bucket full of awards for our coverage. And I’m really grateful to have had that opportunity. You know, the other thing I’d like to mention, there were challenges along the way, because when I was there, we transitioned from print to digital.

 

Angela Tuell  04:31

Oh, right.

 

Veronica Stoddart  04:32

Many, you know, as many publications were doing. When I arrived, we were just putting out a standalone print Travel section, as many newspapers did back then. You probably remember those right? We transitioned very quickly to almost entirely digital, which was certainly challenging, but you know, it was it had to happen. So I’m proud of the way we accomplished that as well.

 

Angela Tuell  04:55

Yeah, that kind of leads into my next question, which you just already talked about a little bit. How has travel reporting changed or, or has since your time with USA Today? And you know, while you were there?

 

Veronica Stoddart  05:05

Yeah, well, certainly the transition to digital has been the biggest change. But the reporting itself has also changed significantly, unfortunately. And I say, unfortunately, because when I was at USA Today, we did deeply reported stories of depth and substance, you know, in the journalistic fashion.

 

Angela Tuell  05:24

Right.

 

Veronica Stoddart  05:25

And you see less and less of that these days as the almighty listicle has taken over his travel content.

 

Angela Tuell  05:33

The top 10 this, the top five this.

 

Veronica Stoddart  05:37

Yeah, I find personally fewer and fewer opportunities to write the longer narratives about destinations, you know, when what sells is that quick hit top 10 list, you know.

 

Angela Tuell  05:47

Yeah.

 

Veronica Stoddart  05:48

And that’s unfortunate because we’re losing what makes travel journalism so revealing and illuminating. So yeah, we’re kind of at that place right now. Who knows what the future holds?

 

Angela Tuell  05:59

Yes. And at least you get some of those stories in on the content side, though, right? Those are the type that the clients want to share. Is that what you find? Yeah.

 

Veronica Stoddart  06:09

Yeah, the clients really liked those destination pieces. So, fortunately, there’s still an opportunity to do that.

 

Angela Tuell  06:15

Yeah, that is good. I’m curious about what led you to travel writing in the first place and how you broke into the industry and then earned such a high-profile job.

 

Veronica Stoddart  06:24

Well, first and foremost, I’ve always loved to travel. So that’s really what inspired my career. But I started out quite by accident, as often happens.

 

Angela Tuell  06:33

Really?

 

Veronica Stoddart  06:33

I moved to Niger, in West Africa with my late husband, to set up a handicraft export business.

 

Angela Tuell  06:40

Really?

 

Veronica Stoddart  06:41

And while we were living there, I started stringing occasionally for Time Life News Service, through a connection that I had. So that was my first venture into journalism, sort of dipping my toe in. And eventually, after we returned to the States, and a few other editorial jobs, I figured out along the way that I could make a living, writing about travel, it was like the light bulb went off. I had good language skills too which helped. I grew up in Bogota, Colombia. My parents were originally German, so I grew up with three languages. And so once I discovered this thing called travel writing, I never looked back. I really consider myself so lucky to be able to turn my passion into a profession, which is a rare and privileged thing to be able to do.

 

Angela Tuell  07:30

Yes, it is. I definitely, definitely hear you. I would love to hear some more about the roles, you know, the one of mentioned the Time Life news service in West Africa, and also about and also about Caribbean Travel and Life magazine that you were the founding editor.

 

Veronica Stoddart  07:46

Yeah, I had a unique opportunity to launch a new travel magazine, Caribbean Travel and Life, and several collateral publications, including two in-flight magazines that we did for Caribbean airlines. Okay. It was just a great opportunity, again, that fell into my lap. And it was I loved the creative ability to shape a new publication from scratch, as well as the entrepreneurial aspect that was sort of my, you know, a new thing for me, which allowed, it really allowed us to be very nimble and to grow organically. It was thrilling to help create a successful business with a brand-new product and then sell it after 10 years.

 

Angela Tuell  08:27

Yeah.

 

Veronica Stoddart  08:28

And I must say, it was fun to have the Caribbean as my beat during those times.

 

Angela Tuell  08:33

It could be worse, right?

 

Veronica Stoddart  08:34

I was able to visit virtually every island. So that was awesome too.

 

Angela Tuell  08:40

Wow -That’s amazing. And what about in West Africa?

 

Veronica Stoddart  08:43

Well, in West Africa, you know, I did the stringing, I didn’t write a whole lot, because there wasn’t a ton of news happening in Niger at that time. But I filed some stories that, you know, I thought might be newsworthy, and I filed them to the bureau chief in, in Kenya, who was based in Kenya at that time.

 

Angela Tuell  08:59

Okay.

 

Veronica Stoddart  09:00

That kind of, you know, got me started.

 

Angela Tuell  09:02

Yeah, I bet that was quite an experience living there, too.

 

Veronica Stoddart  09:05

Oh, it was.

 

Angela Tuell  09:06

What are you the proudest of from your career so far?

 

Veronica Stoddart  09:09

Well, the two are really USA Today and Caribbean Travel and Life. Those were the highlights of my career. Really, where I spent the biggest chunk of my career, two really fantastic opportunities. And it allowed me to grow so much and really, to, you know, achieve some wonderful things that I’m proud of.

 

Angela Tuell  09:29

You also said that you believe travel can be a force for good in the world. And I completely agree, but would love to hear your thoughts on that.

 

Veronica Stoddart  09:37

Yeah, so that’s really my motto. It’s what inspires everything I do. I think travel can change the way we see the world. It really enhances our understanding of other cultures and ways of life, you know, and it really helps us become better global citizens. I mean, we live in a global village. This is really important these days. It plays such a critical role in bringing people together and bridging cultures. And in that sense, it really is a force for good. There’s a wonderful saying by the travel guidebook author, Rick Steves, he says, “The tiniest exposure to the outside world will change your entire life.” I really love that. It’s so powerful, what you can learn from travel. So that’s been my mission to share with others, you know what I’ve learned about other destinations and cultures. By writing about it, and ultimately, encourage my readers to see the world for themselves.

 

Angela Tuell  10:35

Yes, that’s fantastic. How do you help those who find it overwhelming, you know, the travel that really, that really wants to do something like that. And we see that there’s a good number of Americans like that, that will that only go to the same place every year, haven’t experienced, you know, other cultures. Where do they begin? What advice do you have for them?

 

Veronica Stoddart  10:53

Right? Well, I think you know, what helps is not only to write about a place to inspire them, hopefully you will be inspiring them, but to give them tips. So with every destination piece, if you can add a sidebar, that’s tips for how to go can make it easy for them. So that gives them a leg up on starting to research a trip themselves. I think that helps a lot. You know, and you can give get cultural tips as well, in terms of how to behave in a very foreign place, that’s also helpful.

 

Angela Tuell  11:21

Yes, those are great tips. You are such a wealth of knowledge and experience. You’ve also been to 110 countries, and reported for most of them, you know, what experiences stand out? I’m sure that’s hard to choose.

 

Veronica Stoddart  11:30

It is. There have been so many wonderful experiences. But I have to say Antarctica is definitely at the top of my list. It was such an unexpected revelation. Again, the opportunity just fell in my lap, and I’m so thrilled it did. It’s like visiting another planet. The Arctic landscape, the size and scope of it. The emptiness, the pristineness. The gob smacking beauty of the icebergs, which I never expected. They’re like floating sculptures. Of course, all the amazing animals 1000s and 1000s. of penguins and seals and gorgeous whales. I had a really unique opportunity, I was able to camp out one night on the ice.

 

Angela Tuell  12:19

Wow.

 

Veronica Stoddart  12:20

It was a totally unforgettable experience. It made me feel like the original explorers must have felt so –

 

Angela Tuell  12:27

Wow. And you weren’t worried about polar bears?

 

Veronica Stoddart  12:31

No, you know, no polar bears in the south of Antarctica. They’re just in the Arctic.

 

Angela Tuell  12:36

Oh, okay. I didn’t know that. How did you – How would someone go about planning a trip there?

 

Veronica Stoddart  12:44

You know, the way 90% of people go, I would say probably 95% is by cruise ship. So it’s just a cruise, choosing the right cruise line that you want to you know, meets your budget and your itinerary and so on. That’s really the way most people visit today. I mean, there are a few companies that will fly you in. But most people go by cruise.

 

Angela Tuell  13:06

Okay. Yeah. I’ll have to add that to our bucket list for sure. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

 

Veronica Stoddart  13:13

I have to say right where I live right now, which is Washington DC.

 

Angela Tuell  13:17

Oh yes. I love DC.

 

Veronica Stoddart  13:18

I’m very happy here. I love it. And it suits me. But I do sometimes toy with the idea of living in Europe. Perhaps Portugal or Italy, which is my favorite country. I have an EU passport. So that would be relatively easy for me to do.

 

Angela Tuell  13:34

Yeah, that’s great. In your in your roles today what outlets are you writing for editorially?

 

Veronica Stoddart  13:42

Well, lately, I’ve been running writing a ton for AARP, both on their website and in both of their magazines. I just did my 30th story for them.

 

Angela Tuell  13:51

Wow.

 

Veronica Stoddart  13:52

So and I also write for the travel site called TravelAwaits.com, which is geared to travelers over 50. As well as I write for Frommer’s and Cruise Critic, I do quite a bit of cruising, I write for The Point’s Guy and I recently wrote my first piece for Travel + Leisure, which was exciting.

 

Angela Tuell  14:12

That is exciting. Well, we will link to some of those recent ones for sure in our show notes so listeners can read. Where do you find your next story and choose what you’re going to focus on when there’s literally you know, limitless, limitless of what you can do.

 

Veronica Stoddart  14:28

Well, I follow travel trends avidly as well as newsy developments and destinations. I mean, because those often make the best hooks for stories. You know, we’re always looking for a good hook for something new and a destination or some reason to go. At USA Today we used to have a motto and we had to every story has to had to meet the “why now, so what” question. Why are we going now and why does it matter? So I subscribe to a ton of travel trade publications to keep up to date. And yes, I read pretty much every PR pitch I received to stay up to date as well. And I also –

 

Angela Tuell  15:07

Wow.

 

Veronica Stoddart  15:08

Yeah, I do because –

 

Angela Tuell  15:09

That is impressive.

 

Veronica Stoddart  15:11

You pick up tidbits there, you pick up ideas that could turn into stories. So, I also attend conferences like International Media Marketplace, and IPW, and others. So all of that helps me sort of keep my finger on the pulse.

 

Angela Tuell  15:24

Yes, those are great things. And I think you’ve sort of answered my next question as well, where I was going to ask about PR Professionals and how they can help you do your job best. So you know, how else can they help you? Do you have any pet peeves?

 

Veronica Stoddart  15:37

Yeah, so I love it when PR reps can help me plan the perfect trip, and arrange the key experiences and interviews. The more help I get, the better I’m able to report my story. A recent example is a trip I did to Wyoming with the help of the Wyoming Office of Tourism. Together we planned a very detailed itinerary that yielded two good stories so I consider that trip a real success.

 

Angela Tuell  16:00

Yeah.

 

Veronica Stoddart  16:01

As for PR pitches, I would say here’s a recommendation. A simple but often overlooked approach is to write a catchy subject line in the email to grab my attention. You don’t know how many pitches I get that just say “press release” in the subject line.

 

Angela Tuell  16:15

Really?

 

Veronica Stoddart  16:16

And it’s such a wasted opportunity. Yeah, even yesterday, it’s kind of astonishing to me, because it’s such an easy one, right?

 

Angela Tuell  16:23

Yes, yes, you want to give the subject title, to make the journalist think, “This is what it could be.”

 

Veronica Stoddart  16:29

Exactly. To open, at least open up and read it right.

 

Angela Tuell  16:32

Yeah.

 

Veronica Stoddart  16:32

One small pet peeve I have is about accuracy and honesty in pitches. Sometimes I’ll get a pitch that will exaggerate its facts. It’ll say, for example, This is the first or it’s the biggest, or it’s the longest something or other right? In fact, it’s not. And that just makes me chase down a rabbit hole to verify the information. And then I find out it’s incorrect. And you know, it’s wasted time. Or if I go ahead and try to pitch an outlet on that story. And then I’m embarrassed to find out it wasn’t accurate. That just doesn’t look good for me. So –

 

Angela Tuell  17:05

Not at all. And then you’d be, you’d definitely second guess anything else you get from that PR professional, too.

 

Veronica Stoddart  17:12

So that’s just one thing to keep in mind.

 

Angela Tuell  17:14

Yeah, that’s great. I know, like many travel writers, you are offered lots of press trips. How do you decide which to participate in?

 

Veronica Stoddart  17:24

Yeah, so I have to admit to having a real bias toward visiting a new place, especially on my bucket list.

 

Angela Tuell  17:30

Yes.

 

Veronica Stoddart  17:30

That’s always decided for me.

 

Angela Tuell  17:32

I’m surprised you still have one with so much, so much travel you –

 

Veronica Stoddart  17:37

Oh, there are so many places I still want to go. I’m kind of a novelty junkie in that way. But beyond that, really what’s most important is a good story hook. You can relate it to a hot trend, a new development or attraction, or a novel story angle. I also far prefer traveling alone as opposed to a group trip just because it allows me to pursue my own story angles and interviews and not have to spend time on long group meals, for example. So yeah, all those things helped me decide if the trip was going to be worthwhile.

 

Angela Tuell  18:10

Yeah, those are great. I’d love to also know from such an expert traveler, you know, what do you do to prepare for an upcoming trip?

 

Veronica Stoddart  18:18

I do a ton of research, especially when I’m covering a specific topic as I did recently on a trip to Australia, where I did a story on Aboriginal cuisine for Travel + Leisure. So I deeply familiarized myself with the cuisine itself, which I didn’t know a lot about. Found out where you could sample it and who the top chefs were. And then I had meals pre-arranged to key restaurants before I arrived, as well as interviews all scheduled, so I could be very efficient when I was on location.

 

Angela Tuell  18:49

Yeah.

 

Veronica Stoddart  18:50

I was recently in Zurich on a Swiss press trip and decided to do a story on the best chocolatiers in the city. Haha.

 

Angela Tuell  18:56

Oh, that’s a hard one.

 

Veronica Stoddart  18:59

As you can see, I like to write about food because I think it’s a great entree into a culture for travelers. Yeah. So I researched all the chocolatiers in advance very carefully. And then I picked the top ones and I visited them all in a short amount of time. So the more prepared I am in advance, the better the trip is going to be.

 

Angela Tuell  19:17

Yes, yes, that makes perfect sense. So before we go, I need to ask what destinations should listeners have on their list for the upcoming year.

 

Veronica Stoddart  19:26

Yeah, so many of them are on all the top, you know, top lists for the year, but one that I would recommend is Egypt, where I’m going next.

 

Angela Tuell  19:34

Really?

 

Veronica Stoddart  19:35

Yeah. Which has been named one of the hot destinations for 2023 by National Geographic travel, Travel and leisure, The Washington Post, and CNN. So clearly, it’s on everyone’s mind. One thing that’s happening this year is the blockbuster Grand Egyptian Museum is opening in Cairo, It’s going to house the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world so that’s –

 

Angela Tuell  19:59

Oh wow.

 

Veronica Stoddart  20:00

An exciting thing for them for sure.

 

Angela Tuell  20:02

Are you going to get to see that?

 

Veronica Stoddart  20:03

I’m not sure. I’m hoping I can. We just – the opening keeps getting postponed. You know how these things go. So hopefully it will be open when I’m there and that will allow me to do a separate story just on the museum.

 

Angela Tuell  20:16

Yes.

 

Veronica Stoddart  20:17

And a couple of other places that come to mind. Japan, of course, has finally reopened after two years of pandemic closure. And apparently, there’s a good top-dollar exchange rate. So I think Japan is going to be hot this year.

 

Angela Tuell  20:31

Great. Well, how can listeners connect with you online and follow your work?

 

Veronica Stoddart  20:36

I’m most active on three social media platforms and my Twitter handle is @wanderlust13.

 

Angela Tuell  20:44

Okay.

 

Veronica Stoddart  20:44

My Instagram is VJStoddart. And Stoddard has a T at the end. And then you can find me on LinkedIn just by searching my name.

 

Angela Tuell  20:53

Wonderful. Thank you so much for your time and insight today.

 

Veronica Stoddart  20:57

Well, thank you so much for having me, Angela. I enjoyed this.

 

Angela Tuell  21:01

That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. Please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our show. We’d love to hear what you think. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

Seasoned travel writer, Veronica Stoddart, talks with Angela about the impact of the listicle on travel writing, her roots and greatest achievements in journalism, becoming a better global citizen through travel, her top travel experiences and tips, plus 2023 travel recommendations.

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