You can do what you love and be paid for it, too. That's one lesson to draw from today's news that the award-winning website World Hum has been acquired by the Travel Channel for an undisclosed sum. World Hum is a labor of love begun six years ago by a couple of friends. Over time, it has become one of the English-language's premier travel publications, online or in print.
In the following interview with This Just In, co-founder Michael Yessis talks about his website and today's most interesting experiments in travel journalism.
Q: For readers who aren't familiar with World Hum, could you please describe what it is -- and why it's unique?
World Hum looks at travel in a way most travel publications don't. It focuses on the experience of travel, and we define travel in a broad way. It's a two-week vacation (if we're lucky) to Italy, sure, but travel is also a way to look at the world those other 50 weeks of the year. You don't have to be planning a trip to enjoy World Hum. The world is shrinking, so much so that it's just as possible to have a travel experience a few miles from your home as it is to have one in the shadow of the Taj Mahal. Cultures around the world are blending in all sorts of interesting ways, too, and we like to keep an eye on how that plays out with travelers.
We're also absolutely interested in the transformational aspects of travel. My travels have affected my life in so many ways, and the same goes for my co-editor, Jim Benning. I'd wager most of our contributors and readers feel the same way, too. The dispatches we publish, the interviews we post, the books we review and the things we write about on the World Hum blog reflect our passion for travel and they way it changes us and the world.
That said, we don't take it all too seriously. Travel is fun, and we like to add a little levity to the mix. One of our latest dispatches, for instance, covers the experiences of a Mexican food addict sampling the not-so-great efforts of a restaurant in Lyon, France to serve his favorite cuisine. (See it here.)
Q: What's up with World Hum and its new partner?
World Hum has been acquired by the Travel Channel. We're thrilled. The Travel Channel believes in what we're building at World Hum and it wants us to continue doing what we've been doing. And our take on travel dovetails with a lot of what the Travel Channel has been doing, showcasing thoughtful travelers such as Anthony Bourdain. We'll be a part of a growing online presence, and with the Travel Channel on the rise -- it recently had its highest-rated quarter ever -- it should offer great opportunities for us at World Hum.
Q: The backstory, please: Who founded World Hum, and when? And who runs it today?
Jim Benning and I founded the site in 2001, soon after the demise of Salon's Wanderlust. We were both fans of the section Don George edited -- Salon posted excellent travel essays every day of the week -- and when it no longer existed we decided to create something that built on what he had been doing. We launched with five stories and a weblog (as far as we can tell, it's one of the longer-running travel weblogs around), and almost immediately the site seemed to strike a chord with travelers as well as with writers and photographers who found that many of the stories they wanted to tell about their travels didn't fit into the traditional travel media formula.
A couple years ago we expanded with several new sections, including books, how to, speaker's corner and a travel advice column from Vagabonding author Rolf Potts. Now we have a mix of contributors from all around the world.
Q: What's next for World Hum?
We want to be a daily must-read for anyone interested in looking at the world through the prism of travel. Initially we'll be doing the same thing we've always been doing, only more often. We'll be publishing new features at least once every weekday, and we'll be expanding the frequency of our weblog posts. Beyond that, we'll be adding longer features and adding audio, video and other dynamic elements to the site. We've also got several new features and some surprises in the works.
Q: Is there any feature on World Hum that you tried on a lark, or against your better judgment, that turned out to be sensationally popular?
The whole site was a bit of a lark, actually. We're editors and writers who happen to love travel, and we built the site not with any commercial goal but simply because we wanted to publish and highlight the kinds of stories we admired and wanted to read. Things evolved organically and, fortunately, most of the time things have worked out.
One relatively new feature that has worked out pretty well is the World Hum Travel Zeitgeist. Every Friday we compile the most read travel stories from publications around the world, the most watched travel videos across the web, the best selling travel book, most popular travel podcast on iTunes, etc. and we add a bit of commentary. It's a snapshot of what travelers are interested in every week, and it's gotten a great response.
Our literary features are also quite popular. I wouldn't say we pursued these against our better judgment, but given the conventional wisdom that people don't have much time for literature, particularly travel literature, I've been happy with how well they've been received. Readers like our Icons weblog category, which features news and stories about legendary literary travelers such as Jack Kerouac and Mark Twain, and our month-long countdown of the top 30 travel books of all time received a lot of traffic and comments.
Q: What is the most exciting, or promising, project in online travel journalism today? In other words, where should we look for the next innovative project, or tomorrow's World Hum?
Tomorrow's World Hum will be, uh, World Hum. Now that World Hum is part of the Travel Channel, we'll have a chance to do all the things we've wanted to do but couldn't because we lacked time and resources. Our future seems as exciting as ever.
Beyond what we're doing, I'm excited by a couple things. I've seen some clever and interesting niche blogs such as Travel Sweeps, which chronicles one woman's quest to win free travel, and I'd imagine we're going to see a lot more of these narrowly-focused blogs proliferate. Some will be quite excellent, I'm sure. I also love what Larry Portzline has done with Bookstore Tourism. He's started a movement that melds travel with support for independent bookstores. He writes a weblog, and he's been able to build a growing online community.
I'm also excited by the storytelling possibilities offered by the combination of new technologies and tools. I wrote something on World Hum a while back that examined all the ways people are chronicling cross country road trips these days. (See examples here.) They're using video, audio, Google maps mash ups, photography and other methods, and I'm waiting for someone to harness it all into an "On the Road" for the Internet age -- an epic travel tale that becomes an enduring piece of art.
Q: How much work did the founders put into World Hum?
A lot. Jim and I worked full-time day jobs, so we spent nights and weekends and, in many cases, early mornings on World Hum for the last six years. But even with the two of us and a small group of contributing editors, we weren't able to keep up with everything.
Q: Will anybody be working full time on the website now? If so, who?
Jim and I will both be dedicated to World Hum full time, which has been one of our main goals since we launched the site. There are so many things we've wanted to do, but we didn't have the time or the resources. Now those things are possible. We can't wait.
Q: If readers want to contribute to World Hum, what should they do?
First, check out the site. We don't currently post destination-oriented stories or many of the kinds of stories traditionally associated with travel publications. Second, check out