Atlas Obscura, a travel site dedicated to the weird and the incomprehensible, digs deeper

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When the pandemic hit last spring, Atlas Obscura had just received a $ 20 million investment from a group of investors led by Airbnb. Atlas Obscura at the time was focused on creating the “impressive” side of its business – excursions and activities – that were expected to be embedded in the giant rental platform. (The New York Times is also an investor in Atlas Obscura.) But Airbnb ditched the initiative in an effort to weather the crisis. Like other travel media outlets, Atlas Obscura has spent a year mostly catering to the fantasies of returning travelers. This led to traffic and ad revenue registrations, as well as the opening of new online classroom businesses, the company said.

Now the travel media and the tourism industry are preparing – and hoping – for a surge in tourism. While few travel media representatives have taken up re-editing their product like Atlas Obscura, they are also trying to adapt to the changing political landscape, seeking to find non-white writers who live in the places they write about, or to get more different American writers to tell stories. about destinations. Jacqueline Gifford, editor-in-chief of Travel and Leisure, said the travel media have tried to ask themselves, “Who can tell travel stories, why do they tell them, and how can we be more representative of this country? the world in which we live today? “

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

“They will always be outsiders,” he said.

The challenge for editors and writers in the media is how to make journalism inclusive, exciting and provocative, not just a corporate media exercise in checking the boxes. (A senior newspaper editor last week described the genre to me as “DEI Obedience,” referring to diversity, equality, and inclusion initiatives.)

It doesn’t have to be that hard. Complex, wondrous stories often turn out to be the best, as evidenced by the excellent Payback with Purpose. problem Collected last week by Adrienne Green, editor of the New York Magazine. He sought, as editor-in-chief David Haskell wrote in an email, “to clarify the stakes as well as complicate them, tell stories about morality, but avoid easy morality.”

Atlas Obscura, which also publishes magazine articles such as disturbing story about how the remains of a black woman are on display in the Philadelphia Museum, and about a secret strange history of Colonial Williamsburg is another good example of how a publisher can capture the moment by deepening its content, in particular by exploring the violence that Americans often choose to forget.

Indeed, Mr. Patel told me that he was not sure that “decolonization” was the right word for the project. “Decolonization involves removal, and we don’t do that,” he said Wednesday morning as we kicked off our tour of New York’s extraordinary sites on the outskirts of Brooklyn’s Bushwick District. “Adding that perspective to travel and travel writing makes it less boring.”

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