Traveling with the New York Times
Being a travel writer sounds like one of the best jobs in the world—in fact, New York Times 52 Places Traveler Jada Yuan says she hears that all the time. Yuan left 17 years at New York Magazine behind when she joined The Times as its 52 Places Traveler, reporting about every destination on The Times’ “2018 52 Places to Travel” list.
That assignment brought her and fellow New York Times reporter John Eligon to Cincinnati Wednesday evening as part of the newspaper’s Subscriber Events, presenting an informal talk at Cincinnati Shakespeare on their lives on the road. After Eligon opened with his observations (“What is it with the Flying Pigs??), both talked about the process of telling the story of a place or an event for their readers.
Eligon, who is based in Kansas City is a national correspondent, recently was in Montgomery, AL, as part of his reporting on America’s race issues. “I always try to get the essence of the place, and how much my social contacts add to the stay,” said Eligon. “It really depends on the place. For example, the visit to Montgomery told its own story with the opening there last month of a memorial to victims of lynchings.”
In Cincinnati, Eligon made Conscious Kitchen in Clifton one of his stops here as well as a visit to the West End, where he chatted with residents who feel displaced by the prospect of the new soccer stadium. “What does that do to the character of the neighborhood?” he said. “Of course, you have to talk to the residents, to FC Cincinnati, to get all perspectives of what that development will mean.”
Yuan is getting her own tour of Cincinnati through a college roommate, and is hitting all the usual spots, including Skyline Chili, Graeter’s and the Carew Tower—a far cry from her earlier trips visiting Bolivia or hiking through volcanic dust in Chile, but with the same purpose: Learning more about the local area. Beyond reporting on her experience, though, Yuan sees an extra responsibility in her writing for the female traveler.
“Travel writing has been dominated by men,” she noted, saying that before she took this job she researched the social media travel stars—almost all of whom are men. “I need to speak for women who are traveling. There is always a patina about walking down the street for women. Safety isn’t always addressed in a way that women want to hear.”
For both of them, their present assignments have been life changing. “I quit my job of 17 years, put stuff in storage, sublet my apartment to take this job,” Yuan said. “Now it’s hard for me to remember my life before I did this. Now I only look forward.”
For Eligon, he sees his job as a way to tell a story that might otherwise be overlooked. “You have to make sure everyone gets heard,” he said. “I got some great advice once about writing these stories, that when you sit down to write, don’t look at your notes. Just write what you remember, what stuck with you, then go back to your notes and fill in the rest.
“You’re never going to fit everything in,” he said, “but you need to define the issues. My responsibility is to represent both sides accurately in context.”
Cincinnati ranks number 8 on the Times “52 Places to Go in 2018” and you can read it here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/travel/places-to-visit.html