Albo took a free, all expenses paid trip to Jamaica last weekend, sponsored by Thrillist and JetBlue. The Times defended the trip to Jeff Bercovici of DailyFinance.com, saying Albo is merely a freelancer, and wasn't on assignment.
But the newspaper is much more stern about such junkets in the policies for outside contributors we reviewed. A tipster forwarded the policies along, saying the Times makes all freelancers sign them. The agreement includes a section clearly barring travel journalism contributors from taking free services "from any element of the travel industry," as Albo did when he accepted the Jamaica junket from JetBlue.
And Albo is most definitely a travel contributor, filing at least half a dozen stories over the past two years, including two this past May.
Here's the ban, as quoted in the freelancer agreement we saw (reprinted further below):
The following additional rules apply to travel writers, whether working for Travel, Escapes, T: Travel or any other section:
No travel writer, whether on assignment or not, may accept free or discounted services of any sort from any element of the travel industry. This includes hotels, resorts, restaurants, tour operators, airlines, railways, cruise lines, rental car companies and tourist attractions...
It is our policy not to give Travel assignments to freelance writers who have previously accepted free services. Depending on circumstances, the Travel editor may make rare exceptions, for example, for a writer who ceased the practice years ago or who has reimbursed his or her host for services previously accepted
After we forwarded the agreement to the Times, the newspaper got back to us with this statement, also sent to Bercovici:
After a further review of the details, we do have concerns about Mike Albo's participation in the Jamaica trip organized by Thrillist. To the extent feasible, we apply our strict ethical standards to all Times contributors, and accepting free trips and other giveaways is at odds with those standards. We will be discussing the situation further with Mr. Albo and his editors at The Times.
In this economic climate, it must be hard for the Times to find travel writers who haven't taken any freebies. But compromising on that would just undermine the paper's ability to distinguish its travel coverage from.... well, from the likes of websites like Thrillist.
(Top: Albo, by Irina Slutsky)
Longer section, copy and pasted from Times freelancer guidelines as forwarded to us by a tipster (click to enlarge):