Yesterday a pretty smart person who we like decided to point a rather fat finger at the terrible sell-out journalists who went on an all-expenses-paid luxury resort nonstop-feast-and-drink corporate-sponsored vacation to Jamaica last weekend, shaming...
Yesterday a pretty smart person who we like decided to point a rather fat finger at the terrible sell-out journalists who went on an all-expenses-paid luxury resort nonstop-feast-and-drink corporate-sponsored vacation to Jamaica last weekend, shaming them for their bad ethics and assumed forthcoming lack of impartiality in print. Guess what? I was one of them and I had a blast! Thanks Thrillist, Jet Blue, Iberostar Resorts, Starbucks, Pom, Gillette, Cold-Eeze®, Sandals, and H&M!
It was the second annual Jet Mystery trip promoted by Thrillist and Jet Blue (the first one, held last year, was in Las Vegas and I didn’t go on that). For about a month leading up to the trip all us journalists were invited to check a website or a Twitter that would eliminate one city a day from Jet Blue’s list of routes, getting us one step closer to finding out where we would not be going for the weekend. By the time we were to meet at JFK at 5 AM on Saturday morning all we knew was that we were going somewhere that necessitated aqua shoes, an all-white outfit, and a valid passport.
I showed up with all required items on the packing list and then some. I did not know with whom I would be traveling or where we would be going. The abyss of uncertainty makes uptight people nervous, but I love this kind of thing—I desperately hoped it also involved a blindfolded plane ride where flight attendants would dip our hands into bowls of peeled grapes and cold spaghetti, spooking us out into thinking they were eyeballs and brains. Instead it involved an extremely loud live reggae band and a shitload of green and black and gold balloons at the gate announcing that we were heading to Montego Bay.
It was definitely way too early for those kinds of shenanigans, as well as the ones encouraged on the plane, what with all the cases of Red Stripe opened aboard. But we were all fluffed with a tote bag brimming full of products, books, and sunglasses, vibing heavily that we were going to be very well taken care of, and ready to have a fantastic time--right after we landed.
On the 20-minute bus ride from the airport to Iberostar Resort we learned we were each getting our own suite (it was the size of my apartment) and butler, though that second bit seemed way too white tourist for my taste. From there it was pure magic, with access to pretty much whatever we wanted whenever we wanted it, and for free. This included primo beach, room service and restaurants with reportedly delicious indulgences such as Kobe beef burgers and lobster tail, spa and bath house, a labyrinth of pools with a swim-up bar, more daiquiris than I could count, and so many activities planned for us we barely slept at all: games, dinners, dancers, dancing, a bonfire on the beach, horseback riding, dune buggies, zip line, and, the last night, a gigantic elaborate feast on a private island where Top 40 crossover reggae star Serani performed just for us.
[caption id="attachment_6627" align="alignnone" width="550" caption="Ted Karkus, CEO of Cold-Eeze (say his name out loud; go on, do it)"]
[caption id="attachment_6629" align="alignnone" width="550" caption="Serani"]
[/caption] It wasn’t just media and PR enjoying these luxuries; CEOs and representatives from companies sponsoring these indulgences came and partied with us too. So it was no secret that we were bought. We signed a piece of paper acknowledging that we were. But we did not suck a dick for 15 bucks in someone’s Astro van while he let the engine run. No, we were expensive whores. And that is probably why no one dared mention in any story I’ve seen so far that on the last day, on that private island for a gala where we all dressed up in our fine whites and Serani played for us in the pouring rain (the precise word for this experience is “sensual”), a lighting tower crashed to the dance floor and injured six people. My new friends and I had already taken off and missed the debacle, but I heard several reports of blood and an ambulance and trips to the hospital—basically the absolute worst nightmare these sponsors could’ve imagined. No one needed stitches though, by the way, and only one guy—a representative from Gillette—was hurt to the point of needing an overnight stay in the hospital. He broke his shoulder and is fine. (Update: Page Six had fun reporting this.)
I understand the argument: When you let your strict journalistic ethics slip, indulging in gratuitous present-mongering, what will you sacrifice next? In my case, the Thrillist Jet Mystery trip to Jamaica was my gateway junket to also losing my glasses and one earring. And I made pals with someone from Fox News. Now I am confused about my identity. Who am I? More importantly, will all of this add up to ruining my reporter cred? If I said that if Jet Blue would care to reimburse me for my loss, I’ll gladly take $640—$500 for the glasses, $140 for the earrings, and befriending an agent of evil: priceless—would I win the title of Miss Most Enormous Whore?
AOL, of all godforsaken tangled-web-woven conglomerates from Hades, is trying some hard-hitting news out on the internet about this “swag orgy” too, calling out Newsweek and the New York Times for their lack of ethics for having freelance reporters who also write for other publications come on this trip. That’s a little rich considering many, many things (just because they’re shimmying out of Time Warner’s shackles now does not exempt them from the last nine years) and plus: they had an editor out there with us when a handful of us sweet-talked a security guard and snuck into a private pool.
Jayson Blair and bloggers killed ethics a long time ago; it’s impolite to dissect a corpse, so let’s all move on. I too used to write scathing essays about the evils of advertising and insidious marketing tricks that prey on the desire to be cool, and now I not only work at Vice, where we are very open about our branding methodology, I also took a free trip just to write about how awesome it was. (It really, really was.) The main problem with alliances is that they’re often made in back alleys: ironically, it’s generally obvious to consumers when they’re being sneakily marketed to, and the whole thing backfires. But when sponsorship is made achingly transparent, you can't really call anyone out on being shady. And if you do, it'll mostly sound like you were just upset you weren't invited in on it too.