Final project: Husband-and-wife team bring ski journalism online
It’s a ski bum’s dream: Any given week in the wintertime, Heather and Greg Burke could be on top of a mountain anywhere in the country or world. In late March, they spent a few days at Big Sky Resort in Montana. In mid-April, they flew out to Austria to explore European ski resorts.
Both are right at home on a ski mountain, at their most comfortable suited up in winter jackets and ski boots. They’ve skied for their whole lives, both since age 3.
The husband-and-wife team works together to produce content for their ski review websites, FamilySkiTrips.com and LuxurySkiTrips.com, as well as Boston.com’s Ski Guru blog. She writes, and he takes pictures. In the off-season, the two run a marketing agency.
Heather Burke started as a ski journalist 15 years ago after a long career selling real estate near Smuggler’s Notch. While staying at home to raise her children, she started writing about skiing on the side.
“I wrote tips on what to pack when you brought your kids to [ski] camp, and then I started writing reviews about ski resorts and who had good programs for kids in New England,” Burke said. “As the kids got a little older, we did start taking them out west for a week of skiing each year.”
On those trips, Greg Burke didn’t start out as a photographer. He has no formal training in the field.
“Originally I just carried Heather’s bags,” he said. “But then I started taking pictures because it seemed to fit with what Heather was doing.”
Greg Burke grew up skiing at Gunstock Mountain Resort on weekends with his family. At 18, he was teaching skiing at Gunstock. Right out of college, he was working as group sales director for Sugarbush Resort, and then moved on to marketing director positions at Smugglers’ Notch and Waterville Valley.
Heather Burke also grew up skiing Gunstock, but at age 12, she moved to Smugglers’ Notch, where her family ran a ski lodge. She taught skiing there while in college, and then sold real estate around the resort after graduating.
The Burkes’ websites, FamilySkiTrips.com and LuxurySkiTrips.com, are based in Kennebunk, Maine, but they have skied all over the country.
They said they were disappointed with this year’s season, especially in New England.
“It started very slowly, and, as you see, is coming to an abrupt halt,” Greg Burke said. “We didn’t get out as much this year as we would like.”
Heather Burke blogged about the lackluster weather on Boston.com this season. She said her ability to follow current weather conditions kept the Ski Guru blog up-to-date.
“I can stay very current with the conditions and what’s going on in the ski industry. Whereas in the past, even when my column in the newspaper was due on a Monday, it wasn’t actually in print and circulated until the following Sunday,” she said. “Sometimes the articles would look outdated, like I’d written it a week prior.”
Heather Burke is one of two writers for the Ski Guru blog. The other is Boston.com Staff Writer Eric Wilbur, who blogs about sports. Wilbur said he tries to update the Ski Guru blog four to five times a week “if [he’s] lucky,” but enjoys writing for it.
“Heather and Greg are true ambassadors to the New England skiing industry,” he said of working with the Burkes. “Their knowledge and passion for the sport is obvious, and their energy is the same.”
SIDEBAR: Northeastern students talk New England snowsports.
Besides the Boston.com blog, the Burkes spend a lot of time creating content for their own websites. The two embraced the journalism industry’s move to the Internet early on, and have witnessed the field’s evolution.
Greg Burke recalled a 1994 seminar in Aspen, Colo., he attended that discussed the possibilities of the Internet.
“This guy stood up for three days and told us all about this Internet thing that Al Gore had invented,” he said. “But he said this was the future, when none of us had even heard of the Internet at the time. I listened and absorbed.”
Using knowledge gained from the seminar, he and Heather Burke dove right in, starting FamilySkiTrips.com in 1998 and adding LuxurySkiTrips.com in 2008.
The two are very up to speed with digital media, but Heather Burke remembers the days of print journalism’s prominence.
“I used to get paid by word count, and articles used to be 1,500 to 2,000 words, and that was something I’d work on for months, and then the editorial process would go on for additional months,” she said. “Now, blogs are 500 words. They’re posted immediately, and it’s changed dramatically.”
Burke said she prefers blogging over writing for newspapers and magazines.
“It’s so fresh, it’s so current,” she said. “I observed something today and I can post it. It’s live immediately. I miss the days when I was paid generously per word for a magazine article … but the blogging is really fun because it’s my voice. It isn’t heavily edited, and it’s not that long, tedious process that I recall in old print journalism.”
However better online journalism is, it’s still difficult to monetize, Greg Burke said.
“Over the last 15 years, the whole media has been constantly evolving and updating, and keeping up with it all is an extreme challenge,” he said. “Where it leads from here is a good question.”
Digital media has democratized the entire news business, making things difficult for professional writers and photographers, he said.
“Anyone can blog,” Heather Burke added. “There are a lot of people out there, so it’s hard to sort out from the professionals, the well-researched, well-written blog versus just chatting.”
Despite the hardships, the Burkes are determined to stick with it. Greg Burke said that if journalists can keep up with electronic media, they can maintain their relevance to the world. Heather Burke added that there’s always a demand for good writers.
But most important is the passion for the work, she said.
“If you love something,” she said, “you can make it.”