Posted by: Ginny Prior | January 15, 2012

Chronicle Travel Editor Spud Hilton: Red Bull and writing

By Sam Fivey

Spud Hilton had just finished an hour and a half presentation on some of the most interesting ideas on writing I had ever heard and yet all I could begin to think about was the amount of Red Bulls he claimed to have drunk[en] in the past year.

“I actually calculated it, over the past year I believe I’ve drank somewhere around 1,100 Red Bulls.”

Everyone in the room stopped laughing for a minute and began the process of equating that to a daily intake.

After pulling out a calculator to do the math it worked out to be just over 3 sugar free Red Bulls a day.

Spud Hilton is the editor of the travel section at the San Francisco Chronicle. In his ascent to boarder line celebrity status in the travel writing industry, Hilton has visited over 33 countries and his work has appeared in over 60 magazines and newspapers around the world.

Hilton spoke to our class candidly about his position as an editor for a major newspaper. Being an editor he has seen it all when it comes to journalism. Spud has been handed fully completed stories that lulled him to sleep and he has also received amazing ideas for stories in the form of bullet points. The latter of these two inquiries would receive a back-handed email from Spud telling them “Great! Now enjoy your trip and go write it”; a comment that left us all looking at each other while Spud chuckled over recalling the volume he receives these messages in.

I realize I’ve just depicted Spud Hilton out to resemble Peter Parker’s editor in the movie “Spider Man”. Laughing hysterically in his chair and throwing pictures of Spider Man in Parker’s face as he chomps on a cigar and waves the destroyed Peter Parker out the door.

While extremely comical to picture, this idea couldn’t be further from the truth. Hilton has made a living off printing well thought out, concise stories that paint the travel destination in a light not typically conveyed by what a prospective tourist would normally hear. After years spent receiving hundreds of lackluster stories Hilton has lost all subtlety in carving out his responses to the many rejected travel writers.

Above all, Spud gives one underlining idea that should be expressed in every piece of travel journalism.


When it comes to writers block in regards to an angle for your story Hilton has two very enlightening go to stock angles as he calls them. They consist of “it used to suck but now it’s better” and my personal favorite “It’s not as bad as you think it is”. It may seem like a joke at first, but with these two ideas a travel writer can go far in life.

His tips on writing were accompanied by tips on a travel writers best friend; photography. One of the first things Spud stressed to us was that you will grossly over estimate the value of the photos you take because you were able to be there when the photos were taken.

What he means by this is that you are able to get a feel for the sensory feelings around you as you took the picture (touch, taste, smell etc…). Because of this the picture in your eyes has a far greater meaning than to someone looking at it in a magazine or newspaper.

With these two ideas in mind I was provided with a strong basis to further my writing. This, along with a stronger personality portrayed within my writing will further progress my writing ability.


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