Lonely Planet content review.

  • 7 November 2008
  • UK

Following allegations in Thomas Kohnstamm’s book, Lonely Planet undertook an immediate and comprehensive review of all the content he had contributed.  We appointed an experienced independent external party, Christopher Ward, to oversee the work.  We also asked our authors currently working on the next editions whether they had come across any erroneous text. In our view, there were two possible outcomes: either Kohnstamm’s alllegations were correct and some of the content he wrote for us may have been compromised; or Kohnstamm completed all or most of his work with integrity, but “sexed-up” his claims to have breached our procedures in order to promote his book. We have now received back reviews of all of Kohnstamm’s work for Lonely Planet and are confident that the latter scenario is the closest to the truth.

It is unlikely that Kohnstamm plagiarised content as the style of his contributions follows Lonely Planet criteria and it is also fair to say that should plagiarising have occurred, the competitive authors who may have had their work copied would have brought it to Lonely Planet’s attention at the time of original publication. Similarly, it is unlikely that Kohnstamm made up any content, as we would have received letters to that effect from our readers, but we have not had any more correspondence from readers regarding this material than is typical of our other guides. There were some factual errors (changed phone numbers, businesses opening/closing, inaccurate prices, etc) but again, no more than would be reasonably expected as time goes by between each edition.

Some of the places we visited had people working there who remembered Kohnstamm, so there is no doubt that he actually visited the countries in question, with the exception of Colombia, where he was only expected to do desk updates on the introductory chapters, and which we felt he was adequately trained to do given his university education. People who had had direct contact with Kohnstamm did not offer freebies or bribes, indicating that a precedent had not been set for this type of behaviour. Nevertheless, it was apparent that Kohnstamm had been moving fast while travelling through his allotted regions and there was less attention to detail to places slightly off the main thoroughfare.

Following this review, Lonely Planet is confident that Thomas Kohnstamm does not typify our authors – in fact, many were understandably unhappy that their work was implicated in Kohnstamm’s book. In 2007, we reviewed our editorial guidelines to make our procedures even more robust; we will continue to issue these to our authors and commissioning editors to ensure that the content we publish continues to be of the high standards which our readers rightly expect.