I really liked the course at the beginning, but after about week 4 or 5, I didn't get as much out of it. It seemed like the first few weeks were really focused on writing. Each week's lesson brought up new points and each week's assignment was to write a different type of travel article (Matador has a big focus on narrative travel writing, and I really wanted to push myself in that respect). Each week you could also submit your assignment for review by the editors, who would offer constructive feedback.
However, after the first few weeks, the assignments and lessons became much more about the business of being a freelancer. Assignments were things like "make a budget", "make an advertisers page on your blog" or "open a twitter account" which, for someone who had been freelancing for a longer time, was less useful. If all that is new to you, it would be very helpful, but it's also information you can find elsewhere on the web for free.
The leads were good, but again, if you are a diligent web searcher, you can probably find them on your own.
Bottom line: I think the class is useful to those who want to push themselves to write in a new style, or who want critique from the editors (it's a great way to get some 'face-time' with the Matador editors) or who want to learn the business of being a freelancer. But, if the money is a stretch for you or if you already feel comfortable with the business aspects like pitching, invoicing, and promoting yourself on social media, then you can probably learn as much on your own.
I haven't followed the course, but I have done some research on how things work at MatadorU and what the advantages/desadvantages are.
First of all, as Katie said, their main goal is not to make a better writer out of you but a better entrepreneur. It's the whole package of commercial blogging, of which writing is only a part.
Is this a reason to follow the course? I think not. On the internet there is a lot of free information available on web-entrepreneurship, and there are quite a lot of books on this topic (e.g. the 4 hour workweek by Tim Ferriss) which cost only a fraction of the MatadorU fee.
Then why should you take the course? To become part of the community.
When you subscribe to the course, you'll also gain access to the forum where you can talk to other aspirant travel writers and travel writers who already made it in the industry. You can ask these people for help, but also for comments (visit each other's blog and leave a comment) or for guest posts. And this is how you become quite fast quite known in the industry.
For example NomadicMatt (http://www.nomadicmatt.com) is a member of MatadorU. When you get Matt to make a guest post on your blog, or at least tweet one of your posts, you'll have hundreds of visitors.
And that's - when you ask me - the advantage of MatadorU
But I still believe I can make it on my own , because the famous names can get you visitors, but your writing has to make them return.
The rest of my findings can be found in the article Everybody Nomad: http://www.nicolasdecorte.be/blog/writing/2010/02/everybody-nomad
Have you also considered the Lonely planet Guide to Travel Writing? I think that was worth it. I found it quite useful. Again, not so much with the freelancing part as I already do that, and the part about contacting and getting published in print, as that is not my goal but it might be yours. But the interviews with established writers was in my opinion, the best. I very much enjoyed that.
And I also think Matador U does have the networking advantages, but as Nic said, the famous names can get visitors, but you still need good content to help build your site. If we keep plugging away building better and better content, it will come. It's the "Field Of Dreams" mentality.
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