Monday, October 05, 2009

CHATTER 25 Journalists,and Bloggers

There is a simmering resentment between newspaper food writers and bloggers, and some chefs too which was highlighted in an article in the Herald Sun last Tuesday, 29/09/09. I think it is the result a sort of unacknowledged jealousy. Although they may both write about the same things, and might even share identical views, there is a marked difference between what appears in the dead tree press compared to the I’net.

Journalists work under completely different constraints to bloggers and they have obligations that bloggers don’t have. Firstly it is their job. It is unlikely that they would not enjoy it but never the less it is a job. They are assigned to it, perhaps because they ask for the assignment, perhaps just because they are available at the time someone is needed. There is no qualification for the job. No one tests their palate or their knowledge. Not one of them, as far as I know, has a degree, or even a certificate, in gastronomy. Few, if any, would have any serious background in the history of food and drink. Here I’m writing about restaurant reviewers rather than writers of recipes and articles. Not only do most of them begin by knowing very little of what they are to writing about but also their talent for the job is completely unknown. A cynic once wrote words to the effect that journalists are people who know nothing and have the ability to express it!

Regardless of initial enthusiasm after a time they may become jaded, it may become tedious, even boring being sent to places, often not of ones choice, perhaps to eat food even further from ones choice, that one would not normally wish to eat. Further more journalists have to meet deadlines, they have to include certain information and they have to fit it to a specific space. That’s the point, they HAVE to.

As compensation not only do they get paid they also have expense accounts and they have time to research their work to ensure that the factual information they provide is accurate. Perish the thought but prejudices and biases are not restricted to political commentators. There is a misplaced belief that they visit a restaurant several times before writing a revue while bloggers rip off opinion pieces and reviews at the drop of a hat. Frank Bruni, in New York, did go four or five times before writing his revues and had a blog for more casual eating experiences, but most local reviewers rarely go more than once except to high end establishments.

Prominent journalists are recognized by restaurant staff, Matt Preston probably couldn’t go incognito anywhere in Melbourne no matter how he tried to disguise himself, and this certainly influences how they are treated. Stephen Downes, I’m told, is banned from a dozen restaurants around town. George Calombaris is a darling of the Melbourne media and never a week passes without a mention or photograph of him. I’d lay a small bet that if a journalist, with the exception of Stephen Downes, went to one of Georges restaurants on a really bad night, even George has them, and wrote an appropriate review it would not get published, he would be sent back for a further assessment but he has no influence with bloggers which might account for his ill informed remarks in the article.

For more on this see Even without the benefit of quality pic’s, except for the glossy magazines, newspaper reviews strongly influence diners choices. Good reviews are a blessing bad ones a disaster for many restaurateurs although really good restaurants rise above uncomplimentary reviews. Blogs are an uncertain quantity. If they had no influence nobody would care what they said but from my own experience I know that restaurants are concerned about what is said about them on the net. Blogs are being referred to more and more and chef’s and restaurant owners are concerned about them. Fortunately blogs are an open public forum and contrary views get aired and responded to. There is room for dissent and discussion. Many blogs have an international audience and comments come from anywhere in the world. In my view this is a major failing in the regular press. You may write directly to a journalist, and you might get a reply but no way can it open up a discussion with the wider public because the public never get to see anything but the words and wisdom of the little circle of writers favoured by the media. Blogs often have lengthy comment and counter comments and vividly expressed opinions. They provide a forum for discussion and debate rather than a pedestal from which to offer unassailable opinion.

Bloggers might also be journalists but fundamentally they blog because they want to. They are there for the love of it. They fall into niches according to their interests. Food bloggers may concentrate their attention on any subject, coffee or beer or chocolate, cheap meals vegetarian or general recipes cooking hints or discussions reviews or any mixture. They blog as frequently or as rarely as they wish, they write as much or as little as they wish and they often illustrate what they are writing about with pic’s that can be better than words. They have no editor and their spelling and grammar may be sloppy but their meaning is clear

It really is not surprising that journalists have so little regard for bloggers and bloggers are so often critical of journalists. Bloggers are possibly a little jealous of perks for journalists and their ready made, and unearned audience. Journalists resent the freedom of bloggers to express views, which they may regard as ill informed or half baked, with little restraint with regard to language, style and content.

I suspect that the recent extraordinary interest in everything related to food and eating will continue and the public will turn more and more to blogs for information amusement and discussion. There are now over 600 food related blogs in Australia and there is not going to be any way to address the causes of the conflicts that arise between them and newspaper journalists.

Were I a journalist I might have written a better piece than this but until some one else does Vive la difference.

Score: I reckon they're about even


KitchenSink said...

Nicely put.

I'm hoping to attend the BlogHer conference in New York - August's just for women, but perhaps Elliot could don a wig and a bit of mascara, or find an alternative way to amuse himself in the Big Apple.

Hee hee...

Tim Cohen said...

that is a very thoughtful post. I agree with your sentiments regarding a stand-off between bloggers and journo's, yet I am dismayed at certain restauranteurs remarks in respect to bloggers knowlege,
I also wrote a post regarding this recent episode, though I was a little less diplomatic than the prose which you undertook.