Saturday, December 05, 2009

Chatter 26 Journalists and chefs 12/09

Two months ago I wrote a piece about journalists and bloggers (Chatter 25) which touched on several issues discussed in an article by Stephen Downes in Meanjin Quarterly (Vol 68 No.4) Downes wrote about the relationship between food journalists and restaurant reviewers in relation to restaurant owners and chefs.
He begins by making the rather dubious point that journalists are trusted. At least where food and fashion are concerned it rings true but surveys of respect in the community do not rate them highly.
He then goes on to some analysis, using Hellenic Republic and George Colambaris' rise to celebrity status as an example, of both journalists influence and of the nature of reviews. He quotes from a typical review which he describes as sounding more like a "media release" than a restaurant review, totally lacking in critical content. A point with which I fully agree. He proposes the reasons for this are that "it is easier to gush than to criticize", secondly writers who enthuse are more attractive to big publishers and editors than real critics and thirdly, a point to which he devotes a lot of consideration, is the relationship between food writers and the people they are supposed to be independently assessing.
I believe Downes is spot on when he looks at these relationships and the effect they have on reviewers. Finally he suggests a code of ethics for Australia's restaurant critics and food journalists.
How right he is. It is impossible not to be influenced by special attention, freebies and social recognition by celebrities. Journalist have an absolute duty to their readers to acknowledge any matter which could be construed as influencing their opinions. Recognized medical authorities when offering scientifically backed information in their field acknowledge backing from interested parties, described as competing interests. Food journalism, which is quite subjective needs these standards more than ever.
Mr Downes 20/20 for subject matter.

Competing interests: My wife and I have occasionally been the recipients of meals and other gratuities from restaurants and chefs. When ever we review a restaurant where that has been the case we note it early in the review.
We have no relationship of any kind with Mr Downes but I do have a link to his blog, which he rarely updates and I rarely look at it! I also wrote a piec comparing Larissa Dubecki's writing and reviewing style to that of Stephen Downes earlier this year.

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