Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Newspaper food writers vs. online food writers.

Last week I mentioned The Weekend Australian’s Food Detective column (17-18 February) in which Elizabeth Meryment warned restaurateurs to be ‘wary of diners taking notes and what seem to be more (sic) than happy snaps at the table.’

The column renewed its attack on online food writing at the weekend, warning of a ‘similarly concerning trend: the proliferation of online restaurant guides, particularly those which allow diner reviews’.

What's so concerning about diners writing about their restaurant experiences online? Food Detective exemplifies, quoting a diner who posted the following review at an online restaurant forum:

' "What a shame great food is ruined by amateur service ... When paying nearly $50 for an aged steak it is an indulgence. One that should be rewarded with attentive and professional service ... (but) the waiter had little knowledge of the menu and by her own admission had had no orientation to it despite having worked there for several weeks. She spent so much time dealing with complaints from other customers she not surprisingly had little time to look after our party of four".'

I don't quite see Food Detective's point in quoting this. She ripostes with a gibe at the name of the restaurant the anonymous diner had chosen to review: ‘Detective’s not quite sure why anybody would pay $50 for a steak at a place called Ribs & Rumps ...’

Ouch! OK, so Ribs and Rumps is a hokey name. But the place appears to take its meat seriously. From its website: King Island has become world renowned for producing the finest beef ... rolling green hills and pastures that stretch as far as the eye can see. The high salt content in the air gives the pastures a very special quality which in turn flavours the beef ... because of the island's isolation from the mainland there are no growth stimulants, chemicals, arial spraying or tick dipping that would affect the composition of the beef ... total unpolluted ecology ... the climate is cool and the rainfall perfect ...

If the steak is that good, I don't care if the place is called Uncle Joe's Greasy Spoon. If I were the chef at Ribs & Rumps and someone sneered about my work like that in a national newspaper, I’d throw a pan across the kitchen. Maybe two.

Yet another piece on food bloggers appears in Tuesday's Herald Sun. It's not online - you'll have to stump up for a hard copy. The story focusses on the anonymity of food bloggers in reviewing retaurants. Here, it should be noted that both Food Detective (February 17) and Mike Bruce in the Herald Sun article mention or interview Ed Charles as a food blogger. Ed Charles is a very good food blogger but he is also a writer for both The Australian and the Herald Sun. (Food Detective disclosed the connection, Bruce did not.) To me, this reads as lazy journalism.

For the record, I read many online food writers and many newspaper food writers. The quality varies greatly in both camps.


neil said...

Since the great cheese sandwhich controversy, I get the feeling that more than a few food journos are nervously looking over their shoulders.

breadchick said...

There is the underground rumblings about food bloggers here in the US as well; with two camps of professionals (chefs/journalists) becoming divided. The one camp welcomes them and even encourages them as it keeps them honest and on their best game. The other camp, of course, firmly believes that us food bloggers should focus on our "little home cooked meals". Adam of the Amateur Gourmet recently was the recipient of such an attack in a New York magazine. But like you, I believe that if your writing is good, the points you make valid, and if you obviously don't have the proverbial axe to grind, a well written piece is a well written piece. Smells like fear to me on the food journalists and chefs who have in the last several years elevated to near god-like status. If I'm paying over $100.00 for a steak meal and my service is awful, by golly I'm blogging about it!

Dan said...

Once again I'm bothered by the assumption that no one can do it unless they've been anointed by the JournoPriests on high.

I'm glad these people have taken a sacred oath on "The Joy of Cooking" to provide only the highest level of sneering condescension, but it doesn't mean nobody else is allowed to have a say.

Adski said...

So what they're saying, is that only people who get paid to write about food, are qualified to write about food and that somehow by being paid, they are more qualified than us bloggers to write about food? We are the customers, we are the ones with expectations, we are the ones spending the money, we deserve good food, good service and a good experience. For us all to spend time, writing about something we are so passionate about, we have the right to be able to say it as we see it and if we don't like something, we also have the right to let others know about it.
I think this journo is a bit paranoid about how good some of the blogs are out there and maybe her job could one day soon be in jeopardy!

Ed said...

Sorry, I tried to post earlier but I'm having problems with the upgraded Blogger (and I'm stil having problems today).
To be fair on Mike the idea of the story was to sort of introduce me and the column. The column is a result of my blogging although I suspect the fact that I am a full time journalist - albeit mainly writing about business – makes it easier for a newspaper to swallow.
The reality is that now anybody can write about food or review restaurants. I've just in the past hour finished reading Kitchen Con (I'll post on it once I've disentangled myself from Good Food Guide committments) which debates the qualifications for reviewing restaurants. The main difference is that perhaps a mass circulation writer owes a duty of care simply because they really can affect a business while a blogger which a much smaller audience has less influence. I agree with Breadchick on reveiwing the awful meal.
I hope while meeting my brief in the Herald Sun in my small number of allocated words I can raise the profile of blogging, especially for the 40 or so bloggers in Melbourne. Sometimes I feel like a bad blogger and a media tart but I'm not looking for the old media limelight. it is just that I become front of mind when I talk to editors about the stories I try to sell them.

mikeandsylv said...

Thanks Ed from this "JournoPriest on high". To Kitchenhand, if I omitted to mention Ed Charles was about to begin working for the Herald Sun, it wasn't laziness, but probably rather absent-mindedness. In 14 years in journalism, I don't think many of my colleagues could accuse me of laziness - stupidity and vagueness perhaps, but never laziness.
Mike Bruce