HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >

Discussion

The decline and demise of professional food writing?

Is it me, or are professional food writers rapidly being replaced with bloggers and amateurs in publications that were once legitimate? In my local weekly (free) paper, the whole food section is being dumbed down to the lowest common denominator of food "journalists." I laughed at a couple of the articles that I found online, only to see them appear in the printed paper.

Don't get me wrong, I think there is a place and purpose for food bloggers. I did it for years before I decided to "retire." But it seems now that the local weekly papers have figured out a way to get plenty of free or cheap content and parade it around as "writing." I fear to give links or specific examples because I truly feel sorry for the professional editors that do this for a living. I assume they would be embarrassed with the content, right?

-Kevin

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. The food writing in local papers - based on what I have seen in the DC metropolitan area and in NJ - has always been abysmal. Note - I am not talking about the Washington Post or the Baltimore Sun (though it has never been the same since John Dorsey, some 30 years ago). Our local papers have "reviews" that are little more than descriptions of the decor and the menu. Makes you want to scream DID YOU EVEN TASTE THE FOOD? These people, I am guessing, don't actually know food. They are just local writers who were assigned the restaurant beat. I ignore them, and I actually find that bloggers are far more informative and entertaining. What I loved about John Dorsey was that you could actually imagine what the place was like and whether you would enjoy it just by reading his reviews.

    1. "But it seems now that the local weekly papers have figured out a way to get plenty of free or cheap content and parade it around as 'writing.' "

      Free and cheap is just the ticket these days when you realize that at some point hard copies of weekly papers will be a thing of the past.

      I think what you describe is happening to many aspects of media and the arts; just look at the music business. Anyone can put together a "song" or video, post in on you tube and be on the charts within weeks. That's a far cry from the way the industry worked for many years.

      1. I suppose it depends on what you mean by professional. Getting paid for it? Having a journalism degree? It's difficult to quantify. I would also point out that food writers who are or were employed at that job are blogging, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes after they've left a job. (Downsizing is hitting newspapers and magazines a lot as circulation drops.)

        As to the "reviews" that only describe decor and menu, those aren't reviews, of course, they're feature stories. Would those restaurants perhaps be ones who have ads in the publication? Always a giveaway.

        I know there are folks out there who really want to write about food and will do so for free in order to get what were, in the days of print's primacy, known as "clips", things that could be used to prove to an editor at a publication higher up the ladder to show what you had done and how you wrote. On the one hand, I understand that. On the other hand, I'm bothered that those folks value their own work so little that they give it away so other people can make money off it. At least bloggers know they probably won't make any money, but share their views anyway.

        1. I have noticed the decline in the quality and thoughtfulness of newspaper writing in general, but the pseudo-reviews of restaurants by staff writers come off like they just went to dinner and knew they'd get an extra twenty-five bucks if they submitted a few hundred words about it. Folksy style and devoid of knowledge, "my husband loved his well-done burger, said it was 'perfectly crispy and dry'." Dreadful indeed. I'll refrain from noting the poor grammar, punctuation, even spelling sometimes. . . .

          1 Reply
          1. re: MGZ

            "Folksy style and devoid of knowledge ..." and "I'll refrain from noting the poor grammar, punctuation, even spelling sometimes" both describe, to me, the vast number of blogs out there ... in particular restaurant bloggers.

            Granted the difference here is "paid" vs "unpaid", but I think that line is blurring quite a bit, and will continue to do so.

          2. The problem you are having is that you are reading the wrong papers.

            >>> In my local weekly (free) paper, the whole food section is being dumbed down to the lowest common denominator of food "journalists."<<<

            Find better reading material. Feel free to spring like $1 or so every once in a while for a real fishwrap.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              Good writers are abundant. Good editors and publishers are becoming scarce. Not just about food, everything. Except, of course, economics.

              1. re: Veggo

                Have to agree with you on that one. Even with a free paper I think to myself that surely there are better writers out there who will volunteer their time. We had one for a while who reviewed a lot of chain restaurants into the mix and commented primarily on the size of dishes etc. And now they have one who went back to the same tired places and the comment is primarily decor and what was overheard at the next table. Who picked these people?

                1. re: Veggo

                  >>Good writers are abundant. Good editors and publishers are becoming scarce.<<

                  I like to think this is true. I think it's about how high a bar that the paper sets. I'm in LA and I think our local rags have very good to great food writers (as well as writers on some other topics as well). The LA Times seems to get very little respect in general, but the Food section has some serious talent behind the press. David Karp, Russ Parsons, Linda Burum, Thi Nguyen, and Miles Clements off the top of my head - S. Irene Virbila is too controversial to make my list for now.

                  As for free rags, our local LA Weekly seems to do pretty darned good - Jonathan Gold is an incredibly talented writer whose write-ups I will read regardless whether or not I'm interested in the issue at hand. Amy Scattergood and Noah Galuten are other folks I like to read. It's kinda ironic - a lot of those names I mention have or had Chow pedigrees as well...