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On regional mindset, moderation, and what it means to be "off topic"

For the past couple of days on the Boston board we'd been having an interesting discussion on the nature of the forum. Whether it's biased in favor of expensive restaurants or famous chefs, and so on. The discussion took an interesting turn when someone mentioned differences between the Boston board and the New York board, and the France board.

... and then a moderator appeared, and now the entire discussion has been removed, replaced with this:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9186...

I immediately replied and said that I felt this was a mistake. My followup was removed, and I received an e-mail from a moderator telling me that they're "really trying to get this thread back onto the topic of food."

Here's the reply I e-mailed back. I'm curious if others here agree or disagree with me.

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But why does the thread have to be on the topic of food? Isn't food, in a given region, about more than just the food?

Consider all of the following non-food topics that I don't believe you would moderate:

Restaurants
Chefs
Regional styles

I want to add a new one to the list: Regional ideals and mindset

The average customer in the deep south, going to dinner, does not have the same expectations as does, e.g., the average customer in midtown Manhattan. Different perspectives change the way people interact with, and write about food. And this means that different regional boards on Chowhound naturally have different views on various topics. Discussion of these views should, in my opinion, definitely NOT be moderated. On the contrary, they should be encouraged. They build a sense of region, help more sharply define the focus of the board, and help foster a feeling of community.
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  1. frankly, i was surprised that thread was allowed to go on as long as it did.

    i agree with you about regions and perspectives and one issue i find troubling on the boston board is neighborhood bias. whenever this comes up in a thread the mods take a hatchet to it. for example, when east boston's various latin and hispanic restaurants get mentioned, other hounds will clutch their pearls because eastie isn't as pretty as beacon hill so why would anybody, especially and heaven forfend, a tourist!!! want to eat there? this has happened more times than i can count and i think certain hoods get short shrift on our board because of this.

    i don't feel that discussing various neighborhoods in relation to restaurants is off-topic AT ALL, but apparently the mods do.

    good food doesn't just come from picturesque places, so why tell every out-of-towner to go to island creek, when they might have a great ol' time at belle isle? millions of americans never get to see the ocean, ya know?

    5 Replies
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      We try to remove the pearl clutching parts of those threads (and the 'oh, stop clutching your pearls already, it's not that unsafe' parts), but it's not our intent to remove the actual discussions of the restaurants in the neighborhoods. It may happen some as collateral damage, but we've been actively trying to be better about:
      a) cutting off these discussions with a Team post asking people to stop pearl-clutching and just talk about the food, instead of deleting them after the fact
      b) sorting through long deletions to put back posts that are mainly about food/restaurants instead of about neighborhood safety
      c) emailing people who added good chow tips in the middle of a pearl-clutching discussion to ask them to repost those tips, so the info makes it back into the thread

      Your feedback indicates we're not doing as good a job of it as we'd like to be doing, though, so I'll circle back around on this issue with the mods and try to bring more attention to the need to preserve the chowish info when we're removing things.

      1. re: Jacquilynne

        How about putting the entire discussion back, under say "Not About Food" or "Site Topics?"

        I've got to admit it gives me a kind of 1984-ish feeling to have discussions I actively followed (and sometimes participated in) disappear without a trace.

        That way I can't even go back and see if I think the deletion was justified.

        1. re: femmevox

          I think you can email the mods to get an email of the post.

        2. re: Jacquilynne

          Is this kind of unique to Boston? I don't follow many regional boards but it doesn't seem to come up in SF, Seattle, NYC.

        3. re: hotoynoodle

          While the argument that food automatically tastes better in the South End than it does in Allston can indeed be annoying, I think the proposal that Allstonian and others put forward is exactly the right response: if you want to see more discussion of inexpensive, hidden neighborhood gems on Chowhound, as opposed to high end chef-driven establishments, then start talking about inexpensive, hidden neighborhood gems!

        4. thanks for your letter- i completely agree with you.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kewpie

            as to my above post, its in ref to davis_sq_pro letter

          2. To be clear, we'd allow most of the discussions you've listed, without a doubt.

            Our feeling, though, is that 'discussing the discussion', where people dissect how and what their fellow hounds choose to post about on Chowhound, is not a good avenue to explore. Those sorts of "state of the forums" discussions grow incredibly rapidly, drowning out the more food-focused conversations. They usually (although not always) grow angry very quickly, as well, since they involve people talking about and judging the contributions of other members of the site. They're also not as regionally specific as you might imagine -- we see basically the same points made on every board where these issues come up.

            Because of that, we prefer that threads about the way Chowhounds choose to discuss things happen here on Site Talk, which is the forum set aside for discussing the discussion, rather than on regional boards. I feel particularly strongly that they should not happen in the midst of threads that were about other things, because of the way they take over.

            1. the moderators are polite and committed. that's saying a lot.

              they are also quite cognizant of chow.com's business model, which, consistent with many of the top posters here, is to promote the big money Boston restaurant scene.

              When comments become inconsistent with the mission, the mission wins.

              It's not an accident that the top posters here are food writers, or former food writers, or sycophants for the high-end scene.

              obey, or be moderated out of existence.

              Oh, hold on, I need to go order a VacuVita.

              25 Replies
              1. re: Carty

                Okay, so this MUST be specific to Boston. It's certainly not true in SF. There are gazillions (that's not a precise number!) of places that are dives, holes-in-the-walls, undesireable nabes, you name it. Why is the Boston scene different?

                1. re: c oliver

                  c, the issue is not that one cannot discuss dives, holes-in-the-walls, undesireable nabes here, you can and people do.

                  the issue is that if you post anything unflattering about the foodie establishment you get deleted.

                  1. re: Carty

                    So THAT must be specific to certain markets. Certainly not SF. But we Left Coasters are a pretty obstreperous bunch :)

                    1. re: c oliver

                      I had to look up "obstreperous", I will now use it far too many times in the near future.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          wait, so....

                          it's ok to talk about shoes? that certainly seems off-topic.

                          as somebody who has worked in fine dining in boston for 20+ years, i have worked for some of our top chefs and owners and have more than a passing acquaintance with most. i try to stay out of certain threads knowing i often DO get special treatment and thus cannot comment objectively.

                          that being said, i don't find the board especially sycophantic, but higher end places do seem to get more play than local neighborhood joints. perhaps that's merely a pocketbook issue from prolific posters who can afford menton more than once in a lifetime?

                          we're a small city, with not all that many excellent restaurants at varying price points, so yeah, the same names pop up over and over. this does not make me feel like the mods are in cahoots, but i do feel they are overly zealous. i am active on all sorts of interwbez boards and this is the only one that regularly frustrates with its iron fist of moderation. i can see deleting personal attacks, but i don't think a bit shaggy on the sides is a bad thing for a board in so colorful a city.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            There's the expression, perhaps not known to everyone, "If the shoe fits wear it." Referring to my being obstreperous.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              yes, i know. internets, missing eyebrows, all that.

                      1. re: Carty

                        That's news to me. I've been following the Boston board for several years and have never seen anything to indicate that the moderators are getting paid off by certain establishments. Can you share some evidence?

                        1. re: davis_sq_pro

                          no one said the moderators are getting paid off.

                          when we had a discussion about whether posting that a $5 Craigie doughnut solicited abuse the thread got deleted.

                          when that happens two or three times people stop posting, leaving a board catering to tourists and those that think that "Confit and Roasted Milk-Fed Pig’s Head Peking pancakes, spicy pumpkin sambal, boudin noir-hoisin sauce" somehow matters in the real world of eating out.

                          1. re: Carty

                            Well, here you're proving my point. I remember that doughnut thread well. It got deleted because there was one poster in particular who was being a giant flaming arsehole, so much so that he was following other posters around to other threads to verbally attack them on unrelated topics. That thread was locked, that poster was banned, life went on.

                            That person was not being helpful. That person was not providing an alternate viewpoint. Most importantly, that person was not bringing in information about other places that he felt SHOULD be talked about instead of what was being talked about. That person was being a troll. The board is not worse for his absence.

                            1. re: Carty

                              "Confit and Roasted Milk-Fed Pig’s Head Peking pancakes, spicy pumpkin sambal, boudin noir-hoisin sauce"

                              That dish sounds pretty damn good to me... :-)

                              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                this *may* be a little off-topic, but a pig that was fed milk from a cow that ate *what* exactly? It's really kind of vague.

                                1. re: Carty

                                  Who said anything about a cow? I assume that the pig drank milk from its mother. "Milk fed," I believe, usually refers to a baby animal that hasn't been weaned yet. It's rather sad in one sense and rather delicious in another...

                                  1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                    Actually, not suckling, weaned and fed some sort of supplment Frankenfood and kept anemic, hence paler, often.

                      2. re: Carty

                        Okay, I'm sorry, but I blow your conspiracy theory out of the water just by myself. I am a "former food writer," and at least in terms of volume, I'm probably considered one of the top posters on the Boston board.

                        I never write, pro or con, about high-end Boston restaurants, because I don't go to high-end Boston restaurants, because I find high-end restaurants boring. On the other hand, if my opinion about one critical darling or another doesn't fit in with the general board consensus, I usually will make a point to post something to that effect just to add another data point to the conversation, and none of those posts have ever been deleted. The enormous Strip-Ts thread is a fine example: our one experience there was derailed by server incompetence, so much so that even though we liked most of our meal quite a bit, we've never bothered to go back because there's too many other places we'd like to go to instead. And contrary to your groupthink conspiracy theory, those posts are still there.

                        Now, on the other hand, I have had posts removed for other reasons, and in those cases, the removals were accompanied by a note from a moderator that said, paraphrasing, "Okay, you were kinda being a dick there." And in each of those cases, I was in fact kinda being a dick, so it was a fair cop.

                        So...maybe posts aren't being deleted because people are disagreeing, but because they're being disagreeable. It's an important distinction.

                        1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                          it's not a theory, it's my perspective, and I am entitled to it.

                          the deleted comments were not disagreeable or targeted to any individual, as a matter of fact the disagreeable comments that the deleted thread were a response to are still there.

                          I find this site to be, increasingly, a puff piece echo chamber with regard to high end restaurants, moderating away negative comments or comments about the usefulness of the board as a result supports my perspective.

                          hey, chow.com is what it is, if it doesn't meet the journalistic standards I'd prefer for it, I can vote with my eyeballs.

                          1. re: Carty

                            I have a question that is based on your POV that the Moderators are taking down comments which are critical of high end establishments on the Boston board.

                            If that is the case then how did the thread you linked to "Craigie on Main..." stay up? That post by Scharn (the OP) seems strongly critical to me. Or have I totally misunderstood your perspective?

                            1. re: Servorg

                              the comments removed, as as you might imagine it's super-frustrating to have to describe them now that they are gone, were critical of posts I interpreted to be critical of the OP.

                              whatever, I really need to take this site less seriously.

                              1. re: Carty

                                you & mean both-Cathy....and trust me it works wonders.

                            2. re: Carty

                              It was straying OT. I had somebody posts deleted from that thread. They were OT.

                              Start a thread about disappointing meals at high end restaurants or at well liked ones. Or start a thread about <$20 entree restaurants. Or a thread about neighborhood favorites. And as long as people don't make personal attacks, they won't be deleted.

                              1. re: Carty

                                >>"chow.com's business model, which, consistent with many of the top posters here, is to promote the big money Boston restaurant scene"<<

                                I don't read the Boston board, so I really can't get into any of the details, but I've been reading and posting here for over 10 years and have never (that I can recall) heard that "perspective" expressed before............. nor anything like it. What do you think could be the motivation for something like that?

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  And to add to your comments, why Boston and not all the other regional boards. I've not seen it elsewhere.

                          2. In general I agree with your sentiment, however I am a poster in this specific thread and am not sure it is a great example for the discussion of non food topics and moderation.

                            I think I missed some of posts before they got deleted, but IMO most of the deleted posts weren't of value. There was a lot of stereotyping of Boston neighborhoods (and residents of those neighborhoods) and resulting defensiveness about it. Posters were eager to one up each other with whittier characterizations. It does get tiresome clicking on a thread, expecting comments on a specific topic, and seeing OT post after OT post.

                            Also, I didn't see any posts which I considered a useful or thought provoking discussion of the differences between the Boston and France or NYC boards, other than posts the nature of 'it must be so annoying for the Paris regulars to answer where to get the best croissant, etc. over and over'.

                            None of the OT posts and banter (that I saw at least) added much value, but they definitely took the original thread even farther off topic. I have been the first to gripe out some of the overzealous and uneven moderation on these boards, however I think the mods did OK in this case.