The last few months have been busy with old school journalists attacking food blogging and bloggers, who have been accused of having sinister motives, despite journalists being enmeshed in multiple conflicts of interest. The latest contribution is from Stephen Downes in the July issue of the Virgin airline’s magazine (p123, warning horrible flash content).

Downes begins by criticising a few random sample of writing from food blogs. They are what they are. Most bloggers are not professional writers (but most are professionals who write as part of their job, such as lawyers). I could easily do the same and find some examples of terrible writing from journalists, but that’s too easy. It means nothing.

What is more interesting is what Downes does next. Despite criticising food bloggers for not offering the same depth of comparison or criticism as traditional critics, he then acknowledges that mass media audiences don’t actually want to read the kind of critical comparison offered by people like himself. It’s an extraordinary admission.

Where blogs excel is in describing, often with many more photos than newspapers offer (even online), the overall consumer experience and explaining the decision making and social context to eating out, particularly with other people. Downes is disingenuous when he complains about this. Eating out is not only about food, but Downes seems to dismiss the relevance and significance of the broader experience.

Where Downes starts sounding ridiculous is when he archly claims that what food bloggers do is no threat to him. But he admits that food bloggers provide content that is more relevant to, and perhaps more appreciated by, consumers than the kind of content produced by traditional journalists. That must hurt.

Finally, he envisages still having a paid job writing about food in 10 years time if editors value what he does. With this comment he shows how naive this opinion is. It’s not newspaper editors that count – it’s the purchasing behaviour of media consumers. If no one buys the newpapers that publish his reviews he won’t have a job, and this is exactly what is currently happening.

Why buy newspapers that increasingly plagiarise social media content as standard editorial practice? Why not simply read the original social media content? Furthermore, audiences are becoming increasingly aware that the cash for comment journalism they read has no value or integrity.

I think that average consumers can more easily and readily relate to and accept the opinions of other average consumers than pampered critics. Consumers do care about the broader experience, not just the food on the plate, and there is nothing wrong with this.

The traditional media era is over and one member of the club has finally admitted it.

an admission of defeat

3 thoughts on “an admission of defeat

  • 26 July 2011 at 7:54 pm

    I don’t see Stephen Downes admitting to defeat.

    Yes, he is correct in saying Fairfax Press and many other print publications have for a long time used restaurant reviews as PR pieces – but blogs are just as often used in the same way, and there are numerous bloggers out there who are prepared to take the free meal (as you’v written about in the past). In the blogging world there are some good eggs who don’t do this, and in the print world there are some good eggs too (in my opinion, Stephen Downes).

    Another valid point he makes is there are many writers who write food reviews, but don’t necessarily have the food experience (not just the writing skills) to write a sufficient criticism of the food. While there are some food blogs that can offer this, but these are few and far between. Sometimes the admiration for the food isn’t because the blogger doesn’t want to write a negative review, it’s just they don’t have the food experience to know the food could be cooked better and with more skill.

    I enjoy Stephen’s writing and his reviews, and hope his work continues to be published, whether it’s in traditional or new media. While I’m no fan of The Herald Sun (unless it’s to line the kitty litter tray), I’m glad they’re prepared to publish Stephen’s reviews.

    I’m not doubting that newspapers steal online content, especially after you’ve provided examples. But there are journalists out there with more integrity – Downes being one of them. There are also bloggers out there who steal content.

    Glad you picked up on Stephen’s piece – I read it yesterday and wanted to hear more on what other’s thought.

    • 26 July 2011 at 9:19 pm

      I think what you and most old school journalists misread are claims to authority on the part of food bloggers. We don’t claim to be experts. We claim on the most part to be paying consumers who provide that point of view. It’s the blind old journalists who think we’re claiming to be something we’re not. And we’re not. It’s their own error in judgement that is the cause of much of their angst.

  • 2 August 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Geezus, I thought you were admitting defeat for a minute. Damn!


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