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Fat Guy

I'm self-appointed, you're self-appointed

97 posts in this topic

A recent article in the Montreal Gazette about online restaurant reviews bears the title "The self-appointed critics." This echoes the use of the same phrase in a recent Wall Street Journal article about the ethics of online restaurant reviewing: "There are blogs hosted by self-appointed critics, such as Restaurantgirl or Amateur Gourmet in New York . . ." (Here's a link to the reprint of that story that ran in the ProJo.) Google leads to several other uses of that and similar constructions.

The description "self-appointed critics" is meant to imply inferiority: a lack of credentials, a lack of a rigorous appointment process. It's a way print-media people try to distinguish their own critics from the online ones. This insinuation, I think, bears some examination.

The opposite of "self-appointed" is "other-appointed." If you're a critic, and you haven't been appointed by yourself, then you must have been appointed by someone else. But who is this other? Who appoints the other-appointed critics?

Were the other to be some illustrious body -- say, a tribunal formed of Craig Claiborne, Julia Child and Auguste Escoffier -- I might say, you know what, being appointed by them is more impressive, more credible, more deserving of respect than being self-appointed. In reality, though, the other is usually some know-nothing newspaper executive with no culinary background and no special knowledge of anything related to the task at hand. Being appointed by that person is not the slightest bit superior to being self-appointed.

Moreover, those who are self-appointed need to compete for readership. Those who are other-appointed get brought into pre-existing publications with infrastructure. It would be interesting to see how well the average newspaper critic would do if forced to compete on a level playing field with the average online critic who regularly files reviews. But of course, the newspaper critic wouldn't enter that competition, because the newspaper critic is likely not motivated enough to do that job for free. The self-appointed critic is most likely in it for love of food; the newspaper critic may not even enjoy dining out.

I'd also like to extend an offer to anybody online who's feeling bad about being self-appointed: I'm willing to appoint you. Just let me know you're interested in receiving my imprimatur, and I'll happily declare your appointment. Then, if anybody calls you self-appointed, you can say, no, I was appointed by someone.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Fat Guy:

You Rock.

J


Jamie Lee

Beauty fades, Dumb lasts forever. - Judge Judy

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It's an awful lot easier to claim that someone else is "self-appointed" if they aren't a recognized author of a book in the same realm. Everyone is "self-appointed" until someone is paying them for their opinion. Then they're a "published source."

There are a ton of self-appointed "experts" in every realm on the internet. On the internet, everyone is a "Brad Pitt look-alike", "tall dark and handsome", and "sensitive to your needs." :rolleyes:

No disrespect meant, as you know I respect your well informed opinion. But that's because I know you, and most certainly NOT because I don't. For the average person that doesn't take the time to filter the pre-disposed,/pre-existing knowledge I possess, you are an easily "Googleable" expert in your field. That alone makes your opinion worthy. Whether it is or isn't. The "quality" of those appointing you aren't necessarily the criteria, but whether or not anyone actually has appointed you. The deciding factor is whether anything shows up on a Google search that bears some weight. Not just that we like the sound of our own voice in cyberspace, but whether it has gotten some academic or paid professional cred. That's usually measured by whether that Google search can be cross referenced to an academic source or a corporate website where you're listed as the head of the department you're the "expert" in, or whether your publication is available on Amazon.com. Just sayin'.

I suspect your point about the average newspaper critic not necessarily passing muster is valid. At least from what I've seen. But I also suspect that the average "self-appointed" critic isn't as worried about their readership as you might be implying either. I'm not sure that's what they're necessarily after - or else they'd have persued it in a more "professional" (read: paid and publicly recognized) manner from the get-go.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Of course it is in the personal interests of print critics to bash those online-they are making it harder for them to make a living. The self-appointed's are also often unedited and self-directed as well, which means they may be writing solely about issues they really care about, as opposed to stuff the editor(s) wants. Also it seems that many print critics, given their own 'blogs', seem to just write print-y stuff on them, so maybe they can't really compete with the real bloggers, and they're bitter. It also seems that with the NY Times, for example, I may read the theater, home, sports, etc., sections, but I don't look online for any of that information. Perhaps the same could be said for the print food section. So the really devoted 'food people' are the ones reading food blogs/boards online, not everybody who might pick up a paper.


Edited by Miami Danny (log)

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well, let's see. i actually had a column for about a year and a half, for which i was paid, by a fairly well-respected news agency. but i don't do that anymore. and if i have a choice of being appointed by that agency, or appointed by FG, i choose the latter. appoint me, please?


"Laughter is brightest where food is best."

www.chezcherie.com

Author of The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook ,The I Love Trader Joe's Party Cookbook and The I Love Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook

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Given the avalanche of demand, I'm going to let the list of appointees accumulate and then do a special ceremony -- kind of the online equivalent of the Moon Mass Wedding Festival.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Brilliant. I'm in. Anything to pad my resume.

I personally feel you should have your child or wife help you appoint me so I can say I was appointed by a panel.

Edit: I'm back, I changed my mind. You should reject my application so that you can say that there is a careful review and not everyone is approved.

Edit: While you're at it, you should reject a large number of people. Mostly those who haven't applied, but who's rejection would bring status to the appointment. Like the New York Times fodd critic or the entire editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal. And a smattering of celebrity chefs. You could even send them letters informing them of their rejection. This way you could say "only a small number of experts pass our review process."

2 patients cancelled this morning, I drank 4 cups of coffee and I'm bored.


Edited by Dr. Teeth (log)

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Though certainly a very generous offer, I must decline.

Without question, I am most qualified to appoint myself.

Certainly more qualified than some newspaper editor whose diet is mostly limited to lukewarm coffee, deli delivery, and gin drenched olives.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Given the avalanche of demand, I'm going to let the list of appointees accumulate and then do a special ceremony -- kind of the online equivalent of the Moon Mass Wedding Festival.

Fat Guy,

This is genius.... You really should come up with some appropriate titles to bestow upon your appointees. Maybe we could choose our own titles.

Your humble servant,

Tim

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Putting aside the amusing issue of Fat Guy "appointing" and/or "anointing" people, there are two serious issues here, those of accountability and of professionalism.

Those who have received the appropriate position from their editors do have accountability - to their readers, to the restaurants they are reviewing, to their editors, and to their publications. Fall short of one of those and you'll get a reprimand, fall short of two at the same time and you'll receive a warm handshake as you make your way out of the door.

As to professionalism - I am the first to grant that the un-appointed critics can be thoroughly competent. I am also the first to admit that not all professionals are competent. Again though we return to issue one - that of accountability. The blogger is accountable to no-one unless, he/she wanders into those horrific realms of libel, slander and, of course plagiarism.

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Given the avalanche of demand, I'm going to let the list of appointees accumulate and then do a special ceremony -- kind of the online equivalent of the Moon Mass Wedding Festival.

You are one of a kind and I am so glad you are here!! During our ceremony instead of the white dree and suit can we wear wigs and sunglasses so no one knows us like food writers did in the 70's and 80's??? :laugh:

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Putting aside the amusing issue of Fat Guy "appointing" and/or "anointing" people, there are two serious issues here, those of accountability and of professionalism. 

Those who have received the appropriate position from their editors do have accountability - to their readers, to the restaurants they are reviewing, to their editors, and to their publications.  Fall short of one of those and you'll get a reprimand, fall short of two at the same time and you'll receive a warm handshake as you make your way out of the door.

As to professionalism - I am the first to grant that the un-appointed critics can be thoroughly competent.  I am also the first to admit that not all professionals are competent.  Again though we return to issue one - that of accountability.  The blogger is accountable to no-one unless, he/she wanders into those horrific realms of libel, slander and, of course plagiarism.

Eh, the blogger is accountable to his/her reader.

If a tree falls and all that rot...

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Putting aside the amusing issue of Fat Guy "appointing" and/or "anointing" people, there are two serious issues here, those of accountability and of professionalism. 

Those who have received the appropriate position from their editors do have accountability - to their readers, to the restaurants they are reviewing, to their editors, and to their publications.  Fall short of one of those and you'll get a reprimand, fall short of two at the same time and you'll receive a warm handshake as you make your way out of the door.

As to professionalism - I am the first to grant that the un-appointed critics can be thoroughly competent.  I am also the first to admit that not all professionals are competent.  Again though we return to issue one - that of accountability.  The blogger is accountable to no-one unless, he/she wanders into those horrific realms of libel, slander and, of course plagiarism.

Also there is the issue of markets-being a print critic in NYC or other large city may carry a lot more weight/responsibilty than one in a smaller market, such as Miami (where I live), or some even smaller, more provincial town.

Of course you are also bringing up the wisdom of editors and the sanctity of their decisions, both of which may be called into question (although not mine, of course, nor yours-I mean someone else's). I think standards have been relaxed substantially, even at the NY Times.


Edited by Miami Danny (log)

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In at least one critical aspect, online reviewers are usually more accountable than newspaper critics. Online, there is typically the ability to respond.

Newspapers tightly control their letters to the editor sections, and generally decide unilaterally who will be able to disagree on equal footing with the critic. Meanwhile, if someone posts comments about a restaurant in a discussion forum, like this one, other people can respond. As long as the response is on topic and doesn't go off the deep end, it stands with equal prominence to the original. Most responsible bloggers allow comments to appear immediately after their blog entries. So online writers are not only accountable to their readers, but also their readers have the opportunity to respond. Newspapers just don't do that. They rally around their writers in a closed-off system and only bring their accountability mechanisms into play in the most extreme instances.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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As I grow more cynical every day toward American mass culture, the only accountability that I care about is my own - meaning, every blogger or print reviewer can say what they want. If, as a consumer, I'm too lazy to cross reference or check myself, then that's my problem. Unfortunately the wild west mentality that I'm in supportive of has consequences. I've known many a restaurant to be harmed by wild flying bullets. But to that I say, if your business is strong and true, then you survive and thrive.

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As I grow more cynical every day toward American mass culture, the only accountability that I care about is my own - meaning, every blogger or print reviewer can say what they want.  If, as a consumer, I'm too lazy to cross reference or check myself, then that's my problem.  Unfortunately the wild west mentality that I'm in supportive of has consequences.  I've known many a restaurant to be harmed by wild flying bullets.  But to that I say, if your business is strong and true, then you survive and thrive.

By the same token, if the blog or message board review is strong and true, it survives and thrives.

I like it. And, it's a free country, so I can take it or leave it.

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As to professionalism - I am the first to grant that the un-appointed critics can be thoroughly competent.  I am also the first to admit that not all professionals are competent.  Again though we return to issue one - that of accountability.  The blogger is accountable to no-one unless, he/she wanders into those horrific realms of libel, slander and, of course plagiarism.

A related and, in my opinion more important question is: accountable to whom, and how?

If you are a self-appointed "reviewer" online (or otherwise) you are accountable to your readership. If enough people decide that your writing is rubbish and your opinions are not well-founded, your readership will decline and people will stop reading your reviews. Who decides that you have well-informed opinions and something worthwhile to say? The whole internet does.

On the other hand, all too often one finds situations in which the informed readership has determined that a reviewer's 's opinion is hopelessly biased, misinformed or otherwise worthless, and yet that writer continues to be gainfully employed by an important newspaper, and to wield the influence that comes along with such employment because... well I'm not quite sure. Because some editor at the newspaper likes them?

I am more familiar with music reviewing than I am with restaurant reviewing, but I have on any number of occasions read reviews in major newspapers that diverged so widely from my own experiences that it is barely possible to believe we were at the same performance. And I'm talking about details of fact, not opinion (e.g., "cracked wide open" and "ringing" cannot describe the same climactic high note). Yet, somehow these reviewers do not get the "warm handshake as they make their way out of the door" that Daniel promises. Rather, they remain employed for year after year after year.

All of which is to say that the imprimatur of a professional writing gig and the supposed ethical/competent oversight that supposefly comes along with it is hardly a guarantee of accountability and professionalism.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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I've always believed, a food writer is accountable to the reader. The newspaper or other publication cuts the check, but a professional journalist's primary responsible is to the reader. In the case of a critic I believe his secondary responsibility is to the restaurants about which he writes.

Take care of those two and the accountability to the paper falls in place.

As far as an independent writer/reviewer/blogger goes, the responsibility is the same. Readers will figure out whether the writer is blogging just to hear himself blog or has something worthwhile to say. If it is worthwhile, it doesn't matter who appoints the writer.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

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In at least one critical aspect, online reviewers are usually more accountable than newspaper critics. Online, there is typically the ability to respond.

Meanwhile, if someone posts comments about a restaurant in a discussion forum, like this one, other people can respond. As long as the response is on topic and doesn't go off the deep end, it stands with equal prominence to the original. Most responsible bloggers allow comments to appear immediately after their blog entries. So online writers are not only accountable to their readers, but also their readers have the opportunity to respond.

This is absolute nonsense. Online writers are accountable to NO ONE. That is why there are so many of them (and so many bad ones). Also, EVERY blogger (including me) can modify comments, and so can EVERY food board (including this one). To pretend otherwise is either ignorance or disingenuousness.

As to 'strong and true', let me pose a question. How many readers does, for example, the NY Times have? Read their circulation numbers for a good estimate. Even their online readership is readily available. How many readers read JoeBlowFoodie.com? Good luck. I could write a thousand word blog every day that not one person reads other than my mother, and it would never go away.

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Interesting topic (do I detect a little defensiveness here and there?); here's another angle.

I just explained on another forum how in earlier days of Internet food discussion (when the 'net had only a million, not a billion, readers and was becoming widely accessible, if not known, in North America) people hesitated at first to self-label their comments "reviews," that term being broadly reserved for professional work. People without such hesitation began doing so -- I can tell you the first such that I saw, on rec.arts.books in 1987, it may still be online.

The practice has become more common, but some people still observe the distinction (as confirmed by responses after I posted about it).

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hey there -- sunday's gazette article is down in the basement recycle bin, but if memory serves, it did not promote print over online blogger critics. indeed, URLs were provided, and readers were encouraged to take a look at (say) chowhound, egullet, and more locally focused web-based critics.

somebody say "straw man"?

back when i was involved with hiring and editing restaurant critics for a series of european guidebooks, those chosen (and paid, though not very well, of course...) were usually credentialed journalists with a solid knowledge of food and of the food service industry. rebuttals of their pieces (by "regular folks" or other specialists) were always taken seriously.

who, if i am not being indiscreet, are those know-nothing editors and executives to whom you refer? are you thinking of a particular publication or category? your readers want to know...

-sheila

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Given the avalanche of demand, I'm going to let the list of appointees accumulate and then do a special ceremony -- kind of the online equivalent of the Moon Mass Wedding Festival.

Could I maybe be ordained instead? Appointment suddenly feels so cheap and common...

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Online writers are accountable to NO ONE.  That is why there are so many of them (and so many bad ones). Also, EVERY blogger (including me) can modify comments, and so can EVERY food board (including this one).  To pretend otherwise is either ignorance or disingenuousness. 

Your post demonstrates the fallacy of your argument: you've just had your chance to hold me accountable. You happen to be wrong, you happen not to have made a persuasive argument, but you've had your say. Did anybody edit your post? Of course not.

Meanwhile, I've had many letters to the editor published in newspapers, including the New York Times. Every single one of them has been edited. I've never heard of a letter to the editor being published in a newspaper without some edits. In many cases I've felt that the edits made to my letters have weakened them substantially.

So, first of all, newspapers have just as much editing ability as websites and, second, newspapers routinely exercise that editing ability whereas in my experience -- which is extensive -- websites rarely do. Most websites simply do not edit posts or blog comments for content. They may delete ones that are beyond the pale -- as they should -- but they don't go in and change content the way newspapers almost always do.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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hey there -- sunday's gazette article is down in the basement recycle bin, but if memory serves, it did not promote print over online blogger critics. indeed, URLs were provided, and readers were encouraged to take a look at (say) chowhound, egullet, and more locally focused web-based critics.

No need to go into the basement. I provided a link to the story in my first post. But the issue is the use of "self-appointed" in the headline, and the repetition of the "self-appointed" mantra in various other stories, as well as related distinctions like "professional" versus "amateur" and "credentialed" versus "uncredentialed" none of which hold up particularly well under scrutiny.

back when i was involved with hiring and editing restaurant critics for a series of european guidebooks, those chosen (and paid, though not very well, of course...) were usually credentialed journalists with a solid knowledge of food and of the food service industry. rebuttals of their pieces (by "regular folks" or other specialists) were always taken seriously.

I have no idea what a "credentialed journalist" is, nor do I know what it means that rebuttals were "taken seriously." Does "taken seriously" mean they were published? Does it mean the writers were fired? If not, what impact is there to taking such things seriously, other than making serious faces and nodding a lot?

who, if i am not being indiscreet, are those know-nothing editors and executives to whom you refer? are you thinking of a particular publication or category? your readers want to know...

I'm thinking of all the major newspapers. Who appointed Frank Bruni to be the New York Times critic? As far as I know, it was Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times. What makes him well suited to make that choice? Nothing, as far as I can tell. The most obvious proof is that Bruni was simply a terrible choice, one that no food-knowledgeable editor could have made with a straight face. Accountability? Clearly, there isn't any, otherwise Bruni would have been out of a job after his first few months. Beyond that, I see nothing about food in the Times archive written by Bill Keller, and there doesn't appear to be any information anywhere indicating that he has any particular food knowledge. So why is he picking the world's most powerful restaurant critic? His imprimatur is worthless.

We could go through this exercise for most any newspaper in the US or the UK -- especially in the UK.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Eh, the blogger is accountable to his/her reader.

In the same way that a newspaper reporter is accountable?

Restaurantgirl is now "appointed." It still doesn't make her tripe worth reading.


Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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