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Fat Guy

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

97 posts in this topic

As someone relatively new to eGullet (joined in Aug 2007), I tremble to wade in but the water's not that cold so here goes:

When I hear about a restaurant that sounds interesting, I generally Google it and read ALL the reviews that come up. Then I make a decision to go based on average comments and frankly a gut feel. What if there are only two reviews that represent opposite experiences, and one is a "professional" and one an "amateur" reviewer? Maybe wait a bit if the resto is new, or maybe toss a coin. In the end, it's up to me to decide if I want to go, and then if I like the place. Same with movie, book and TV show reviews: do your homework then take the chance and make up your own mind. Sort of "caveat emptor" with caveats :laugh:

I have no formal food background, but in a past life worked as a full-time reporter (what we used to call journalists) for several papers in BC (both metro and not). I do remember being surprised at how and on what basis "reviewers/critics" were chosen, but perhaps I shouldn't have been. Not everyone who knows a lot about a particular area is suited to the newspaper lifestyle (churning out x amount of column inches per week, writing to a tight deadline, working weird hours, blah blah blah). It seemed to me that these folks were often chosen more for their newspaper experience and longevity than for a specific background in food, music, whatever. And their opinions are probably worth just that.

Edited to add: Anytime I have to use as many quotation marks as I did in this post, I worry what my old profs would say about properly defining my terms...


Edited by grayelf (log)

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The fact is that the decision by a larger institution to cut a check for you based on your writing is a significant "credential" and useful benchmark for separating the cream from the skim.  If you meet to people in the bar and know nothing about them other than that one is blogging their novel and the other one has a contract with Knopf, who would suspect the is the better writer: the one who has appointed their self, or the one whose persuaded at least one other person with interest and experience in the field of their abilities?

That strikes me as a huge leap of faith based on outdated notions of what happens in the publishing business (not that those notions were ever true). Perhaps the person with the contract from Knopf is a better writer, though more likely he's a celebrity using a ghost writer, but when it comes to something like culinary judgment the imprimatur of an institution -- especially a newspaper -- means next to nothing. Who gave the imprimatur? It wasn't an institutional committee of food experts. We've already established that in many cases it's a business decision meant to sell papers, with not a care for the quality of food writing. Empirically, we know that many newspaper critics are complete duds. At least bloggers need to convince food-knowledgeable people of their relevance, otherwise they have no relevance. Professional writers only have to convince editors -- editors who don't necessarily know anything about the subject matter.

For purposes of the discussion of the publishing business, we're assuming two "literary" authors of (at the moment of the hypothetical) equal anonymity. Regardless of how you wish to interpret it, though, I'll still stand by the original point: a writer in any field who can demonstrably claim to have convinced even a single individual to make a tangible commitment of time/money/effort has cleared a significant hurdle that many have not. It doesn't assure that they're "better", but that's the way to bet.

Please explain the difference between a newspaper trying to increase circulation and a blogger going for more hits? For that matter, are you saying that publications don't try to increase circulation by offering (what they believe to be) high-quality content? Also, are you suggesting that food writers in the daily paper don't want to be relevant and reach influentials, as well? And, aren't you ignoring the fact that many/most "self-appointeds" are doing it as a hobby and the free goodies?

As I said before, there are likely some fine self-appointed bloggers out there. And, the blogs are a great proving ground for up-and-coming talent. But, on the whole, they're lightweights (often enjoyable and useful), cheerleaders (less so) or self-entitled cranks (fortunately, fewer than in the political blogosphere). (When I start my blog, btw, I intend to be in the last category.)


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Please explain the difference between a newspaper trying to increase circulation and a blogger going for more hits?

Blogs are niche products. A food blogger is speaking to a food audience about food only. Newspapers are for general audiences. The food writers get fired if they only speak to foodies. When a food blogger tries to increase relevance, the way to do it is by being more relevant in the food world. When a newspaper tries to increase circulation, quality food content is not typically a consideration. Even at the most elite newspapers, like the New York Times, the critics are under a clear mandate to try to appeal to non-foodies, and their work suffers for it.

For that matter, are you saying that publications don't try to increase circulation by offering (what they believe to be) high-quality content?

In the newspaper world, rarely. Perhaps at the top of the heap, there's some room for quality. The reporters at the Times and WSJ are the aristocrats of the newspaper world, and are indulged somewhat in the pursuit of focused quality -- as long as it doesn't do too much to jeopardize general-audience readership. But for the thousands of newspapers below that level? With a few bright-light exceptions like Purvis's food section they publish mostly unreadable, supremely low quality crap. And, as noted above, the priority isn't quality of food content.

And, aren't you ignoring the fact that many/most "self-appointeds" are doing it as a hobby and the free goodies?

Hobby = for the love of it. That's a good thing. And I don't know of a single food blogger who does it for the free goodies -- that's more of a bonus.

they're lightweights (often enjoyable and useful), cheerleaders (less so) or self-entitled cranks (fortunately, fewer than in the political blogosphere). 

Same with newspapers.


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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And I don't know of a single food blogger who does it for the free goodies -- that's more of a bonus.

Not bonus; onus.

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I'm a farmer who likes to eat. I love to cook. I'm comfortable enough that I don't mind paying for quality and redneck enough that I don't turn my nose up at a good hot dog once in a while.

Paid restaurant reviews are, for the most part, a waste of my time. They are formal, suspect, and address issues which I am probably never going to be able to discern or appreciate. A slight nutmeginess in the foamy aspic of jellied rutabaga is just not something I'm going to notice.

A blogger, on the other hand, once I have developed some affinity for him, is someone whose opinion I would seek. They are the common man, and I have more faith in their ability to speak my language.

Maybe it's because because of the loathsome wasteland that "the common man" has fashioned of our popular culture, but I have a deep and abiding distrust of the people whose dollars and "taste" have given us Thomas Kincaid, Brittney Spears, TGI Friday's and most prime time television. Whether or not they speak one's language, what they're saying tends to to be -- at best -- suspect.

On the larger issue, I stand more with Daniel than his critics. I know Miami Danny has a deep dislike of one of our more prominent food critics, but I'd argue that any of the Three T's who run the regions most influential food pages stands head and shoulders above any of the local bloggers, whose scope is (necessarily -- they have other jobs and limited funds) limited and who tend to be dramatically uncritical in their reviews.

The fact is that the decision by a larger institution to cut a check for you based on your writing is a significant "credential" and useful benchmark for separating the cream from the skim. If you meet to people in the bar and know nothing about them other than that one is blogging their novel and the other one has a contract with Knopf, who would suspect the is the better writer: the one who has appointed their self, or the one whose persuaded at least one other person with interest and experience in the field of their abilities?

Sure, there are talented bloggers out there, men and women who bring as much to the table -- or almost as much -- as those earning their living in the crit biz. And it would be as absurd to dismiss a "self-appointed" authority merely because they don't punch a clock at a Major Daily as it would be to ascribe God-like powers of perception merely because someone has a byline.

The democratization of the internet is a great thing, and we all benefit from having a diversity of opinions to choose from. As The Great Helmsman said, "let a thousand flowers bloom." But, in the long run, the people with a) the commitment to making criticism their life, b) the experience that comes with full-time dedication to a task and c) the talent to attract employers and a large-scale readership, are the way to bet.

I think you misunderstood my response to Rogov (although it is probably my fault-I did not mean to sound contentious). I am not trying to assert that one is better than the other (print/blogger, self/other), only that a legitimate intellectual debate exists.

Additionally, to clarify the record, I do not have a 'deep dislike' for any DC critics. My thoughts on this issue are well-documented, and there are many people who agree with me, some in the industry, some food board regulars, some ordinary people who don't really care much about food, and there are also those who disagree, from those same groups. There is a definite need for serious debate on that issue in DC, one which, I am afraid, will never happen.


Edited by Miami Danny (log)

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"And, the blogs are a great proving ground for up-and-coming talent. But, on the whole, they're lightweights (often enjoyable and useful), cheerleaders (less so) or self-entitled cranks (fortunately, fewer than in the political blogosphere)."

You've just pretty much described most periodical/newspaper food sections.

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As someone who blogs, and has written criticism for print, I just have to say, for me, there is a substantive difference between blogging and "appointed" writing for an established publication.

I know I'm conflating the appointment thing with the question of medium, but many of the same effects arise from doing things for someone else, for pay, and doing things for a less-interactive, more static medium, be it print, radio, TV... not the web.

I try not to be too flip, cheerleader-ish, or cranky on my blog, but being challenged by a good editor to justify, clarify or elaborate aspects of a review makes my writing better, and more responsible. Being "appointed" by this editor meant that there is a much greater accountability: if I write something truly reckless, reputations up and down the line will suffer, and I have no doubt the employment status of several people, including myself, would be imperiled. That's a different environment than posting to one's own blog, where nobody else's job is on the line, and a writer can easily revise or retract a statement if he thinks better of it.

I try to not be irresponsible in blog writing, but there is a different set of expectations. It feels to me as if there's more at stake making a statement in other media than on the web, even if the web posting can spread faster and more widely. Those web postings can be updated, discussed, or deleted, in fact it almost feels like one or more of those things inevitably will happen. But for an opinion fixed in ink, or in a soundfile, or on video, it feels to me like there is more pressure to make sure it is exactly right, that it could stand without tweaks. I think there's an understanding that internet postings are often quick, stream-of-consciousness, first-impression blurts. There's, for me, a quantum energy change in producing for the other media, one that necessitates more private revision and refinement.

There are benefits to each approach: the unfiltered, unmitigated, highly personal expression possible on a blog or personal website can offer something completely different from the buffed, vetted, mitigated prose that results from several people having hands in it. I'm not sure one is better than the other, but they seem different to me.

Of course one can do as much neurotic tweaking to a blog post as to any print submission, but those tend to stick out a bit, not scanning as bloggy.

An "appointed" critic can say that at least one person thinks that his opinions are valid. That's not much, but it's one more person than in the case of blogging. I would hope that in most cases the appointments are based on some merit, but I'll accept the gloomy opinions here that they often are not.

I understand it's not the case universally, but in my situation, being "appointed" came with a budget that allowed me to be more thorough, and expectations that I'd be more deeply analytical than I would have been were I reviewing something for my blog. That made my output different at least, probably better.

As I said, I'm not sure one approach is inherently better than the other, but I would suggest that being self-appointed is not the same thing as being appointed by another. As least that's been my experience. Your mileage may vary.


"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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Hobby = for the love of it. That's a good thing. And I don't know of a single food blogger who does it for the free goodies -- that's more of a bonus.

i know a good number of bloggers, food and otherwise. like anyone doing anything, they all have different motivations, and they have mutliple motivations for blogging. some do it for validation, some to increase their sense of self-worth, some for special treatment they receive, some for the free food, and some for all those reasons, and then some.

there is not doubt in my mind that free stuff is a motivating factor some, and not just a bonus. not for me, however.

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Hobby = for the love of it. That's a good thing. And I don't know of a single food blogger who does it for the free goodies -- that's more of a bonus.

i know a good number of bloggers, food and otherwise. like anyone doing anything, they all have different motivations, and they have mutliple motivations for blogging. some do it for validation, some to increase their sense of self-worth, some for special treatment they receive, some for the free food, and some for all those reasons, and then some.

there is not doubt in my mind that free stuff is a motivating factor some, and not just a bonus. not for me, however.

And free stuff's not a motivation for print or broadcast types? I worked in TV for 17 years, and I can tell you that free food and booze (and tickets, and books, and DVD's, etc.) are the backbone of the industry. I will also say, without question, that there is a ton more free stuff going to 'journalists' every day than to bloggers. I know people who are print and broadcast journalists who pay for nothing.

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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.

I'm sorry. I fail to see what is bad about drenching olives in Gin.

Also, please appoint me.. please, please, pretty, please, with sugar on top.


Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.

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Hobby = for the love of it. That's a good thing. And I don't know of a single food blogger who does it for the free goodies -- that's more of a bonus.

i know a good number of bloggers, food and otherwise. like anyone doing anything, they all have different motivations, and they have mutliple motivations for blogging. some do it for validation, some to increase their sense of self-worth, some for special treatment they receive, some for the free food, and some for all those reasons, and then some.

there is not doubt in my mind that free stuff is a motivating factor some, and not just a bonus. not for me, however.

And free stuff's not a motivation for print or broadcast types?

i didn't say that, and certainly didn't mean to imply it. people love and are motivated by free stuff, and the feeling they get when they get it. it's more than just icing on the cake.

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there is not doubt in my mind that free stuff is a motivating factor some, and not just a bonus.  not for me, however.

If your contention is that people love free stuff, well then of course I agree with that. But if your contention is that people become food bloggers to get free stuff, there's no doubt in my mind that you're wrong. And I'd be pleased to debate that with you on a topic about that. Not on this topic, which is about something else, though.


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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And I don't know of a single food blogger who does it for the free goodies -- that's more of a bonus.

Not bonus; onus.

What free goodies? WHAT FREE GOODIES? WHERE ARE MY FREE GOODIES?

Dude, you need to get your name to the local PR types. Hell, even I get invited, on occasion, to free dinners, tastings and the like. These things are full of the local blogger types (and fine people they are, too). Sadly, invites have dropped off of late. Whether I was insufficiently industrious in writing up the gatherings afterwards or PR strategies have changed, I know not. But it was swell while it lasted.

Possible that you're not invited because even in Miami there's only a limited number of restaurants eager to advertise: "as recommended by Daily Cocaine!" :wink:


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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And I don't know of a single food blogger who does it for the free goodies -- that's more of a bonus.

Not bonus; onus.

What free goodies? WHAT FREE GOODIES? WHERE ARE MY FREE GOODIES?

Dude, you need to get your name to the local PR types. Hell, even I get invited, on occasion, to free dinners, tastings and the like. These things are full of the local blogger types (and fine people they are, too). Sadly, invites have dropped off of late. Whether I was insufficiently industrious in writing up the gatherings afterwards or PR strategies have changed, I know not. But it was swell while it lasted.

Possible that you're not invited because even in Miami there's only a limited number of restaurants eager to advertise: "as recommended by Daily Cocaine!" :wink:

:biggrin: You may be right, BB, although I believe they did a survey and it is now the #2 Most Popular Dessert Item after flan! (Was #1 for a long time.)

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there is not doubt in my mind that free stuff is a motivating factor some, and not just a bonus.  not for me, however.

If your contention is that people love free stuff, well then of course I agree with that. But if your contention is that people become food bloggers to get free stuff, there's no doubt in my mind that you're wrong. And I'd be pleased to debate that with you on a topic about that. Not on this topic, which is about something else, though.

i think my contention is being oversimplified. as far as debating with you or anyone else, that wasn't my goal (and i will decline your offer). i was simply sharing my perspective based on my observations and experiences. i would, however, like to be appointed, if you would be so kind.

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And I don't know of a single food blogger who does it for the free goodies -- that's more of a bonus.

Not bonus; onus.

What free goodies? WHAT FREE GOODIES? WHERE ARE MY FREE GOODIES?

Dude, you need to get your name to the local PR types. Hell, even I get invited, on occasion, to free dinners, tastings and the like. These things are full of the local blogger types (and fine people they are, too). Sadly, invites have dropped off of late. Whether I was insufficiently industrious in writing up the gatherings afterwards or PR strategies have changed, I know not. But it was swell while it lasted.

Possible that you're not invited because even in Miami there's only a limited number of restaurants eager to advertise: "as recommended by Daily Cocaine!" :wink:

:biggrin: You may be right, BB, although I believe they did a survey and it is now the #2 Most Popular Dessert Item after flan! (Was #1 for a long time.)

hehe, people get tired of Flan pretty quick. :biggrin:

Seriously, did you think that "Daily Cocaine" as the title of your blog would garner interest and traffic, or did you want to stir up controversy? And therefore interest.

I think that a writer really needs a certain number of readers to really validate themselves. I have written many things that others will never read. There are, of course, writers who compulsively insist that others read and approve.

Is there a connection between the offering and the readership? Does it make an individual a better writer that more read, or is the writer good anyway?

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And I don't know of a single food blogger who does it for the free goodies -- that's more of a bonus.

Not bonus; onus.

What free goodies? WHAT FREE GOODIES? WHERE ARE MY FREE GOODIES?

Dude, you need to get your name to the local PR types. Hell, even I get invited, on occasion, to free dinners, tastings and the like. These things are full of the local blogger types (and fine people they are, too). Sadly, invites have dropped off of late. Whether I was insufficiently industrious in writing up the gatherings afterwards or PR strategies have changed, I know not. But it was swell while it lasted.

Possible that you're not invited because even in Miami there's only a limited number of restaurants eager to advertise: "as recommended by Daily Cocaine!" :wink:

:biggrin: You may be right, BB, although I believe they did a survey and it is now the #2 Most Popular Dessert Item after flan! (Was #1 for a long time.)

hehe, people get tired of Flan pretty quick. :biggrin:

Seriously, did you think that "Daily Cocaine" as the title of your blog would garner interest and traffic, or did you want to stir up controversy? And therefore interest.

I think that a writer really needs a certain number of readers to really validate themselves. I have written many things that others will never read. There are, of course, writers who compulsively insist that others read and approve.

Is there a connection between the offering and the readership? Does it make an individual a better writer that more read, or is the writer good anyway?

The idea is that food is the new cocaine; especially the way people talk about it in such excited and sometimes even furtive whispers, like it's a guilty (or illegal) pleasure. And, if you're like me, if you got the good stuff, you can never get enough (good food, that is [cough/sniff]). The 'daily' part was just me pushing myself to post every day, which takes discipline and planning, neither of which are my strong suits, especially with no editor and only self-imposed deadlines.


Edited by Miami Danny (log)

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Danny, Hi.....

I'm not sure if you don't have it backwards..... that is to say that cocaine may be the newcomer. After all, on the first occasion that Edgar Allen Poe dined on foie gras he observed that "It is even better than the pleasures of the poppy".

And of course there is the well-known Dylan question: "Which came first, the joint or the screaming munchies?"

Yours in all good (and of course, legal) faith

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Danny, Hi.....

I'm not sure if you don't have it backwards..... that is to say that cocaine may be the newcomer.  After all, on the first occasion that Edgar Allen Poe dined on foie gras he observed that "It is even better than the pleasures of the poppy".

And of course there is the well-known Dylan question:  "Which came first, the joint or the screaming munchies?"

Yours in all good (and of course, legal) faith

In an odd twist, I am now a food columnist for a magazine, a weekly paper, and a major daily (aside from my blog). This has led me to a new blog that critiques the critics Press Chops , as they say, of which I may soon be one. Thank god for multiple personalities. Press Chops is an homage to the Village Voice column Press Clips, where members of the press have their feet put to the fire by other journalists. I try to rise to the occasion.

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The Introduction in The Man Who Ate Everything written by Jeffrey Steingarten (food writer for Vogue) details a 6 month process of eliminating all of his food phobias and dislikes. He writes, "For I, like everybody I knew suffered from a set of powerful, arbitrary, and debilitating attractions and aversions at mealtime. I feared that I could be no more objective than an art critic who detests the color yellow or suffers from red-green color blindness." After facing and debunking his food issues, he comes to the conclusion that only three non-harmful entities are inedible: hair, paper, and feather. I recently watched the Namibia episode of No Reservations. Tony Bourdain ate the partially cooked rectum (fecal matter still partially within) of a wild boar roasted in ash and a host of other parts, fur intact. The tribe extolled the rectum. They being a gracious host gave it to their guest of honor to eat. Their delicacy was Tony's ridicule. Even Jeffrey Steingarten's extremely liberal criterion for food consumption eliminates their luxury from the realm of enjoyable. We eat fashion that just happens to sustain life. Everyone has equal say in taste. That isn't to say that I don't enjoy the writings of specific food critics. I obviously enjoy Jeffrey Steingarten because he merges humor and food so well, and Raymond Sokolov for his anthropological understanding of food and of course his occasional metaphorical gem. He once referred to the gruyere upon his onion soup as a "ropey toupe" that he could do without.

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The Introduction in The Man Who Ate Everything written by Jeffrey Steingarten (food writer for Vogue) details a 6 month process of eliminating all of his food phobias and dislikes.  He writes, "For I, like everybody I knew suffered from a set of powerful, arbitrary, and debilitating attractions and aversions at mealtime.  I feared that I could be no more objective than an art critic who detests the color yellow or suffers from red-green color blindness."  After facing and debunking his food issues, he comes to the conclusion that only three non-harmful entities are inedible: hair, paper, and feather.  I recently watched the Namibia episode of No Reservations.  Tony Bourdain ate the partially cooked rectum (fecal matter still partially within) of a wild boar roasted in ash and a host of other parts, fur intact.  The tribe extolled the rectum.  They being a gracious host gave it to their guest of honor to eat.  Their delicacy was Tony's ridicule.  Even Jeffrey Steingarten's extremely liberal criterion for food consumption eliminates their luxury from the realm of enjoyable.  We eat fashion that just happens to sustain life.  Everyone has equal say in taste.  That isn't to say that I don't enjoy the writings of specific food critics.  I obviously enjoy Jeffrey Steingarten because he merges humor and food so well, and Raymond Sokolov for his anthropological understanding of food and of course his occasional metaphorical gem.  He once referred to the gruyere upon his onion soup as a "ropey toupe" that he could do without.

While I'm a big fan of the fecal-filled baked rectum, saying you'll eat anything is like saying you'll shag anything. I don't believe in absolutist statements. Some discernment is always called for. I mean, some things just do not belong in your mouth.

As far as Mr. Bourdain goes, I admire his fortitude, and I'm guessing he probably has nightmares about that anus. However, let's be realistic-His show is centered around his reputation for eating all those 'crazy' things. Let's not be disingenuous. He is not at this feast simply as a guest, but as a famous TV host who eats a lot of gross stuff. And as such, he knows he's getting the anus. To me, watching him eat sh*t is no different than watching the geek at the circus biting the heads off live chickens. A vicarious thrill, perhaps, but in the end, an empty experience.

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