Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
bloviatrix

Food Critics

Recommended Posts

Ed Shapiro and I have no such mood-inconsistency problems, because we have a bad day every day and are always cranky.


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)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Whew. When my firends get in a snit I just suck hard on my straw and order another drink.

So, have we learned anything here? Or is it still an open issue--cloak or no cloak? (Of course every food writer needs a dagger, otherwise how do you cut the steak.)

Bill, can you tell us more about what editors look for in food reporting, particularly at a newspaper? I assume it varies by region and readership. Do editors want strictly a local angle or do they also look for pieces they can leverage into national distribution? Do you get extra brownie points for pieces with national appeal? What's your lead time? Or would this be better as a whole new thread? :unsure:

I think you're right in that many people here may not understand the environment of food writers and editors, and the insight would be interesting.


_____________________

Mary Baker

Solid Communications

Find me on Facebook

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah...well my crankiness makes me feel even more cranky about being cranky.

As a side issue to my comments on commentators and their audiences it perhaps should be expressed that in a previous profession it was my personal experience on several occasions to see write-ups in both newspapers and magazines, both of good repute...by writers that in one case did not decide that the full story would be as interesting as half the story...thereby shading a reality into something not quite as real...and in another case, having my words actually re-shaped and re-formed into meanings that they never initially held.

There were other occasions where this did not happen.

But have it happen to you...in print...in public...and it is likely there will always be questions in your mind as to what 'journalism' is and what 'criticism' or 'reviews' are, as practiced.

I say they can slip quite quickly into the genre of creative nonfiction. And what is one to make of that?


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interviews are routinely distorted because after the fact, the interviewer edits the interview by changing the questions, so as to make the answers seem to follow more from the questions than they may have originally. I consider that a kind of fraud, but I doubt anyone in the media thinks anything of it.

Honest historians admit that all histories are fictions, not in the sense that an ethical historian would lie, but in the sense that they are making a narrative by editing out loads of things from the daily lives of x-number of people. It would seem that journalism is a fiction in the same manner. What you choose to cover and how you choose to cover it is probably always a subjective thing on some level. But addressing this more deeply may require some pretty deep philosophy, because even our own lives are fictional in the sense that all of us choose what to pay attention to and what to disregard from among numerous stimuli, so I'll step back from this philosophical abyss and see how other people deal with the question of what constitutes unacceptable distortion in an article and what constitutes exemplary reportage.

I hope I just said something that meant something... :laugh::hmmm::raz:


Michael aka "Pan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Whew, glad that's over.

I was going to suggest that we all leave Pan and Carrot Top alone in this thread to thrash it all out!  :biggrin:

Wow, did you folks think I had real animosity toward Karen? I must really have been peevish yesterday... :hmmm:


Michael aka "Pan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Things happen all the time, unfortunately.

Journalists are human. They screw up, too.

That said, there's no excuse not to strive to do the best job you can with every story.

It's like Edna Buchanan said about covering a murder. It may be the one and only time the dead man or woman ever got any ink. Got to respect them and give them their due.

As for food reporting, it really depends on the editor, the region, the expectations and the paper's style. You've got to go in knowing the market, or thinking you can figure it out pretty quickly.

Most editors want stories with a local hook because a local hook grabs local readers. Some do not want any national conotations, others love it. A matter of personal preference, I guess.

Lead time depends on publication. I've worked at places where food stories could and were finished off 2 days before publication, and other places want it set 7 weeks out. Magazines tend to have long lead times, too, which is why Martha Stewart is likely not going to have the Christmas blues. She got Xmas in July.


Bill Daley

Chicago Tribune

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's not a philosophical abyss at all. Simply a matter of understanding the realities of reporting. I used to work as a newspaper reporter, although not in food. My editor's standards were high when it came to facts and interviews, a standard I try to uphold when I do freelance writing. However, many reporters are not well-trained, do not have caring and excellent editors, suffer from avalanching deadlines, and are grossly underpaid for their effort. They bang out interviews as fast as they can, and yes, they get things wrong and they mis-quote, sometimes with damaging effect. It's a fact of life. If you are interviewed, you must always be careful of what you say, and be very clear. Ask to approve any quotes attributed to you. Food reporters and writers are not evil, and they don't have an agenda to make a fool out of anyone, they're just in a hurry to get something to press and to make it good. Reporters that can't get the facts right and piss people off don't last long in this highly competitive field. Magazines have longer lead times and spend much more time crafting and checking articles. Weekly columnists generally have more time, as well.

I've been misquoted at least twice in the past year. Once in a 2 page article in the food section of a small newspaper in which my cookbook was being featured. The writer was a birdbrain and misquoted me all over the place, but none of it was damaging. (Only drawback--the two-page article with big photos of me grilling gorgonzola-stuffed portabellas ended right over a large box listing all the health dept. findings for the week--rats, bugs, filth, etc. Thanks, guys. :wacko: )

The other time was right after our 6.5 earthquake. I told a reporter we'd lost 100 gals. of wine, and the report went out over the AP that we'd lost 100 barrels!!! It was even reported in Spain! Aargh. We received pity calls for weeks from other vintners offering to give us barrels. And wine! Which was very sweet of them, but I was constantly explaining that we did not lose that much, and we're really fine, thank you.

And finally to steer it all back on topic, this all relates back to the lot of a food writer's life--would he get a better story if he's recognized, or incognito? I vote for recognized. If a writer's work has gained him that level of recognition, he should be moving into deeper levels of food reporting and not playing silly games in order to see what's served to him. Leave that to the up and coming writers.


_____________________

Mary Baker

Solid Communications

Find me on Facebook

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Things happen all the time, unfortunately.

Journalists are human. They screw up, too.

That said, there's no excuse not to strive to do the best job you can with every story.

Ah hah! Thanks. We were posting at the same time.


_____________________

Mary Baker

Solid Communications

Find me on Facebook

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know how many journalists would agree to allowing a subject to approve their quotes beforehand. And if they did, their editor would probably refuse.


Bill Daley

Chicago Tribune

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's often true, but it never hurts to ask politely. I have frequently been given the chance to review my comments before an article goes to press.

I think for some writers or editors it depends on whether the person being quoted may be difficult to work with (some people are just never happy) or the article might be even slightly controversial or critical. And of course, many people want to rewrite an author's piece into commercialism fluff. If a source is friendly, though, and offering 'expert' knowledge that will help the writer, I've never really had a writer strenuously object to letting me review their notes for accuracy.

If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen! The whole thing with the EQ reporting happened because writers were rushing to get the first internet reports up, which I totally understand, and I think I was the only winery answering the phone right after it happened. Not because I had tiiiiime on my hands, mind you, but because we had 3" of wine on the floor and we'd loaned our pump out. So I'm cleaning up glass with a a pocket apron strapped around my waist, carrying the home phone, biz phone, cell phone, and digital camera, trying to get ahold of Jake, the borrower. I was a waddling communication center.

Riiiing! "Hello?" "Hello, this is the Bakersfield Californian . . ."

Riiiing! "Hello, this is the Los Angeles Times . . . "

Riiiing! "Hello, this is Lynn Alley at the Wine Spectator . . ."

Help! Any OTHER time I would have been delighted to hear from them, but on this particular day I was just a little distracted. "Wine? Oh yeah, it's all over the floor. Wait! No, I didn't mean ALL of it!" :shock::laugh::shock:

At any rate, my point here would be to encourage food and beverage professionals here to be more aware of how the publishing field works, to be conscious of what they're saying, and considerate of the writer's purpose and editorial pressures. I would also encourage them to ask if they can review any direct quotes (you shouldn't expect to see the whole article), and not be upset if the publication or writer refuses.

Does that sound reasonable?


_____________________

Mary Baker

Solid Communications

Find me on Facebook

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, very reasonable - and that's what is so dangerous about this.

I'm still uncomfortable with reviewing my notes or my quotes for accuracy with a source.

For one thing, it sounds awfully defensive. And it puts the reporter, or at least me, on edge - are they going to start self-censoring, stamp out the liveliness of the interview, etc.

I think a careful interviewee, and you sound like you are, can tell if the reporter is getting it or not. And, if not, you can always tell the reporter you will follow up with an e-mail explaining what you meant - especially if the story is particularly high-tech or complex.

You'll likely win the reporter's undying gratitude, get your point straight in the newspaper and not offend the reporter.

And the one thing I'd add is if you find yourself thrust into the center of the story, as with that awful earthquake, you've got to kind of expect the telephone calls. You sound like a good sport with it, especially since you didn't have to pick up the telephone period. (Good for you for doing so!!!)

I'd say to other readers out there that the reporters aren't being ghoulish. Believe me, I hated being rousted out of a Thanskgiving dinner for a murder when I was a cop reporter but I had to go and I had to call. They're working a deadline on a breaking story and they've got to get the story and get it fast.

I especially appreciate your points about being clear, being considerate and thinking of what the reporter/editor is doing/coming from. I wish my journalistic colleagues were all so thoughtful.

That's often true, but it never hurts to ask politely.  I have frequently been given the chance to review my comments before an article goes to press. 

I think for some writers or editors it depends on whether the person being quoted may be difficult to work with (some people are just never happy) or the article might be even slightly controversial or critical.  And of course, many people want to rewrite an author's piece into commercialism fluff.  If a source is friendly, though, and offering 'expert' knowledge that will help the writer, I've never really had a writer strenuously object to letting me review their notes for accuracy. 

If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen!  The whole thing with the EQ reporting happened because writers were rushing to get the first internet reports up, which I totally understand, and I think I was the only winery answering the phone right after it happened.  Not because I had tiiiiime on my hands, mind you, but because we had 3" of wine on the floor and we'd loaned our pump out.  So I'm cleaning up  glass with a a pocket apron strapped around my waist, carrying the home phone, biz phone, cell phone, and digital camera, trying to get ahold of Jake, the borrower.  I was a waddling communication center.

Riiiing!  "Hello?"  "Hello, this is the Bakersfield Californian . . ."

Riiiing!  "Hello, this is the Los Angeles Times . . . "

Riiiing!  "Hello, this is Lynn Alley at the Wine Spectator . . ."

Help! Any OTHER time I would have been delighted to hear from them, but on this particular day I was just a little distracted.  "Wine?  Oh yeah, it's all over the floor.  Wait!  No, I didn't mean ALL of it!"  :shock:  :laugh:  :shock:

At any rate, my point here would be to encourage food and beverage professionals here to be more aware of how the publishing field works, to be conscious of what they're saying, and considerate of the writer's purpose and editorial pressures.  I would also encourage them to ask if they can review any direct quotes (you shouldn't expect to see the whole article), and not be upset if the publication or writer refuses. 

Does that sound reasonable?


Bill Daley

Chicago Tribune

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry, I wasn't clear. So this is just a little off-topic aside, because I don't want anyone to think I'm a disaster hound. I was carrying and answering the phones because we were desperate to get ahold of Jake and get our pump back to rescue the wine still sloshing around in broken and overturned barrels. And no, people, straws were definitely not going to work! :wacko: Once reports started getting out that we were asnwering the phone, they were on me like piranhas! All I wanted was our pump back!

Ah well, everyone was nice, and Lynn at WS asked if there was anything we might need from Napa vintners. "No, unless they've got a PUMP handy!" :raz:

Edited to say, thank you for your input. I think it will be really helpful to our restauranteurs and staff who might find themselves frequently approached by writers.


_____________________

Mary Baker

Solid Communications

Find me on Facebook

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't know how many journalists would agree to allowing a subject to approve their quotes beforehand. And if they did, their editor would probably refuse.

I don't think it's a question of allowing the subject to "approve" quotes. But it is sometimes an issue of ensuring accuracy, especially when you're interviewing specialists.

At my newspaper, it's left to the reporter to decide. I've read quotes back to sources in rare circumstances. The main example that comes to mind was a three-part investigative series that I spent more than a year reporting (yes, it was on food). I read quotes back to certain sources to ensure that they recalled them and still stood by them. Also, early in the reporting, I had talked to some sources on background. At the writing stage, I went back to some of those people and read them quotes to see if they'd go on the record with them. All did.

I've never sent the fully written story to a source and I don't know of anyone who would. But there are circumstances where reading quotes back is appropriate. I always explain to the source that I'm not doing it so they can change their words or vet what they've said. If a source had an objection, I'd probably kill the quote and go find another source for the information. As my mother used to say, there's always more than one way to skin a cat.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte Observer.


Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...