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robert brown

Gourmandness in Writers

6 posts in this topic

Jeanne,

No doubt you know the famous story about Clay Felker and Gael Greene. When Felker was launching New York Magazine, he said something like "Oh, give the restaurant column to Gael", who apparently had no qualiifications for it. I read a lot of food journalism in which I don't feel "gourmandness" from writers even in the way I feel it it from a lot of people who post on eGullet. Is this a quality that you look for at any time in any way, or do you feel that just a good idea nicely executed is all that matters? Not knowing your section, I don't know what the breakdown is between regulars and freelancers, but in the case of staffers, have you ever hired anyone who wasn't "gourmand" but thought could do the job? Also, do you try to heighten awareness or make celebs of your writers in the way, say, that the New York Times did with Amanda Hesser's personal life? And what do you think about that particular manifestation with her?

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I think gourmandness would be low on the list of qualities I'd look for in a writer/reporter. But that is really a newspaper editor's perspective and not necessarily one that is universally true, I guess.

I really want stories to be accessible to readers. And, as in sports, if the stories are filled with insider language it can drive people away.

I don't use the word "foodie" in the pages of Food. What's a foodie? Someone who eats San Marzano tomatoes instead of sun-dried tomatoes? Says who?

It suggests exclusivity and even elitism when there should be none. Hey: we all EAT FOOD. The universality of that experience and the fact that The Post goes to almost 800,000 homes every day makes "gourmandness" not only unnecessary  but almost unwanted. And what does gourmandness mean to the French, as opposed to say, the members of the community from El Salvador.

Re writers being celebrities: Sure. I'm all for it. Maybe they'll even get their own TV show like Kornheiser and Wilbon.

And Amanda Hesser is an extremely talented writer, very knowledgeable. Clearly the NYT thought she was a personality worth developing.

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Let me put it this way, then. The New York Times has R.W. Apple; the New Yorker Calvin Trilin and Adam Gopnick; i.e. journalists who have "gourmandness" in their soul but are not food writers. Conversely, there are active members on this site who feel that William Grimes lacks this quality and gets by on his journalistic skills. Is there an equivalent to Messrs. Apple, Gopnick, and Trillin at the Washington Post, and if there are, or were, would you use them on a regular basis? As I stated the first time around, I have never seen your section. Is that you would or would not use "gourmand" writers a function of a section that is a product of your ideals, or one whose main function is to attract and retain advertising the paper would not otherwise have, including, apparently, members of the immigrant community?

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Apple, Trillin and Gopnick are excellent reporters and writers. From where their "gourmandness" sprang, I can't say. Can "gourmandness" be learned or acquired? Maybe. Can a mediocre writer learn to be an excellent one? Or learn to think bigger thoughts? I'm not inclined to think so.

So in short: I like to start with a good writer and a good thinker. The rest, whether it's writing about food or F15s, seems to come naturally after that.

We don't write to attract good advertising. We hope that we are an interesting vital section, and that advertisers will recognize that.

Re the immigrant community: who, exactly, would that be?

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Jeanne, I'm sorry. I didn't know to what or where you meant by "members of the community from El Salvador". I thought perhaps it was Salvadorans living in the DC-area community. Not that they are form a significant reader base of the Post!!

Thanks so much for answering both my questions.

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Sorry if I sounded snarly. Every once in a while we get an angry message from a reader who didn't like all the "foreign" recipes we've been running. ....

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