Is Professional Food Writing Diminishing as a Result of the Expansion of Print to Digital Media?

rThis is an article I wrote for a journalism assignment at university. I could write about whatever I wanted to so it was a no-brainer I would write about food writing.

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Essay begins:

There is no doubt that the conception of the internet drastically changed how the journalism industry operates. Once, all reporting was written, published and distributed through print media, but nowadays, publications have had to expand into digital media to ensure they stay relevant to today’s technology-savvy audience. Along with the internet came blogging and other ways to publish articles and opinions on a world-wide scale, even if the author has no qualifications in that particular field. This has had an enormous impact on many aspects of journalism, but especially on the professional food writing industry.

Impact of on the journalism industry

For most newspaper publications, the expansion to digital media has had a positive effect in terms of audience reach and reader interaction. Now, publications have two major ways to present their news: through print and digitally using a website. While print can be popular, digital editions can attract an even larger audience. In fact, the Roy Morgan readership statistics revealed all but two Australian Newspapers (Weekly Times and the Newcastle Herald) received a larger digital audience than print, in a 12-month period.

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Adapted from: http://www.roymorgan.com/industries/media/readership/cross-platform-audiences-newspapers

Source created by using Microsoft Excel 2016

For food-related magazines, however, the expansion into digital media has not been as successful. Of the food-magazines surveyed, only the Gourmet Traveller has had a bigger digital audience reach than their print editions in a 12-month period. This can be credited to the type of content that magazines publish. As opposed to newspapers, which report on the day’s news, magazines publish more features which aren’t likely to be read online.

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Roy Morgan CEO Michelle Levine said: “Unlike for newspapers, print remains the dominant channel through which Australians interact with magazine titles.”

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Adapted from: http://www.roymorgan.com/industries/media/readership/cross-platform-audiences-magazines

Source created by using Microsoft Excel 2016

Influence of social media

Due to the popularity of digital journalism, the influence of social media now has a huge role in the interaction between publications and the public. No longer can information simply be made available and readers are expected to find it and read it. Rather, they now have a choice about what they can read, many believing they should in some way be able to interact by commenting, reacting and/or sharing it. This brings up the importance of formulating eye-catching social media posts that grab the attention of readers and make them click on the link to the article. With many publications writing an article about the same topic, how well a publication can do this can significantly influence the amount of views the article gets. Often these kinds of social media posts are called ‘clickbait,’ which are provocative or sensationalised posts with the soul purpose of attraction attention and clicks through to the article. The fact is, if used well, social media can play a vital part in driving traffic to a publication’s website, which in turn, can increase subscriptions to the publication.

Social media is also changing the way we eat. A trend which started in the past few years involves posting photos of food on social media sites, specifically Instagram. A 2013 American survey found 54 per cent of 18-24 year olds have taken a photo of their food while dining out and a further 39 per cent have gone on to post it online. It also revealed at the time, 90 new photos of food with the hashtag #foodporn, are uploaded to Instagram every minute. This idea of sharing photos of food online led to numerous apps focused on just this such as FoodSpotting, Burpple and SnapDish.

A couple years ago, Virgin Mobile started a campaign by tapping into this trend with their #mealforameal campaign. If people posted pictures of their food and used the hashtag #mealforameal, Virgin Mobile shared a meal with people in need through OzHarvest, an organisation that redistributes extra food. Over 260,000 photos with the hashtag were turned into real meals.

Brief history of food writing  

The first publication involving the writing about food was an 18th century book by Frenchman Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin titled The Physiology of Taste. Through his book, Brillat-Savarin sought to teach everyone the joys of cooking and dining through the science of gastronomy. Brillat-Savarin’s words have had an ever-lasting effect on food writing to this day with one of his most memorable quotes being: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” More publications about food, including the very first restaurant review, followed in the 19th century before taking off in the 20th century with the emergence of prominent food writers such as Julia Child, James Beard and M.F.K Fisher.

From the second half of the 19th century until the introduction of the internet, the restaurant review section was often one of the most read sections of a newspaper. A glowing review would set a venue up with lines of customers for months while an adverse review could warrant the end for a venue. Professional food reviewers would go to great lengths to be un-recognisable at restaurants. One notable American food critic, Ruth Riechl, had to wear disguises, create her own personalities and book under different names to be treated like an ordinary diner. Nowadays, times have changed.

Internet’s affect on food writing

The introduction of the internet has created new ways for people to write about food and restaurants without needing to be qualified. This gives the public options about where to read about food and restaurants they should dine out at. However, not all food writing is creditable.

Here, I talk to Pablo Bakes, a gourmet who loves to dine out about how he finds out about restaurants to dine at.

As Pablo mentions in the interview, user-based review sites like Yelp, Zomato and Trip Advisor can influence people to dine at particular places depending on how the public ‘rates’ the restaurant. However, these can be untrustworthy sites because the people who write the reviews are unknown and could be biased or have particular tastes.

Blogging is the most popular avenue for amateurs with a passion for food. Through blogging they are able to publish articles on food and restaurants for low cost and potentially high gain. Where bloggers can be unreliable is when they are invited to restaurants to dine for free and in turn have to write a positive review of the venue. This biased opinion does not represent good journalistic writing, especially if this is not disclosed to the reader.

Another form of online food writing are online publications such as city guides. These city guides are generally quite accurate as they are often written or edited by qualified journalists or journalism students. They also typically tend to be fact-based rather than opinionative so therefore, can be more trustworthy. One such site is Broadsheet, which have established themselves in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane.

Here is an interview with Broadsheet Brisbane editor Matt Shea discussing how he sees the difference between city guides and amateur food blogs.

Despite the untrustworthiness of blogging and user-based review sites, they are popular and dampening the influence of professional food writing. While city guides are generally more accurate and better reading for the public, they too are negatively affecting food writing with their popularity.

Future of professional food writing

The future of professional food writing remains unclear. Many current food writers, including Colman Andrews, don’t recommend it as a career due to it being difficult, demanding and a highly unpredictable career.

Amanda Hesser, co-founder and CEO of an American food writing site called Food52, also believes food writing alone shouldn’t be someone’s main career, however, she believes if you can be knowledgeable on a few other topics you will be able to make a living. Furthermore, this also allows you to be versatile with writing articles and gives the editor more stories they can possibly give to you.

There will always be some need for professional food writing but with today’s ever-changing technology landscape, it is smart to learn about the other areas of journalism to broaden the topics you can write about.

Word Count: 1511

Links to websites that are relevant to this story:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/louise-mccready/the-future-of-food-journa_b_456759.html

http://www.splendidtable.org/story/whats-the-future-of-food-media

References:

B&T Magazine. (2016, August 5). Roy Morgan Reveals What’s Hot And What’s Not In Newspapers And Magazines. Retrieved from B&T: http://www.bandt.com.au/media/roy-morgan-reveals-whats-hot-and-whats-not-in-newspapers-and-magazines

Campbell, D. (2010, October 12). Our Meals, Ourselves: A Short History of Food Writing. Retrieved from The Millions: http://www.themillions.com/2010/10/our-meals-ourselves-a-short-history-of-food-writing.html

Charney, N. (2016, January 12). The history of restaurant reviewing. Retrieved from FIne DIning Lovers: https://www.finedininglovers.com/stories/restaurant-reviews-history/

Harper, R. A. (2010). The Social Media Revolution: Exploring the Impact on Journalism and News Media Organizations. Retrieved from Inquires Journal: http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/202/the-social-media-revolution-exploring-the-impact-on-journalism-and-news-media-organizations

Jacob, D. (2012, October 9). Q&A with Colman Andrews: He’d Never Recommend Food Writing As a Career. Retrieved from Dianne Jacob: http://diannej.com/2012/qa-with-colman-andrews-hed-never-recommend-food-writing-as-a-career/

Krotoki, A. (2011, February 20). What effect has the internet had on journalism? Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/feb/20/what-effect-internet-on-journalism

Menulog. (2014, September 3). How Social Media Is Changing The Way We Eat. Retrieved from Menulog: https://www.menulog.com.au/blog/social-media-changing-eat/

Pablo. (2016, October 26). Interview with pablo. (E. Baker, Interviewer)

Reichl, R. (2006). Garlic and Sapphires. New York: Penguin Books.

Roy Morgan. (2016, June 1). Newspaper Cross-Platform Audience, 12 months to June 2016. Retrieved from Roy Morgan Research: http://www.roymorgan.com/industries/media/readership/cross-platform-audiences-newspapers

Shea, M. (2016, October 22). Interview with Matt Shea. (E. Baker, Interviewer)

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