How the Newspaper Industry Killed my Wednesdays

Unless you have been living under a rock (or don’t scrutinize the food section of every paper as your wednesday morning activity, same thing, really, in my book), you may have noticed that many of the papers have been slowly killing their food sections. Each week there is less original content and more drivel or previously posted content. The papers are requiring that their food writers post on blogs. Thus the content in the paper is either reprint or nationally syndicated.

I live in the Northwest. I don’t care to read about artichokes in March (thank you, Los Angeles), nor do I care about a story where the grocery store research was done in Iowa. The Seattle Times and the PI as recently as 6 months ago had fully staffed food sections in which I could read about the vegetables in season, the restaurants in my area. The articles were well researched and well written. Well, that has all come crashing down with the introduction of what I call “required blogging.”

The Seattle Times took their brilliant restaurant reviewer, Nancy Leson, and put her on blog duty. Now, instead of in depth research with three-plus visits to a restaurant and follow up phone calls, we get a blog entry. Really, it has made me realize that much of the difference between a blogger and a writer is little more than an expense account, a job and a bit of luck in getting that job. With the same resources as the rest of us bloggers, I’ve found Ms. Leson’s articles to hold little more clout than that of any other blogger. Which is unfortunate. I thought her of very good taste as a reviewer, but in blog form it is less convincing, more anecdotal. Her articles seem more like “Here’s what I did, here’s what I liked,” more like my articles, than a true review. To top it off, when I open my Wednesday paper, all I get is stuff I’ve already read.

Similarly, the Post-Intelligencer has Rebekah Denn collecting the writings of others online in addition to her own original, well written, content. I enjoy her writing, but it is clear the blog posts are not all well thought out, well edited prose, but rather that perhaps she knocked it off over a coffee. Meanwhile, the PI has been paying freelancer Leslie Kelly to do the restaurant reviews for the last year. I respect Leslie, I think she has promise as a food writer, but is out of her sorts here in Seattle. With a rural background, you’ve got to do a little research before diving into the international array of Seattle restaurants. Instead, Ms. Kelly has chosen to side step the culture of Seattle and review either restaurants of her own background or the obvious fancy houses, including long standing places like the Herbfarm and Cafe Juanita. I appreciate when she goes for new places, such as Spring Hill and Branzino, but am dissappointed that she refuses to dive in to the dives, the Chinese, Vietnamese and Ethiopian restaurants in Seattle.

Supporting the lack of reviewers capable of reviewing Seattle’s true restaurant scene, recently an article was written in the PI (not but Kelly, but by another writer) in which the title said “Finally, an all-you-can-eat Ethiopian buffet.” Really? I asked myself. Had the reviewer had so little experience with Ethiopian food that she was unaware of the buffets at lunch at, for example, Hidmo? It made me wonder. There is, luckily one last bastion of good food writing in my fine city, that of Jonathan Kauffman at the Seattle Weekly.

While Kauffman does have a required blog, it is mostly peopled by inane interns and the like, while he posts only occaisionally. What he does do, however, is one beautifully researched, full length, in depth article each week. Yes, sometimes it is of fancy places, of new places, but just as often, he is busy discovering the wonders of a new cuisine, the intricacies of a dining style, whatever it is, he presents it beautifully to the reader. I can only hope that the Weekly will begin to shine and the other papers will realize the worth of worthy food writing. Perhaps the Stranger could pick up a few tips.

Last week in the Stranger, their feature restaurant review was of a hookah bar. There is no food involved. The reviewer, going to review a hookah bar states that he hates tobacco. And then, shock of shockers, he hates the hookah. Well, class, what did we learn here? If you don’t like tobacco, don’t go to a hookah bar? Additionally, he mentions that he was surprised not to see belly dancers and camels and guys with Fu Manchu ‘staches and opium in the air. So that is all I know about this place. The Stranger will clearly not be my bastion of good food writing in this city any time soon.

So there it is, Seattle. My long-winded, self serving, self-indulgent and a long time coming rant on the quickly deteriorating state of food writing in my city. How sad is it, that as our wonderful city rises as a restaurant city, we have a failing system of newspaper food writing.

Comments

  1. Very interesting points, thanks for taking the time to write this.

  2. Maybe I just caught Hidmo on a really, really bad day, but that buffet was the worst Ethiopian food I’ve ever had, in Seattle or anywhere else. There were about 4 things to eat, in steam trays but not at an appropriate temperature, and dried out injera. I should have walked out, but for some reason I ate… and was sorry. Are there better times? Is it better at dinner when things are presumably to order? I kind of had the impression that maybe it was more social/music club than restaurant.

    My personal fave is the tiny, unpromising looking but delcious Cafe Selam on Cherry. And besides the usual Ethio dishes, they have Foul for breakfast and if you ask nicely you can still get it at lunchtime.

  3. thegastrognome says:

    Hey, I didn’t say Hidmo had GOOD food. Just that to state “Finally, an all-you-can-eat Ethiopian Buffet” as a title of an article shows little familiarity with the restaurants in the area. “Finally an EDIBLE all-you-can-eat Ethiopian Buffet” might have been more appropriate. For high quality Ethio/Eritrean food I stick to Dahlak and Meskel…

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