Food Writing Will Not Die an Easy Death at D Magazine

Yesterday, Carol noted Amanda Hesser’s claim that professional food writing is dead. I have a few thoughts on that.

Getting paid to write anything is almost dead. Unless you consider composing a 140-character pithy news item as writing. I suppose it is: Steve Martin just released a book of his tweets. But he is Steve Martin. The odds of a writer of any kind hitting that kind of jackpot has always been low.

Publications are shrinking. There are fewer jobs in the publishing business, not just food writing. We hear from people everyday looking for work as editors, art designers, and free lancers. Interns taking journalism classes still spend time in our offices, but instead of gathering “clips” from the magazine, they turn in blog posts for college credit. The internet has offered opportunities to anyone who can text, tweet, or post Facebook updates to gather a following and be whatever authority they want to be. The chances of them making a dollar are slim. That progression seems to be the new face of food writing. Is that good or bad? Who has the time to argue? It’s reality. Instead of trying to change it, I attempt to embrace it.

Jump off the cliff with me.

When I started fifteen years ago, the food section of D Magazine was read by 88% of our readers. The statistics are still high, but, as a monthly magazine, we’ve augmented our monthly food coverage with minutely, hence: SideDish and our D Recommends phone app. I joke all the time that I can’t believe I went to college to write about the comings and goings of chefs or the new spring menu at Fearing’s. I miss writing long features about food travel and investigative pieces on food safety. But with fewer pages in a magazine, an editor has to include as many topics as possible.

Many commenters have referred to me as an old geezer who should get the hell out of food writing and let the young ones take over. Believe me, I will in due time. Sometimes after a day of covering the local dining beat I feel like I’ve just spent 8 hours maneuvering class V rapids in a broken down canoe. But I’m not a quitter. I will continue to adapt and change with the industry. Not just because I need the salary and benefits, but because I have 15 years of knowledge in this industry. When I eat the food of a young chef like Matt McCallister, I see him in a different context. I am able to compare his impact on Dallas food with the international recognition that long-time Dallas chef Jean LaFont brought to Dallas in the 70s. I love that. It keeps me interested in writing about culinary personalities and trends. Otherwise, I would be tempted to write another post about National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.

Professional food criticism is on life support. Websites like YELP have contributed to the mass murder of true critics. I’ve learned a lot from following some food blogs and I love the idea that an identifiable food community can be just a 140-character tweet away when I need it. Nothing stays the same. As soon as internet businesses learn how to make money with food writing, there will be food writing opportunities. Everybody has to eat and most people care about how much they get for their money when they choose to dine out. I hope you are all smart enough to continue to value and balance professional opinions instead of getting a quick fix from Siri or YELP. I’m hanging in with an open mind until the river runs dry. I don’t think it will.

17 comments on “Food Writing Will Not Die an Easy Death at D Magazine

  1. Great response, Nancy! I wholeheartedly agree with you. There is a huge difference between “food writers” and “people who write/blog about food” IMHO. May your river always run deep!

  2. I love your writing & side dish has made my dining experiences in Dallas epic! Keep up the great work

  3. I have a lot of respect for those who have been able to adapt and survive as food writers (including Nancy, TG, Kim Pierce, Robb Walsh, et al.), despite the struggles of print journalism. But anyone young and with a wide horizon of opportunity who wants to make a living reviewing restaurants in print needs to have his or her head examined.

  4. Thank you for all of your efforts! I look forward to living vicariously through your reviews, and your sense of humor keeps me coming back.

  5. Food writing has never been a good “career choice.” Whatever that is. That is why I always tell aspiring food writers they have earn a degree in Latin first, like I did.
    And Nancy is right: Food journalism is going the way of all journalism. Newspapers especially, but most printed publications are of the opinion that the cheapest writer is the best writer, no matter the subject. The dearth–death–of informed media is only one reason Americans are getting stupider and stupider about almost everything. From soup to nuts.

  6. Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old ways should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Some of my fondest memories that will never be experienced by the next wave of chef’s is opening a restaurant and being allowed the time to let it develop (30,60 or even 90 days) let us get it together and then getting the CALL. This is (fill in the blank) from your local newpaper or magazine. We have reviewed you and would like to send out a photographer to take some pictures. The wait begins, sleepless nights, nerves on end, pacing the kitchen. Until the night before, then no sleep, out of the house at 3 ot 4 am to hunt down the dreaded review from the local delivery men. Getting the copy and hardly even getting to the car to tear open the newspaper and read and reread every word. That moment. Wow! Good or Bad. That moment filled with weeks of anticipation will be lost forever and is being lost with the text laden, blog writing, first to post, rush to judgement food tweeter.
    Keep on fighting the good fight.

  7. What the new websites (Yelp, Chowhound), FB, Twitter etc..all lack is a consistent voice. I want to hear from someone who I know knows what they are talking about – not 100 different people chiming in with their personal experience. The only place to get that is from a trained, journalist with skills and a solid history or reporting.

    jonB

  8. I disagree with the above. I would much rather have the voice of my peers than someone crowned a critic who may or may not share my opinion about a variety of food topics. I read reviews on blogs, Yelp, Twitter and all over, and decide which ones to give weight to. I value having a multitude of views to give balanced feedback on a restaurant, so I can better decide if it’s worth my time and money;.

  9. Let’s not lose sight of what is important here: quality independent writing about food and the knowledge to educate, analyze and inform an audience. Writers like Nancy Nichols on the local front and many talented writers nationally get less share of readers’ attention because of the changing marketplace of journalism. Unfortunately, in the digital age anyone with a smartphone can arrange photos and line up letters of the alphabet. That being said, let’s not get all weepy eyed about the days of yore. There are some talented bloggers and writers in the digital universe capturing the food world tremendously well but they are doing it for free. I can imagine how it would feel if suddenly it became en vogue for amateurs or semi-pro’s to do my job.

  10. Nancy, I fall into the “I dream of being a food writer” category, and that’s largely due to critics, like yourself, who back up strong opinions with the breadth of understanding of all that goes into bringing food to table. Yeah, there’s a big difference between having an opinion and having a knowledgable one. And you offer that extra cherry on top: You love what you do. Thanks for raising the standards and keeping ‘em high. ~ ellen