The Wall Street Journal, having discovered the existence of food bloggers, raises the usual question about them over the weekend, namely: Given that chefs know who they are, and frequently feed them for free, how can their posts be trusted? (The article’s other point, about restaurants shilling themselves in online forums, is valid and then some.) But from our point of view, straddling the line between old media and new, we think the bloggers are getting a bad rap.
First of all, the very word “blogger,” with its slacker-fanboy connotation, is unfair. Bloggers are writers who may or may not make money but practice the same activity of putting words together as do reporters for the Wall Street Journal. Second, unlike most if not all of their old-media rivals, most of the bloggers we know are quite transparent about who they are friendly with and what meals they get on the arm. Andrea Strong, the prototypical food blogger in many ways, used to go on about Katy Sparks so much that you’d think they were sisters and never tried to hide her connection in any way. We know most of the top food writers at the New York newspapers and magazines, and other than the critics, if you think that they walk into a restaurant and don’t immediately chat up the chefs like old boarding-school pals, you’re kidding yourself. And you know what? That conversation is how they know more about food than their readers; it’s the source of all their usefulness and authority.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t bloggers who don’t go in anonymous, dine on their own dime, and get out (we’re pretty sure that’s how Opinionated About Dining and Ganda Suthivarakom of Eat Drink One Woman do it). But insofar as the “bloggers” tend to concentrate on the specifics of the food — what it tastes like and what it looks like — they provide information that everybody, including pro food writers, need. The restaurant world is a more exciting place thanks to bloggers, few of whom are ever going to get rich, or at least get benefits, from their efforts. If more pro writers were half as dedicated, maybe there wouldn’t be a need for food bloggers.