Sietsema Looks at the Past, But What’s the Future of Food Media?

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Robert Sietsema has penned a capsule history of restaurant reviewing for the Columbia Journalism Review, and here’s the long and short of the pre-Bruni era: “Craig Claiborne built the foundation of professionalism. Gael Greene and Mimi Sheraton gussied it up and infused it with sensuality. And … [Ruth Reichl] turned the restaurant review into a bona fide literary form.” After that, Sietsema came along and gave vernacular food some love (though he points out Reichl was no stranger to Chinese restaurants) — and then came the Internet era. Restaurant Girl and Sam Sifton threw anonymity right out the window, restaurants got reviewed earlier, and preview dinners were thronged by bloggers who sometimes do and sometimes don’t disclose their free meals. (Sietsema doesn’t mention the growing number of chefs who are reviewing the reviewers). So what does the future hold?

If you ask us, it will probably entail reviewers (or bloggers, at least) outright collaborating with chefs and restaurateurs. For instance, NBC New York is hyping its upcoming blog launch by sending chefs off in a food truck (see the promo video below), and the site’s editor, Ben Leventhal, is getting into the restaurant business himself. Or take the case of Josh Ozersky adding a burger to the menu at Lucy Browne’s and then covering it on his now-defunct blog the Feedbag (as you know from reading this blog, that experiment backfired when, according to the chef, the blogger didn’t know what he was doing). Or that thanks to Midtown Lunch’s Sandwich Challenge, blogger Chubby Chinese Girl just got a sandwich on Cer Te’s menu.

Of course, media outlets collaborating with chefs isn’t exactly a new thing; New York Taste is over a decade old, after all. But now that each outlet works by its own code of ethics, it’s quite possible blogs will begin actually driving your day-to-day dining experience rather than simply reporting on it. It’s no secret that publicists have a hand in menu design, and as restaurants continue to take advantage of the free advertising that blogs offer, they’ll continue to add “trendy” items to the menu (burgers! Vietnamese sandwiches! Heck, we even got a press release for a Groundhog Day cocktail today). We’ll continue to see the launch of twee, media-friendly concepts (cupcake trucks!).

Not to mention, with more and more blogs popping up, the competition among bloggers for exclusive information will become even more fierce — to the point that they’re sure to begin creating that information themselves. Look at the way Eater hyped the New York Wine & Food Festival, which it co-sponsored: The site spat out dozens of “news” posts about the event as if a hamburger contest was the second coming of the first Olympics in 776 B.C. It’s not too far fetched to imagine the day when a blog creates a restaurant (Grub Street’s Fried White Castles!) just to have the exclusive on its opening, and for the free advertising it will bring when all those other blogs report on it.

Everyone Eats ... [Columbia Journalism Review]