|Pandas are bamboo critics|
But why does everyone keep thinking it's "bloggers vs. critics"? It's like when TVs appeared and people kicked and screamed about how radio and books were better. And yes, I do think letters are better than email for some things, but then again, each letter I'd send to my friends in Australia would take a week, and I'd have to copy them by hand word for word if I was talking about the same topic... Look, it's just technology, ok?
Ok, let's lay down the ground work so we don't all get confused. You may not agree with these definitions, but for the purposes of this blog post, this is how these terms are going to be used. You can argue for/against them, but that's not the main purpose of the post, so please try not to get your knickers in a twist just yet.
|Some food bloggers cook. Don't bash them!|
Food blogger/food blog
Whenever there's a "blogger vs. critic" article in mainstream media (formal publications e.g. newspapers) the writer always seems to assume that there is only 1 type of food blogger. That is simply not true. I would say the term encompasses 2 main groups:
a. those who blog about their dining experiences
b. those who blog about their cooking experiences
Of course, there are blogs that mix the two, and a good number of them also incorporate travel and other food-related experiences, but if a blog is purely about food, it usually falls into the two categories above. Either way, the person is passionate about food, or at least at the time they started blogging! The blog may or may not be a source of income. They might also be a food critic or food writer.
|Whoever you are, if you love food, you'll eat it and you'll talk about it.|
A writer/journalist who is employed by a formal publication, be it digital or in print, that is not a personal website/blog. Beyond the written word, there are of course radio and podcast critics, or video critics, but here I'll mostly be talking about the written word. A critic or reviewer will go to a restaurant, judge it on its merits and write about it in the publication. That's their job. They might also have a blog.
A person who writes about food, usually for formal publications, but who might also have a blog.
Newspapers, magazines, online magazines (websites), digital magazines (Issuu, iPad magazines) etc. They are not personal.
You like to dine out. You may or may not be a trained chef or learned eater. You pass judgment about a restaurant. You tell your friends.
In 1986, you bring it up on a phone call with your friend. Or at a dinner party. Or over tea. If you were really keen (or your recipient was keen) you may have written a letter.
In 1996, you wrote an email.
In 2006, you blogged about it.
Especially if you move countries 3 times and make at least 3 groups of friends who also like food and will undoubtedly ask you again and again where/what to eat when they come visit you, or a place you've been (and ate).
|Relax, it's just technology|
You are paid to dine out. You usually like food. You may or may not be a trained chef or learned eater. You are a trained writer or journalist. You pass judgment about a restaurant. You write it with the intention of informing a wider community via a formal publication - a town, a state, the world. You have subeditors and fact checkers.
Ethics - invitations, free meals etc.
Food bloggers and food critics are increasingly invited to the same events related to food. Restaurant openings, menu launches, tastings etc. and are sometimes invited by the restaurant. Critics in general will not publish a review of a soft-opening or a free meal. A blogger might blog about it, or even review it (latter is pretty useless, especially if they don't disclose), it depends on the blogger.
Some bloggers take free meals, fail to disclose the fact and proceed to write a favourable review. Well, yeah, they suck. DUH. But I don't think those blogs will last long. They lose credibility. The blogger probably isn't passionate about food anyway. They'll lose steam and move onto something else.
Most critics and publications make it clear that they pay. Many bloggers do too. But it's not just about paying. It's about who knows they're there. Did they book through the PR people, or anonymously? Do they know the chef? Did they go and say "hi" to the chef as they walked in?
The funny thing is, bloggers are under so much scrutiny with regards to disclosure these days that many will often blog everything. Some formal publications do not. They simply tell you they paid, and that's it - you're thus supposed to be satisfied about their impartiality. It's important to remember that money is not the only currency people trade. Favours, reputation and goodwill for example (thank you Accounting 101).
That said, some bloggers do not disclose. If you ask me, that sucks. It also sucks when they ring up or email a PR person and demand, "I'm a blogger, give me a meal". If you do that, you are on par with those losers who call up a restaurant and say "I've won eight Oscars so you need to make the earth move around me". Or even a critic *gasp* who does the same. Sure, you might justify it and say you're helping them create buzz, and hell, the PR people might even like it, but you're a loser in my mind. (Not that I'm anything/anyone who matters...) I'm even going risk humiliation to go all early nineties on you and say you're a Loser with a capital L.
Quality of Writing
It really depends who's writing. There are good writers, there are trained writers, there are good & trained writers, there are bad & trained writers. Of course, there are untrained writers who might also be good or bad. You choose what you read. (In this case, I'm not talking about a journalist's skills, which includes much more than just crafting prose.)
|Some great writing going on here|
Quality of Publication
It also depends on who's writing. Journalistic skills can be taught, but an investigative eye, observation skills, curiosity and an eagerness to get the facts - these are things that can be picked up. Some people are even born with it. While a formal publication, be it print or digital, has an industry standard, blogs do not. Blogs are often personal, and an extension of a particular person. That person may choose to be investigative and journalistic in their approach, but to that end, they may also choose not to. That's just the liberty bloggers have, as a platform, It's not good journalism, but bloggers simply don't have to be journalists.
In sum, I just wanted to say that there is no versus. Good reviews will still be read, just as good blogs will. Bad journalism won't be read, just as bad blogs won't. They're not going to take over each other. They're just different forms of media that will coexist.
|Make a choice. Read, eat and climb only the stuff you want to read/eat/climb.|
One last thing - and I guess it's not just about food blogging/reviewing/writing - is that it's sad that we have to assume that readers no longer have the media literacy to judge whether a piece of writing is trustworthy or even worth reading. Some writers are even trying to make the decision for readers. It's like cutting food up and feeding it to a kid. If you keep doing it, the kid will never learn to feed him/herself.
What say you? Have I got it all wrong?
By the way, more of my thoughts on this blogging thang are in this Q&A.