Colman Andrews admits that his US-based website TheDailyMeal.com panders to its audience’s thirst for bite-sized pieces on popular food culture, rather than in-depth articles on food politics or other issues of importance. Will today’s “click economy”, in the long term, have a detrimental effect on the integrity and substance of what we’re reading about food? Andrews doesn’t think so.
In response to that question, posed by Sydney Morning Herald journalist and MC of a Talks & Thoughts panel discussion at the Crave Sydney International Food Festival’s two-day International Chef Showcase, Stephanie Wood, Andrews said: “I don’t know. I hope not.”
“As on the one hand things go in this direction and get more superficial and faster and sillier, it seems to create a need or desire for a counter balance in the other direction.”
Andrews, the author of eight cookbooks and Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food, knows what he’s talking about. He’s worked at both ends of the food media spectrum. He founded Saveur magazine, which was reputed for its in-depth research, deep focus on subject matter, and lengthy articles. In contrast, TheDailyMeal.com churns out 40-50 articles daily, many of which are just about 150 words long and cover “quite ephemeral things, to put it nicely,” Andrews said.
Last month the site, which launched under two years ago, attracted 7.3 million unique visitors.
“Because the medium is hungry you have to keep feeding it and pouring things in, and it has to be new content because every time somebody looks at your homepage, if it looks exactly as it did that morning – or even worse, as it did two days ago – you’re dead, people stop coming back.”
“We can still publish any serious, lengthy in-depth article. We can, and do still, publish pieces on food politics and on social issues around food, but we can’t do only that.”
Asked by Wood if those more serious pieces got neglected by the reader and the site’s editorial focus, Andrews said: “Stories on subjects like bizarre athletes’ birthday cakes get a lot more attention unfortunately than something on farm labour abuses. But that’s the nature of the audience. Do we pander to that? Yes.”
So does the internet spell the end of print publishing and journalism? Andrews doesn’t think so.
“People used to say … television, it will kill radio. Well it didn’t kill radio, it changed radio. Radio was a medium that used to have dramatic shows, it used to have variety shows, it used to have comedies. Now there is very little of that on radio. Now we still listen to sports events on radio, music, we listen to talk shows, people’s opinion on radio.”
“I think that just as magazines have to become more specialised and better quality and nicer things to hold, the writers who want to survive had best step their game up and not just do the same kinds of reporting on meals. I think there is room for more intelligent real criticism than just reviewing.”
The Food Sage attended the International Chef Showcase as a guest of Crave Sydney.