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.