A Lone Food Blogger Takes On the Big Blogs

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Hank Shaw of Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook got a double dip of validation this year: his blog was a finalist for the 2010 best food blog award from both the James Beard Foundation (second year in a row) and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).

What’s interesting is that the other finalists were not other individual bloggers, but compilation food blogs on large websites. Compilation blogs are defined by the number of people who write for them: usually the editor writes posts, as do staff writers for the website where the blog appears, and then there are freelance contributors who get paid per post.

For the IACP award, the other two finalists were blogs from alternative weekly newspapers: the SF Foodie blog of San Francisco Weekly; and Eating Our Words, the food blog of sister paper Houston Press. The SF blog includes posts from award-wining restaurant reviewer Jonathan Kauffman. The Houston blog includes posts from award-winning restaurant reviewer and author Robb Walsh.

And wouldn’t you know it? Hank won the IACP award, beating out these two compilation blogs, including content from two distringuished writers.

Then it was on to the Beard awards, where Hank competed with Serious Eats and Grub Street New York. Again, both are compilation blogs that are part of large websites. Serious Eats has a staff of seven plus three interns. A large stable of paid contributors includes Mario Batali. Grub Street has a smaller staff: an editor, a senior editor, and an assistant editor. The staff  contributes content and the blog pays for freelance posts. Serious Eats won the Beard award.

Like other bloggers, Hank writes all his own material. A former commercial fisherman, line cook, and newspaperman, he’s a one-man show, writing about hunting, fishing, gardening, and cooking.

So the question comes up: Is it fair for an individual blogger to compete with compilation blogs? Should there be one category for individual blogs and another for compilation blogs? Or will the best writing triumph, regardless of how the blog is structured or staffed?

I’m for two categories. I was on the executive committee of IACP the year we put compilation cookbooks (best recipes compiled by a magazine) into their own category. Now the compilations compete with other compilation books, rather than with individual authors.

Now tell me what you think.

(Thanks to Amy Sherman, who started a Twitter war on this subject, for bringing it up.)

Photo by Elise Bauer, used with permission.


  1. Lili Rollins says

    I would agree that it makes sense to compare apples with apples. Give each their own category and it will make the awards even more competitive and enjoyable for all.

  2. Kgroovy says

    I also think there should be two categories. It isn’t fair for individuals to get clumped in with compilation blogs. It is not the same playing field. But kudos to Hank for winning!!

  3. Jane Bonacci says

    Hooray for Hank! But I’m with you – two categories seems more fair and easier to judge. I love that individuals can compete at the same level as the pros.

  4. says

    Wondering what the criteria is, or rather–what makes a food blog the best, as per the award(s)? And of course there are so many “types” “angles” of blogs–baking, general, all in one, etc… Comparing apples to apples, oranges to oranges always seems to make sense. Then again, do we know if the IACP and Beard awards have, in fact, a democratic review process, and does their criteria for what makes something great, the same?. I found the IACP choices this year interesting, but not necessarily the best in my–no doubt skewed–view.

    Love that Hank won an award; he has a book coming out this year too.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Nani,
      Nate did a good job answering this question so I’ll leave it for him.

      I’ve been a judge for Bert Greene (the journalism arm of IACP awards). Three judges get sent a ton of entries and you sift through them and rank them in order, according to criteria set by the organization.

  5. says

    The rules actually stipulate that blogs eligible in the IACP blog category are supposed to be “primarily written by one person.” It was meant to put blogs on par with the other categories in the Bert Green Awards, since most stories are authored by a single person. (An exception would be the infrequent case of co-authors, such as Jane and Michael Stern.) If you look at the other categories, you’ll see the nominees are primarily a single author.

    But there are a lot of good collaborative blogs and web sites. Suggestions on tweaking this category, or how to add in a new category?

    (Posted as part of my official duties as chair of the IACP Food Writers, Editors & Publishers section…. )

    • diannejacob says

      Wow Kathleen, then I wonder why the two finalist blogs were accepted. They are definitely not written by one person.

      I think you should have two categories: one for blogs written by an individual, and one for blogs written by a group. The problem is that you will probably have tons of entries for the former and maybe only a handful for the latter.

  6. says

    I love Hank’s blog, and I think it’s great that he won, but it doesn’t make sense to me that he wasn’t up against other food blogs written by one person…

  7. says

    I looked at the criteria for the IACP blog award, which include “mastery of language, depth of thought and research, clarity and coherence of ideas, resonance with reader, originality, focus, and fulfillment of purpose”. I think an individual blogger would have a good chance against compilation blogs in most of those criteria. Different authors write differently and have different strengths. A compilation blog may have more content, but may also have a harder time finding that singular voice that best represents its purpose across all the criteria. A singe-writer blog doesn’t have to worry about finding a singular voice.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks so much for looking up the criteria, Nate. So in your view, no reason to have separate categories then?

      • says

        Actually, I wonder why they have a blog category at all. Seems to me that a blogger is simply a writer who chooses to publish in that medium. But the other Bert Greene Award categories (writing about a restaurant or chef / writing with recipe / writing without recipe / writing about beer, wine or spirits / writing that makes a difference) are topic-based rather than medium-based. A blogger certainly can do all of these. Having a “blog” category seems kinda redundant or out of place.

        • diannejacob says

          They differentiate by medium — categories for print, categories for the web. Maybe one day they will be subject based, as you suggest.

  8. says

    I thought Hanks blog is dynamic and I thought it deserved to win at the Beard Awards.
    But then many of the same winners win again and again at JBA
    Much as I like Serious Eats, to me it’s the same as Huffington Report and frankly I never know what to read or how to find it a day later- there is too much stuff.
    Where Hanks blog is so focused and PERSONAL.
    Plus bloggers are not considered ‘press’ by The Beard press office, so I could not be accredited to get a press pass –
    “because of the high demand of press passes this year, it is their policy that all journalists who attend must have a confirmed assignment for their publications, and unfortunately we cannot count blogs under this policy”
    Blogs are still not respected by the oldies.
    Bedroom posting doesn’t count.

    • diannejacob says

      Good points, Carol. It sounds like you are suggesting that the corporate blogs have more credibility than the personal ones, and that’s why they are nominated. Interesting idea.

      • says

        Absolutely NOT!
        I’m for the individuals out there who forged the path to begin with.
        Not the wanabe Biggies stepping on our coat tails.
        I don’t see the conglomerates as blogs at all.

  9. says

    Two categories seems fairer, and um, while we’re on the subject of these awards: As a newbie to IACP I was struck by the fact that there were no female finalists — even though 90%, I’m guesstimating, of food bloggers are women & IACP’s membership is pretty galcentric as well.

    With all due respect to the winners and nominees: What’s up with that?

    (I noticed, too, at some of the IACP sessions, there might be only 1-2 men in the room but they almost always got up to speak.)

    • diannejacob says

      Yeah, interesting, eh? Also many of the board members are men at IACP, every year. I have wondered why for years.

  10. says

    Hey all,

    Thanks for the words of support. As for my $0.02, as much as I would have liked to win the Beard Award, I am OK with the way things are with the contest. I’d rather be nominated but lose in a broad category than win in a narrow one. And contests, as I am sure many of you know, are not an exact science.

    — Hank

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks for checking in, Hank.

      Yes, speaking as a judge, I can agree. In fact, for the Beard awards this year, the book that won in the category I judged was not even a finalist on my judging sheet of the five books I chose. There are three judges, so the other two must have loved it.

      So you’re for keeping one broad category, Hank. Okay.

  11. says

    I think it’s insane that they’re pitting independent blogs against those with a staff. I mean, seriously? That’s like comparing the entirety of the NYT to a single writer.

  12. says

    Just to weigh in here, I don’t think the contest was fair because I don’t think Serious Eats is a blog. It’s a “community” of media properties, some of which are blogs. It’s more like Conde Nast than it is like Epicurious, let alone Epi-Log (the Epicurious blog). I know blogs are becoming more like web sites and web sites are becoming more like blogs, but putting them all in the same category makes no sense to me at all.

    • diannejacob says

      I’m not sure what you mean by a “community of media properties.” Can you say more?

        • diannejacob says

          I see where you’re going. Serious Eats is actually a family of websites. The award is for the main site. The site contains a blog but has lots of other parts, such as recipes and community forums. What’s wrong with giving an award for a piece of a website? That doesn’t sit well with you?

  13. says

    This post gives me hope! :) I’ve thought about submitting my blog for the James Beard award simply because “why not?” I literally have nothing to lose and wouldn’t it be so cool to win. Two different awards make sense to me because what we’re really talking about is pitting the skills of one writer against the skills of many. It doesn’t strike me as particularly fair for the same reason.

    • diannejacob says

      Why not? Anyone can apply. You just print out your best posts and send a check.

  14. says

    Diane, if it was that simple…. The instructions for submitting your blog for consideration are convoluted and contradictory.
    Serious Eats is written by a team and that’s not the same as a single person/single voice blog. Blogging is a medium onto itself, it doesn’t fit into the old guard categories. It’s not just people banging out whatever they feel like saying. Bloggers with integrity are people who are saying the traditional media outlets have an agenda that isn’t representative of everyone’s needs. Traditional magazines have become formulated, locked into categories and beholden to advertisers that blogging represents an alternative medium.
    So to cut a long rant short, there should be 2 blogger categories.

  15. says

    I thought Hanks blog is dynamic and I thought it deserved to win at the Beard Awards.But then many of the same winners win again and again at JBAMuch as I like Serious Eats, to me it’s the same as Huffington Report and frankly I never know what to read or how to find it a day later- there is too much stuff.Where Hanks blog is so focused and PERSONAL.Plus bloggers are not considered ‘press’ by The Beard press office, so I could not be accredited to get a press pass –“because of the high demand of press passes this year, it is their policy that all journalists who attend must have a confirmed assignment for their publications, and unfortunately we cannot count blogs under this policy”Blogs are still not respected by the oldies.Bedroom posting doesn’t count.

    • diannejacob says

      Kind of ironic eh? Hank is nominated but other bloggers are not considered legitimate. In their defense, their annual bash costs hundreds of dollars to attend, and they have to limit freebies. Probably dozens of food bloggers wanted in.

      Some of this has to do with who applies. If you don’t send your blog in, it can’t win! The bigger blogs must be more on top of this.