Earlier this year, former Gourmet Editor-in-Chief Ruth Reichl began her consulting gig (rumored to be worth $250,000 annually) at Gilt Taste, a high end web food store that’s paying her to advise on food writing on its website.
Gilt Taste is a new kind of media for Reichl, one that blurs the line between advertising and editorial. That’s a sea change from her days at Gourmet, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. To my surprise, she welcomed the switch.
“The notion of the wall between advertising and editorial,” she begins in an interview with Eater, “If you’re dependent on sales and you only have things you are really proud of, there’s no need for that wall and there’s no reason to be embarrassed by saying a product is great and this is why it’s great.”
Really? My eyes widened. So she’s assigning advertorial now, where a company pays to get an enthusiastic article that looks and smells like regular journalism? And her big name freelancers are going for this? The former magazine editor in me got ready to protest.
No, no, and no. It’s so much tamer than that. Some of the stories have links to products Gilt Taste sells. That’s it. Links.
(Here are two examples. For a recipe by New York Times regular freelancer Melissa Clark on steak and potatoes, the words “boneless ribeye steaks” are hot, and they link to a catalog item for $127.95 for four 12-ounce steaks. On another web page, a video shows how to cook dry-aged ribeyes, with copy beneath it about having a dinner party, followed by a recipe with another link to a steak for sale.)
Big deal. A link to a product seems quaint. I’ve been doing it right here on my blog for over a year, when I link to books at Amazon, where I receive a tiny referral fee. Okay, it’s not my own store. That would be a conflict of interest. But Gilt Taste isn’t Reichl’s store either.
Now, I could be sarcastic about these luxury food products, which she compares to being less of a splurge than a Chanel dress. But I’m going to control myself. I just paged through the last issue of Gourmet, featuring splashy ads by Cadillac, credit cards, Rolex, and Cartier. She couldn’t care less about those advertisers. She cares about food.
“You end up surrounding your fabulous editorial with ads for things that you hate,” she admits in the Eater interview. “There is a firewall, and that means that you don’t get to say a product shouldn’t be sold in the magazine, as opposed to here, where we are all involved with each other. We never have something we are embarrassed about. It feels more honest to me.”
What do you think? Does the editorial in Gilt Taste seem honest to you? Is there room for ethical writing on a commercial website? Can you think of other examples?
Update: Ruth Reichl wrote to tell me “the money stuff is all laughably wrong. I’m certainly not being paid that much.”
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You might also like:
- Reichl Says She’s Not a Food Writer
- Consider the Lobster – A Gourmet Classic (one of the most famous articles from Reichl’s reign. In the Eater interview she reveals that advertisers weren’t interested in it.)
(Thanks to Laura Taxel for sending me the Eater article.)