Should @RuthBourdain Win a Beard Nomination?

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I asked former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl this very question last week, after a talk she gave at Stanford University.

Turns out that the James Beard awards, the so-called “Oscars of food writing,” launched a new humor category and nominated an anonymous tweeter called Ruth Bourdain.

This fictional character’s rain of raunchy tweets mash up Ruth Reichl and bad boy Anthony Bourdain (That’s Bourdain’s face and Reichl’s hair in the photo), often satirizing Reichl’s lyrical tweets in Bourdain’s sardonic tone. She mimics his humor, shock value and swearing.

There’s been lots of hand-wringing in the press about this nomination, because RuBo is anonymous. Also because the category is for a journalism award. I mean, are tweets journalism?

Reichl said she “loved the idea” of a humorous food writing category, and that Ruth Bourdain “wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago,” because of Twitter. Both Reichl and Bourdain are rooting for her to win. Reichl said she suspects RuthBourdain is a man. She’s dying to see whether this man/woman attends the ceremony and reveals his/her true identity.

Bourdain wants to see RuBo unmasked as well. Here’s what he said about the nomination: “I am, however, rooting for Ruth Bourdain to win in the new humor category. Because I’m pleasantly surprised to find the Beardies even discovering the existence of a sense of humor. Because it will be interesting to hear how the mysterious hermaphroditic on-line parody of Ruth Reichl and yours truly will accept the award if she/he wins. And because, apparently, some in the food writing “community” are said to be peeved that such an unserious, unidentified, uncontrollable–and well, funny, candidate might be honored by the purported “Oscars of Food”. It is said that some feel his/her nomination “cheapens” the enterprise.”

The two other finalists for the humor awards are:

As for me, I think her tweets are entertainment, not journalism. Yes, RuBo’s a hoot, maybe food writers could use a good laugh, and she should get kudos for her ability to fashion a hilarious tweet. On the other hand, if I ever submitted a piece of journalism for a Beard award, I’d like the judges to take my essay seriously: the writing, concept, lead, research, revelations, structure, flow, conclusion — and the humor.

What do you think? Should tweets be eligible for a prestigious journalism award? Should an anonymous tweeter win a Beard, or should the award go to humor writers who write long, well-thought out essays?

Update: S/he won!


  1. says

    It’s harder to write short than long. The concept for Ruth Bourdain is highly original and the tweets are brilliant. I’d hope s/he wins, but I’m not sure it would be as fun with the writer revealed.

    • diannejacob says

      I bet the writer would not reveal him or herself by accepting the award, unless she or he wanted it to be over.

  2. says

    You bring up an interesting point, as always. It took me a few minutes to unwrap my hands from my coffee mug and type these thoughts.

    I think if Beard created the catagory for humor, then all writers should have a fair chance to stir the pot and contribute. On the other hand, I struggle with the anonymity of @RuthBourdain. Of course, he/she could win the award for Most Creative, like Mark Zabel’s Fried Beer in Laussade’s piece “OK, Who Put Food in my Beer?” Or Beard could create an “anonymous” catagory. No telling what would come of that. Hmmm. I’m going back to my coffee and read a little more Alice L. She gets my vote.

    Thanks Diane.

    • diannejacob says

      Oh good. I like making people think. The anonymity was an issue with the Association of Food Journalists because it frowns on writing restaurant reviews without a byline. That’s a different issue.

  3. says

    Those are the best essays the Beard awards could find to nominate? My first reaction was that of course Ruth Bourdain shouldn’t win–it’s cute, but hardly worthy of an award (and the shtick got old pretty quickly). But neither of the others made me even crack a smile.

    • diannejacob says

      Oh, that’s so disappointing. The awards are based on who enters, so they are handicapped in a sense. No one scours media all year to save funny pieces.

  4. Robyn says

    I know you probably already know this, but it is not correct to use a colon after a verb of being, such as are.

  5. says

    It doesn’t bother me that Ruth Bourdain was nominated. The category is “Humor: Recognizes a single piece of written and/or visual food- or drink-related satire, parody, or other form of humor, published in any medium.” So, the category does encompass RuBo’s medium.
    But I guess I would feel a little chafed if he/she won, though it’s hard to put my finger on exactly why. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I find very few of RuBo’s tweets actually humorous.

    • diannejacob says

      I guess you can’t be hilarious all the time. But she’s pretty funny most of the time, I have to say. Hmm. It says a “single piece” of written work. So that would be one tweet, technically?

    • says

      Ha Ha Ha Lael, brilliant as always! I agree about the humor being subjective, but so is all the rest as well, right? I mean who judges what is well written, interesting, even good? And how much does popularity, notoriety and politics play in the selection of the finalists in any category?

      And another question or two: who nominated Ruth Bourdain’s tweets in the first place and why? And which came first, the creation of the humor category or the idea to nominate RuBo? Seems odd that much of the discussion is circling around “unmasking this anonymous twitterer” more than anything else. Sad reason to have someone win.

      • diannejacob says

        The judges of the Beard awards are the ones who get to judge! Good question about popularity, notoriety and politics. I have wondered that myself as a past judge for both the Beards and the IACP cookbook awards.

        See this post from Kat Kinsman about how the award came about.

        Meanwhile, yes, good point, it seems that it’s all about unmasking Rubo. I’m more interested in whether tweets are worth of a Beard journalism award in the first place.

        • says

          I worked too many years in the art world (and fashion) not to understand that rarely if ever (read: never) is art (or anything creative) judged objectively.

          And can tweets be worthy of a Beard journalism award? Let’s see…. this is what is on the Awards Policies and Procedures page referring to Criteria for the Journalism Awards:

          “Any article that was published in English in the United States or Canada during the previous calendar year is eligible.

          The judges are looking for accurate, insightful reporting, exceptional writing, unusual perspectives, and other attributes of fine journalism as they pertain to food and beverage topics.”

          So in my opinion (as I understand what the criteria are), tweets can be entertaining and even informative, many are, but not journalism, no matter how much thought and effort at composition go into a tweet (or series of tweets).

          And what I understood from Kat Kinsman’s letter (thank you for the link) she does indeed make it sound as if she suggested the creation of this category in order to nominate Ruth Bourdain. Which I find excruciatingly unfair.

          And as far as the two other nominees are concerned, journalism and reporting aside (as well as the grammatical errors in the second!!), I personally find the “humor” in the two other finalists’ pieces very in-your-face, shock-effect, 22-year-old-frat boy humor, and both would be much better articles without the obviously forced attempt at being funny. But then, maybe I just prefer humor that is a bit more subtle and clever? (Ouch! Sorry if this offends. As I said, it is all subjective.)

          • diannejacob says

            Agree with you, Jamie, about the “insightful reporting” criteria, not to mention “fine journalism.” Maybe as you said, it’s all about rewarding Rubo for causing such a stir.

  6. says

    Dianne: I agree with you. RuBo is interesting and funny. But her/his tweets are one-line jokes. Not sustained pieces of writing. I don’t think he/she should be in the running for this particular award. If the Beard Awards want to do a tweeter award, RuBo would be perfect for it!

    • diannejacob says

      Maybe they could do a Facebook award too. How about that? Just being facetious.

  7. Jen says

    Journalism is “the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.” The key word being news…While RuBo’s posts are often funny, I’m not quite sure they qualify as Journalism. It kind of cheapens the award, IMO.

    • diannejacob says

      Nice to have a definition, Jen. You don’t say where it came from, but I like it.

      An argument is raging on my Facebook page about this question of whether RuBo’s tweets are journalism. I suppose it’s moot, because the Beard judges have decided that they qualify.

      • says

        The definition is from – didn’t think to iclude that.

        Sharon made some interesting points on your Facebook discussion page – I’ll have to think them over too. In general I think our culture has shifted a little too far into the snippet area of news reporting. It’s often hard to find good, reliable and informative news because media outlets sensationalize news and put too much focus on un-newsworthy events, i.e. Tiger Woods extra-marital relations. Maybe it is a unique art to be able to succintly get your point across. Clearly something RuBo is dong works. I’ll have to think some more about that.

  8. says

    Hmm – if brief, pithy comments are to be considered as journalism then I guess we can expect to see bloggers amongst the Pulitzer nominations quite soon …

    • diannejacob says

      Hmm. Interesting idea! I don’t know if I could get through all the coarse language, though.

      • Candace Davis says

        Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Perhaps he or she would have to tone it down a bit.

  9. says

    I’m unfamiliar with @ruthbourdain, but I appreciate the tender, haiku-sh @ruthreichel (even when it comes at 6 a.m. on the west coast). But often funny and news-related (and not anonymous) is @thejgold. I find a good food giggle energizing. I do think short form humor is an art: I struggle with writing humorously at any length. -@fit2cook

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, he actually has breaking news in his tweets. Good example. Check out RuBo and see what’s happened to Reichls tender tweets. Decimated.