Q&A with Colman Andrews: He’d Never Recommend Food Writing As a Career

Oct 092012
 

Eight-time Beard award winner Colman Andrews, now at the Daily Meal.

When a PR query from The Daily Meal appeared in my inbox, I jumped at the opportunity to interview the website’s accomplished editor about today’s food writing scene.

I was not disappointed. Below, you’ll see that Andrews is honest about how hard it is to be a freelance food writer, and why he feels fine about not paying for content.

I’ve been a fan of Colman Andrews since interviewing him for the first edition of Will Write for Food in 2004. Saveur magazine, which he cofounded in 1994, remains my favorite national food magazine. Andrews was its editor-in-chief from 2001 to 2006.

Now Editorial Director of The Daily Meal, Andrews has had a long career as an editor, author and writer. He’s an eight-time James Beard Award winner, most recently winning Cookbook of the Year in 2010. Here’s what he says about today’s food writing scene:

Q. You’ve done a lot of restaurant reviewing in the last few years. Is there enough work for freelance restaurant reviewers today?

A. It’s become crowd sourced. The power of Yelp reviews. There was just a study in the American Economic Journal about how a difference of half a star in a Yelp rating can make or break for a restaurant.

The issue there is whether there’s a place for a professional restaurant critic anymore. Would people rather trust one person who has experience and take their word or see what all their friends think? I have a feeling that the autocractic critic is less influencial now.

Q. Can writers still make a living as a freelance restaurant critic?

A. Maybe if you get into travel related stories. But it’s got to be really difficult, no matter what.

Q. You still do some freelance writing, despite your full-time job at The Daily Meal.

A. People ask me, and if I have the time and the interest, I do it. I’ve done two book reviews for the Wall Street Journal, I do an occasional article for Departures, and a piece or two a year for Australian magazine, Gourmet Traveller.

I might as well make a little pocket change and write the kinds of things I wouldn’t necessary write for the site. The stories are longer and more detailed. Here it has to be pretty quick and in and out.

Q. What’s it like to be a freelance food writer in 2012? Would you recommend it as a career?

A. I never would recommend it as a career. It’s always been difficult and demanding and a highly unpredictable way to make a career.

It’s got to be even tougher now than when it was when I did it. Most of the markets are online and most don’t pay or pay token amounts, ourselves included.

The whole nature of the way things work has changed. There’s a much larger group of people expressing their opinions. Before, when someone asked me for advice on how to be a food writer, I recommended people find someone who will publish you, build some clips, learn some specialties, approach a magazine ’96 a very lengthy process. Now all you need to do is open a WordPress account and later that same day you’re a published food writer online.

Now people want to build their own reputations or brand, so that when someone like the Daily Meal says we have 6.3 million uniques but we can’t pay you, but it’s payment enough for people wanting to build a career, or get advertising on their blog and a book deal.

So the model seems to be different. Not only is there much more competition but much fewer daily markets.

Q. So The Daily Meal doesn’t pay for stories?

A. We occasionally pay for pieces that involve heavy research but otherwise we don’t pay, and we have people lining up to work for us. Our stories get picked up by AOL and Yahoo or get retweeted and you can get picked up very quickly. People are almost more interested in that than money. It’s just a different game.

Q. What do you say to the freelancers still writing for money?

A. Well, God bless you. I’m happy if you can get the jobs. The other thing that has happened in print is that either the rates have gone down or they haven’t gone up since I was working for them 20 years ago. There was a time when established writers would have gotten $ 3 to $5 per word for articles. Now hardly anyone is paying more than $2 a word, and $1 word is standard.

It was not an easy way to make a living then and much harder now. If you have the energy and you’re a great promoter, you can probably still make it work.

Q. Do you feel bad about not paying people?

A. I can’t say that I do because a lot of people are more interested in the exposure than money. Most of the people writing are not exclusively freelance writers: they’re chefs, or employed in other fields, and they want to express their opinions. It’s a short step from writing a blog to when somebody says we can show you off to millions of people.

Q. Can these people write?

A. Some can and some can’t. One of the thing that surprised me is that whatever people might lack in fine tuning or fine points of grammar and punctuation, they made up for it in enthusiasm and real love for the story.

I’m reminded of a writer we published at Saveur. He’d turn in long rambling e-mails but the story itself had none of the energy and enthusiasm. So we learned to save the emails and insert bits of them into the story.

When you’re not writing for an editor and writing for yourself, sometimes the writing is better. Sometimes people freeze up when they’re “writing a story.” Frankly I was really surprised by the quality of a lot of blog writing.

Q. You said in an interview that your ability to write is kind of a mystery, and you don’t want to examine it too much because you’re afraid it could go away. Do you think people can be taught to write well?

A. I think people can be taught to write better, but I don’t think they can be taught to write. I can’t draw worth a damn. If I went to drawing classes I could do better than I do now, but I don’t seem to have that gene. But people who have never studied in their lives can do a good freehand sketch.

If people are in a position where they have to write, there are certainly ways to coach people better and more clearly, but to make them into a writer if they can’t do it, I don’t think so.

Q. How is it different to be the editorial director of the Daily Meal versus editor-in-chief of Saveur?

A. About as different as if I’d gone from being a tailor to an orchestra conductor. Some 10 to 15 percent is similar to what I did as a magazine editor. It’s a different medium — the way you approach stories, the speed, the level of cross checking and accuracy.

Q. How are the stories different from magazine articles?

A. They’re mostly very quick responses to news. The editors are the primary writers. Each editor here turns out four to six stories a day. Other stuff comes from freelancers or we link to things. We have about 90 bloggers, and the pick of their material. We put up 120 news stories a day, but many of them are two paragraphs.

But we have room for everything, so there’s nothing that couldn’t find a place here, such as 7,000 words on a new chile or a new imported fish or a cultural issue on native American cuisine. Obviously you can’t fill a website.

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  89 Responses to “Q&A with Colman Andrews: He’d Never Recommend Food Writing As a Career”

  1. [...] that being a food writer in the long term may not pay the bills. Like most freelance work, Colman Andrews a leading US food writer, talks about the decreasing money in the food writing [...]

  2. [...] that being a food writer in the long term may not pay the bills. Like most freelance work, Colman Andrews a leading US food writer, talks about the decreasing money in the food writing [...]

  3. What a great interview … I really loved the authenticity that came through :-)

  4. It doesn’t matter how many people are “lining up” to write for you, not paying your writers while you are making money off of them is morally bankrupt and professionally reprehensible. This man should be ashamed of himself.

    • Well, I don’t know. He’s not paying the writers because he doesn’t have to, because the writers are okay with it. My sense is that they are not traditional journalists trying to make a living as food writers. For that he has his editors, who write much of what appears, and I assume they do get paid.

      • Hi Dianne,

        Great interview! Just to add some dimension to your assumption, I applied to their call for city editors. When they responded, they listed a bunch of incentives. None of them were monetary. The following are some of the perks listed: getting work promoted (this was mentioned twice; I think this fattened up the list), bio displayed on city page (which just sounds like the first perk), press access (mentioned three times), editorial and technical support, flexibility to set your own schedule, and lastly you will become an expert.

        I’m not sure about the 6-8 editors he mentioned above, but city editors for a fact don’t receive any payment. City editors are expected to write a post per week, promote content, and attend events on behalf of The Daily Meal.

        It sounds like a lot of hot air blown into an unfair situation. It’s not unlike Huffington Post. I have much respect for Colman Andrews as the founder of Saveur. But he has come a long way in his career and he wouldn’t have been able to get to where he was if he wasn’t getting paid. It’s just not right. And the other commenters are right, the material is often reflective of the lack of pay.

        • Oops, I realize that he didn’t mention the number of editors working.

        • Fascinating, Lynda. I have asked for a confirmation of this information. Apparently I am still in the old model of assuming that editors are paid.

          • Yes you are correct about the unpaid editor positions.
            This is what I got from the DM’s pr person: “City Editors are local experts who occupy unpaid positions dedicated to the production, curation, and promotion of content in their assigned cities and metropolitan areas. They often attend events on behalf of The Daily Meal and serve as the eyes and ears of The Daily Meal on the ground in the cities they cover. City Editors live in or near the cities they cover and are well versed in the dining, wine and spirits, and travel trends for their chosen cities. They manage and report local restaurant, bar and cocktail lounge, winery (where pertinent), coffee shop, and other food- and drink-related news and reviews ’97 depending on the channel they’re attached to ’97 and recruit other contributors to do the same. As The Daily Meal continues to scale up, these significant positions will continue to mean a growing opportunity for significant visibility and self-branding and promotion.”

          • The DM’s pr person added that city editors report to paid editors. So that’s the level where payment begins.

          • Thank you for following up on the editors’ situation, Dianne. I have no words. No polite ones, anyway. This is a for-profit business built on other people’s unpaid labor and exploited dreams.

          • Well, the people at the top are paid, but yes, everyone else is not and working for their own pleasure or perceived glory. That’s what’s happening in the media these days. The Daily Meal is not the first and will not be the last. I guess we just have to avert our eyes and get on with how we make a living.

    • So I guess it’s ok for him to make a living and a profit but not the writers? Sorry, but this strikes me as abusive. Just because people are “lining up”, doesn’t make it right.

      • It’s different. I don’t know if it’s “right.” It’s not a model that works for people looking for paid freelance work, that’s for sure.

  5. I have always been a fan of Coleman. Great advice, great thoughts. Thanks for interviewing him!

  6. Thanks for this interview, Dianne. Stimulating, as your posts always are. I’ve admired Andrews a long time; my first encounter with Saveur was one of the things that spurred me to become a food writer in the mid-1990s. So reading this provokes a mixture of bitterness and curiosity, not so much at Andrews but at the place our industry has come to, and our highly varied responses to matters of content, compensation, and expectations for making a living. People can refrain from paying me, but no one can keep me from writing. (Getting anyone to read that writing is a whole other messy ball of wax, though, isn’t it?)

    • Hi Sara, great to hear from you. Thank you!

      Yes, I had the same response, although I do understand what he’s saying. I once coached someone with a full-time business and a blog and who wanted to write a book. I pointed out that she needed some published pieces to show she had a wider audience than just her blog. She identified The Daily Meal as a place to get published. I helped her with the pitch letter and she did a great job for them. She never asked about money because she didn’t care. She wanted the “clip” and exposure to a wide audience. For the second pitch letter she asked about money and was told there wasn’t any, and she was still fine with it in exchange for exposure. And quite honestly, that was what she needed.

      So that is quite different from you and I and our careers. In the old days it was mostly people like us writing for outlets and getting paid to do so, but now that has changed.

  7. I do not like that he does not pay his writers but he is right.
    Sometimes the exposure is payment enough.
    I think diversifying ones streams of income in this food writing industry is
    the best way to earn a living. And that keeps one on ones toes too!
    Great interview – as always – I have learned so much in just a few lines of reading.
    M’f3na

  8. I read an extraordinary amount — most of it online, most of it about food. But I’ve stopped reading The Daily Meal. There’s very little substantive, interesting, original, or new. (All words that apply to Saveur to this day.)

    I guess when you don’t pay for content, it shows.

    • Hmm. Interesting. How do you explain the 6.5 million uniques per day?

      • Well, clearly, my taste is better than everyone else’s, right? ;)

        But, seriously, you have to pay for depth of reporting and depth of knowledge because those are things most people can’t afford to give away for free.

      • It’s not 6.5 million uniques per day. Public stats show it at around 755,000 uniques per month. And uniques are nice and all, but do they return? I can’t see why they would. The content frequently is (barely) regurgitated press releases or bad news rewrites. It’s pretty awful and nowhere do I see Andrews’ stamp on it.

        Andrews seems to take great pride in how much content the site churns out. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather eat one great steak dinner than 100 cruddy burgers at McDonald’s.

  9. This is a particularly pertinent post for me, Dianne, and truly excellent. I think about this all the time, especially each time doubting husband brings up the topic. I have to say that one thing is necessary these days if one wants to be a “food writer” and that is diversity: there are many topics that fascinate me, topics that I feel that I have some kind of expertise, so I will not limit myself to only writing about food, which is indeed limiting. And then one must be versatile and incorporate many activities into one’s “profession”, such as teaching and coaching. As Colman says, it has gotten to be a really tough market: so much more competition, so many people willing to give content in exchange for exposure, more and more magazines filling their pages with content produced in-house by their own editors all meaning, less money paid out to freelancers and less of a chance to be published. I do believe that the secret is a combination of talent, enthusiasm (as he points out so well) and networking – the greater the number of people who get to know you and read your work, the better the chance you have to get published. It is a long, hard slog often very frustrating and networking takes a lot of time and finesse, but as I have found out, it works in the end. One must be truly passionate and feel the calling to become a writer of any kind and maybe food more than any.

    • Doubting husband has a right, I suppose, to question this career in terms of income. It’s not a great way to make a living.

      Talent, enthusiasm and networking are excellent attributes to succeed in our business. I would add persistence. I have seen many mediocre writers succeed because they just don’t quit trying, and many beautiful writers quit because it’s easy to give up.

      Yes, we all need other ways to make a living, otherwise it won’t work out. Being a writer is like being a painter. It is so rarely about the money and more about our drive to express ourselves.

  10. Yup, brave new world it is. Better or worse? Time will tell.

  11. Diannne — In the discussion of whether he pays writers, you didn’t ask him the most important question! Does he not pay because The Daily Meal would not be viable if he did, or does he not pay because he doesn’t have to, which means he simply pockets the money himself?

    • That is a good question. I suspect the answer is that he doesn’t pay because he doesn’t have to. Writers don’t demand it and many other websites don’t pay either.

      Either way, he does not pocket the money himself, although I suspect he is paid well. I certainly don’t begrudge him that. He is worth every cent.

      • Dianne,

        Thank you for responding to my post. I didn’t mean to suggest that Andrews personally pockets the money — just that The Daily Meal is engaging in unethical, predatory behavior. I suspect that very few writers get any benefit whatsoever from their so-called “exposure.” Andrews is scamming people and he knows it. The fact that people are waiting in line to be scammed — that there are plenty of suckers out there — does not make it ethical. It is odioius behavior.

  12. Wow, what a negative look. I’m known as a realist and even catch myself on the glass-half-empty side sometimes, but this guy is mr. doom and gloom. Yes, the writing industry has changed, but there is MORE opportunity. We have to set our standards, decide what we want to write about and make it happen. I don’t think “in the old days” people were getting handed big writing contracts. They had to work their butts off. That is just life! You can make a good living in food writing – just like anything else, it takes some solid goals and elbow grease.

    • Hi Alisa, and congratulations on your website, books, freelance writing and product ambassadorships. I just looked at your About page and you have certainly found ways — in this new economy — to make a living. That is a huge accomplishment.

      Since you mention there that you have contributors, I am wondering if you pay them. I looked for them on your site but had trouble finding them. Everything I looked at was generated by you.

  13. I have to agree with Tricia about the content on the Daily Meal.

    Fantastic interview Dianne, but I hope this doesn’t discourage too many people! Many websites do pay their writers, even if it’s just what I like to call a “dignity fee.”

  14. [...] a Dianne Jacob interviewed Coleman Andrews, editorial director at The Daily Meal, for her blog, Will Write For Food, she inquired about his stance on not paying freelance writers and as it turns out, he’s [...]

  15. The halcyon days of paid-for writing are in our imaginations and limited to a chosen few. I was listening to a podcast on George Orwell the other day who scraped a living together through copywriting and articles. The opportunities to be heard as a writer are now many-fold and much more democratic. A few can make a living if they are really talented or tap into the zeitgeist. But isn’t that as it always was?

    • Hmm. It is still true that writing is not a good way to make a living. It’s a creative job. What’s the word that usually goes before artist? “Starving.”

      But there weren’t this many opportunities before, Sally, and you had to go through gatekeepers. Now there are tons of (unpaid) opportunities to get published, and individual blogs have no gatekeepers. It’s different, yet it’s the same. Still no money in it for most of us.

      I’d love to have a link to this podcast you mention. I’m a big fan of Orwell.

  16. This one really piqued my interest, Dianne.

    I don’t read The Daily Meal, or any sites like it, regularly at all. I don’t generally find them interesting, as the rapid-fire content doesn’t appeal to me at all. But that’s not really what this interview was about at all, and I know that I am in the minority in the way I consume media in general. So the more interesting questions to me, by far, are 2:

    (1) Whether he’s “successful” doing what he does: From a numbers perspective, he’s clearly successful (I think the 6.5 million uniques number is a cumulative one over many months, not a single month, but it doesn’t much matter – splitting hairs). It’s similar to Huff Post in that way – why pay for what you can get for free, and yes, there are plenty of content-providers who will do things for “exposure.” From a would-I-like-to-be-a-part-of-that perspective, it’s not my personal definition of success. “Exposure” is a 4-letter-word to me, at this point. Whenever I have done anything with exposure alone in mind, I have ended up sorry. Whether it “worked” or not. And anyway all the exposure in the world won’t matter long term if you don’t have a hook. You can lead a horse to water …

    (2) Whether he’s doing “the right thing” by not paying for content (and being relatively harsh about his refusal). Here’s where the rubber meets the road for many people. For me personally, it’s hard to argue with his methods. This is capitalism. It’s a market. And he’s running a business, not a charity. The market will bear free content for him. There’s a good argument to be made that he shouldn’t pay for what he can get for free, since it apparently meets his own personal quality standards or he wouldn’t accept it. But the way he does business means that I wouldn’t want to work for him in this context, not because it’s wrong, per se, but because of #1 above.

    All of this discussion reminds me of how I feel when my own readers complain when I won’t give away my paid content (in cookbooks) for free. It doesn’t happen often, and the vast majority of my readers are lovely and gracious and understanding’97happy for the free blog content, happy to pay for the cookbooks. But when it does happen, all I can think of is that I’m not a charity. And if you don’t want to pay for my books, you shouldn’t. But you also aren’t entitled to more for free than I want to give. That situation is the converse, but to me, it’s analogous.

    Complicated, and super important, subject. Thanks, Dianne.

    Nicole

  17. Nice story. We covered Daily Meal’s sister pub, The Active Times, in a recent article, “Non-Linear, Algorithmic, Highly-Clickable!” – http://gearjunkie.com/the-active-times. We asked some of these same kind of hard questions. Active Times covers outdoors and “active” lifestyle topics. Like Daily Meal they pay very little and have a completely different model than what freelance writers traditionally have seen.

    • I guess this same kind of thing with “community members” is going on in all kinds of industries, Steve. Professional writers can choose not to participate.

  18. [...] Andrews, editor of “The Daily Meal” and co-founder of “Saveur,” on her blog. When asked if “The Daily Meal” paid its writers, he states that it “occasionally [...]

  19. Coleman Andrews is just a pawn in the game that is the CEO’s sociopathic tendencies disguised as entrepreneurial savvy– take Arianna Huffington and rip any remaining shreds of humanity out of her and you have this guy. Spannfeller made his name that way at Forbes.com bragging to anyone who would listen how little he paid people and apparently it’s only gotten worse at his new venture. People like him are to blame for the state of journalism today.

    • I did not know about the CEO. I’ve written about how bad the unpaid writing is on the Huffington Post — I guess it’s a similar kind of thing.

  20. I got to this article, which I found fascinating, from a link on mediabistro.com through their MediaJobsDaily department. And not being familiar with thedailymeal.com and Coleman Andrews (but I am familiar with Saveur, my favorite food-slash-travel magazine), my impression is the same as others here; that Mr. Coleman is the Arianna Huffington of online food journalism.

    But I will admit as being the founder and editorial director of AutomotiveTraveler.com and our digital magazine Automotive Traveler (http://bit.ly/WWFFAT), that I am in a similar position given that I write most of the content in my publications, and that I don’t pay my contributors either. And like Mr. Coleman, I have no shortage of automotive, travel, and even culinary writers who want to write for me.

    The reason? Because we provide editing and a level of presentation that is unmatched by almost any blog or website. We pride ourselves on publishing magazine-quality features in an iPad-friendly and computer-compatible presentation. Here’s an example of one of our travel/food features that illustrates the concept.

    http://bit.ly/TmbaZ5

    I think you’ll agree that this is radically different than the level of presentation that blog-style layout that thedailymeal.com provides. Is it better? I don’t know, but it is different.

    At AutomotiveTraveler.com we don’t regurgitate press releases and nothing is posted without being edited and formatted by an experienced editor (not me) who is the only person in our small organization who is compensated. All of the content that is posted on AutomotiveTraveler.com is original, edited to a high level, and is presented in a magazine-like presentation that is read just like you would a conventional print magazine on your computer, laptop, or tablet. I happen to think that as we enter the so-called post-PC era, having iPad/tablet-friendly presentation will grow in importance and that readers will seek out authoritative, well-edited, professionally laid out content. The big question remains. Will they pay for it or will advertisers support it so that the content providers can be paid a living wage.

    This got me to thinking. With all the under-employed food writers out there, is there a market for a culinary website and companion publication published to the same standards and using the same magazine-style presentation as AutomotiveTraveler.com and Automotive Traveler magazine? If so, I invite food writers to contact me here (http://bit.ly/UR8sSv).

    I would love to put together a team of food writers who would produce such a publication and leverage the experience I’ve gained over the last five years in producing AutomotiveTraveler.com.

    • If you’re not planning to pay food writers, Richard, I doubt you’ll hear from the readers of this blog. They are awfully tired of being asked to write in exchange for “exposure.” Sites like yours are one of the reasons writers are “under employed,” as you call them.

      If I have misunderstood you and you’re planning to paya decent amount, then I apologize in advance.

      • Dianne, thanks for posting my comment.

        I want very much to pay writers for quality, vetted content but until we can find paying subscribers willing to pay for content or advertisers that feel it valuable to be associated with the content we produce and the presentation we provide, it’s wishful thinking.

        I am trying to be pragmatic about this — especially that I don’t want to be lumped in with people like Ms. Huffington, Mr. Andrews and others of their ilk. I believe there is a difference. First, their websites are generating significant traffic and with it, advertising dollars. They should be paying the writers that have helped to build that traffic. In the case of huffingtonpost.com and thedailymeal.com — even with less but still significant traffic — they are not. And in the case of articles produced for AutomotiveTraveler.com, several of my writers have taken features from AutomotiveTraveler.com and Automotive Traveler magazine, used them as clips selling them to paying markets, myself included, mostly for overseas publications.

        Earlier today, thinking out loud, I was thinking if some food writers wanted to start their own publication, using the same platform that we use for AutomotiveTraveler.com, I would be happy to help. I believe that the way we produce content, with full magazine-style layouts, formatted and optimized for tablets and computers, is a bridge between traditional print magazines that most of us still love, and digital products like websites, blogs, and tablet-optimized apps.

        The problem remains, how do we monetize our efforts, from simple blogs, to browser-based magazines, and apps for tablets which are expensive produce? I don’t have that answer, especially as so many content consumers feel that if it’s “on the web” that it should be free.

        How can we, as content creators, overcome this obstacle?

  21. Fascinating interview, Dianne, I just wish it was another 1,000 words longer — If only because I find Andrews so interesting, especially seeing the trajectory of his career. As someone who is interested in food writing- maybe not as a full time career, but something on the side- I’m always up for reading what other people have done/ are doing in the food writing world and the changing landscape.
    The discussion of how the industry has changed is an ongoing one, and I’m divided as to whether this new pay scheme of many websites is a brave new world of journalism or a “shame” as many have said.
    I sometimes don’t know which is more interesting, your posts or the comments section! :)

    • Ruthy, that is the true pleasure of this blog: the comments! I sense that you’re enjoying them as much as I do.

      My conclusion about TheDailyMeal is that those of us who are paid professionals should ignore sites like The Daily Meal, just as Andrews is not interested in us. We are not his target market for writers.

  22. Dear Dianne,

    I read the interview with a great interest, thank you so much. The fact that writers write for other incentives beyond getting paid, is also a reality in other fields, for example writing for IT magazines and scientific journals (where I’m active professionaly).

    Dianne, I spend a lot of time in France each year, and there I read a very popular food magazine (in French) called ‘Saveurs’. Style and format is very similar to the US Saveur magazine.
    Could you possibly shed light whether Saveur is the American version of this French magazine? The Saveurs’ web site is:

    http://www.editions-burda.fr/magazine-saveurs

    Thank you very much! Best regards from France!

    • Wow, I had no idea someone would work for free in those fields. It doesn’t sound nearly as attractive.

      I think it is the American Saveur, but I am not sure.

  23. Dianne,

    This topic is always timely. I love Coleman’s responses and how practical and balanced they are. We recently interviewed the editor of BBC Good Food for our blog to also shed some light as to what it is really like working in the industry. I will link your post to ours later. There are lots of people who are working on blogs hoping to be recognised and paid but as you noted, the reality of the starving artist is just as prominent, even more so now. As Coleman says, the surplus of people offering services makes it even harder to command a premium as a top writer.

    Here’s my question, if there is indeed a new wave of journalism which doesn’t require payment, were we silly to have invested years and thousands of dollars on our own training in journalism school?

    • Nice job on the interview. It looks like it was done over email. I like to do mine over the phone. That way I can respond to an interesting comment, which is what happened above. But maybe your blog is not provocative like mine!

      No, we were not silly to invest the time. I use my journalism skills every single day and I am grateful for them. We just need different ways to make a living. That is why I now coach, edit and speak. I don’t do freelance writing anymore unless someone asks.

  24. [...] to have a job like hers? There is a long road to becoming a paid writer/editor. See more in this interview that author Dianne Jacobs had with Coleman Andrews, a founding member of Saveur, now head of editorial at The Daily Meal. Share: Pin [...]

  25. Regarding the issue of not paying food writers, while I understand that some websites just don’t have the resources to pay writers, the problem exists is whether those that review restaurants are being accurate and honest. I would consider reviewing a restaurant for no pay but only if the restaurant owner would provide me with a meal in exchange for a review. Although if I feel the restaurant is not first rate, I would give it a low rating, but would feel guilty about writing it when the restaurant is treating me to the meal.. When the websites do not pay the writer, the editor has no idea if the review is honest or not, so the credibility of the website is not there if you don’t pay the writer for a review.

    • Please do not even consider asking restaurant owners for a free meal in exchange for a review, Marvin. It puts you in an ethical dilemma, and you will not be able to review accurately. It’s just not worth it, and your reviews will be suspect.

      • Hi Dianne,
        I agree with you that it is not worth the free meal to be placed in the ethical dilemma of writing a restaurant review and I will not do it.. But I was pointing out the other ethical problem- when yelp and other sites do not pay the restaurant reviewers, you can’t blame the restaurant reviewers for not asking the restaurant owners for their help in covering their expenses, since the editors will not do this.
        By the way, whenever I write music or theater reviews, I typically have tickets left for me courtesy of the arts organization, which is considered a standard practice among public relations personnel in the arts. Fortunately for me, it is not considered a conflict of interest to accept opening night tickets to review a concert or play.

        • Okay I see.

          On Yelp, reviews are crowd sourced so no one is considered a professional reviewer. No restaurant should ever feel compelled to comp a meal if the “reviewer” announces his or her intention to write a comment, or calls to secure a free meal beforehand. That sounds like a form of blackmail!

          The restaurant reviewing industry is pretty small, and everyone knows about the person who gets comped meals. It’s a little ironic considering how little our industry pays, but even so, it has standards. Even though you get free tickets for an event, the same should not apply to restaurant reviewing. I know this sounds like a double standard but I can’t help feeling that it’s different somehow.

          When I was looking for freelance work as a reviewer or guide writer, websites and publishers sometimes offered to pay me for the review but not the meal. I said no. The meal (or multiple meals if I was doing it right), my time, the cost of transportation, etc. were not worth what they were paying. But of course, someone else was always willing to step in and do the work. That’s how it goes in our business.

          • You are correct Dianne that it is different to review a restaurant than a book, concert, or play. The presentation of a book, concert, or play does not change if the reviewer receives a book or tickets, but obviously a restaurant owner will serve a meal and prepare it differently with the knowledge that the reviewer is writing on the restaurant.

  26. As a trained journalist and food writer, I find it depressing that so many people apparently write for no money. It devalues the profession and it also devalues the publication – whether it’s printed or online. How seriously can you take a magazine, newspaper or website that doesn’t or can’t afford to pay? As a writer I’d feel used and undervalued. As a reader, I’d be questioning things like expertise, accuracy and balance. (Online restaurant reviews area a case in point)

    I don’t blame the writers – I know how hard it can be to get published – but the long term outlook is no good for anyone. Someone once told me: work for what you are worth or work for nothing at all. I would add that if you work for nothing then do it for yourself, on your own blog, not for someone else’s publication.

    The problem is that we are in a half-way world where readers are moving away from print but aren’t quite ready to pay for material published on the web. However, I do hear that internet advertising is growing fast, which means web publishers must be starting to make money. Let’s hope some of it filters through to the writers.

    By the way, I’m guessing that things aren’t quite as bad for freelancers in New Zealand. We have our copyright issues and generally the word rate is miserable but printed publications do still pay for food stories. I’m not sure about online publications – I think the payoff is a link to the writer’s blog.

    • This is an eloquent argument, Anna. But the people who write for now money are either beginners, hobbyists, or people who want to increase their marketability. They are not professional journalists or writers. And there is a big market for them — sometimes I wonder if it’s bigger than the market for paid work!

      I’m with you. I work for nothing on this blog, and that’s the only place.

      While Internet advertising is growing, much of it is doing so on Facebook and Google, which doesn’t benefit any of us. In fact, in a recent post I laid out that Facebook wants those of us with fan pages to become advertisers of a sort.

      Most publications still pay for quality work. They do not have to create thousands of pages to gain ad revenue, so it’s a different model. Also publication ads are much more costly.

      • The problem as I see it is beginners or non-professionals who write only for exposure and marketability are presumably hoping for a pay off at some point down the track and I can’t see them ever achieving it because there is always someone else who will step into the breach. Much better to make a name in print or with a professional online publication (do any of them pay?) and then you do have marketability. Or you write a book if you have the energy (as you do and I don’t!)

        I’ve turned down advertising on my blog (apart form WordPress stuff) as a personal protest against ghastly internet ads. I’d rather earn nothing from it than subject people to flashing boxes and ads for botox – am I the only one who gets these?

        • I can see a payoff. Getting published on the Daily Mail means getting a clip, just like the old days when we got a clip in print.

          Re online publications that pay, I haven’t found any yet.

          Regarding ads, I don’t see anything wrong with them, because I think of myself as the publisher and not just the writer. I was published in magazines with ads, and now I am published on a blog with ads. Ads generated the money to pay freelancers; here ads help pay my bills.

    • Anna,

      Thoughtful points, especially when you said, “The problem is that we are in a half-way world where readers are moving away from print but aren’t quite ready to pay for material published on the web. However, I do hear that internet advertising is growing fast, which means web publishers must be starting to make money. Let’s hope some of it filters through to the writers.”

      Something that I read said that only one dollar in 27 had migrated from print to the web. This is the crux of the problem and as magazines have shrunk in size due to the loss of advertising since 2008 (and I’m primarily a freelance automotive writer), print magazines have less money to pay freelance contributors, keeping in-house features were that formerly assigned to outside contributors.

      But readers of content published on the web feel it should be free as many think that by such content is online, the expenses of print (ink, paper, mailing costs) are not borne by web publishers. This is only partially true. Writers should still be paid for quality, vetted content, there are costs in designing and publishing content (I spend on average one hour on designing each page we publish on AutomotiveTraveler.com given our magazine-style, iPad friendly presentation), hosting costs (bandwidth costs money), and trying to promote the website.

      One high-traffic automotive website that asked me to write for them said that they paid four to five cents a word. I can’t produce a quality, well-researched feature at this word rate, and make a living. It doesn’t matter the genre, food, travel, or automotive. Fifty dollars per 1,000-word article doesn’t pay my bills. At that rate all I can do is regurgitate a press release and slap my name on it, something as a professional writer with 15+ years of experience I won’t do. I’d rather, as Dianne pointed out, write for “free” for my own website, and control my content, than give it away to a big web content farm/publisher.

      (To replace this lost magazine revenue I am now self-publishing small, niche-focused automotive photo books. The revenue model for these books is that I make $5 on a $15 book so I now make almost as much self-publishing a book and selling 100 copies as I used to producing four-page magazine features for automotive buff books.

      My first self-published, non-fiction automotive automotive book has now sold almost 100 copies in its first 45 days So if I can churn out two books a month, I have the potential to make some serious money as my library of published books grows.

      I do have the advantage, with the design skills I’ve developed producing magazine-style layouts for the last two years for AutomotiveTraveler.com, to produce these books quickly, especially now that I have built the template for the first book. The best thing about self-publishing is that I retain control and copyright over my content. This allows me to recycle and re-purpose many of the 1,000 published magazine features that I’ve produced over the last 15 years in this new format that I call a MicroBook, self-published using now available print-on-demand technology. To give my colleagues, professional writes, an idea of what is possible, here’s a link to the amazon.com page of my first self-published book, http://bit.ly/V66pV7.)

      Getting back to the issue at hand, do I wish I could pay my contributors? Yes. Do I wish I had the advertising and/or sponsorship to do so? Certainly. But as I mentioned earlier, that’s not reality, for me or I think for Dianne here as well (and in poking around I think she has an excellent website/blog, especially as measured by the number of passionate members leaving comments). Sometime we have no alternative but to write for free because as writers, that’s what we do. And having our own websites gives us the platform to do so.

      As both a writer for print and web as well as a web publisher, I see this issue from both sides and hope readers here see the difficulty in our getting properly compensated for our labors.

      Richard Truesdell

      • I can see your side of the argument. I also sympathise with printed magazine editors who have to put the squeeze on their contributors because the advertising dollar is moving online. So just who is making any money out of publishing? Is everyone just waiting for the new model to materialise?

        I write for free myself – always for my blog and sometimes for charitable causes. My point is that this model of working only for ‘exposure’ can’t possibly continue. You’ve found a way to make things work for yourself by self-publishing but you can do that only because you have earned the reputation to sell your work through your background in traditional media. How do new writers earn their stripes if they are only ever working part time and for free? They may want to continue writing as enthusiastic amateurs but as a reader I would prefer to read writers who have built up their expertise and knowledge in a measurable, peer reviewed way. That probably makes me appear very out of touch.

        I would encourage younger writers to get published in traditional media as well as developing their own blog presence. And then fingers crossed they get a book deal.

        • Anna,

          Again, points well taken. But it also speaks to why people write for AutomotiveTraveler.com, for free, is for the exposure. It gives them credible, well-edited clips necessary to get future assignments. Several use their AutomotiveTraveler.com features, which look a lot more like a traditional magazine feature than most websites, to sell the feature into paying markets. It’s a new way to market their work, especially overseas publications like I do.

          On the self-publishing front, I have a recipe/cook book I’ve already started on. But I’m not sure it will work as well as a physical print-on-demand edition. It will have to have some sort of hook as it goes well outside the subject area that I have a strong following. I have a feeling that it will work better as an eBook, where it I can price it at what many successful eBook publishers have told me is the pricing sweet spot, $2.99.

          The main takeaway here is that as professional writers — this is where we make a living and try to pay our bills — we have to reinvent ourselves, develop new revenue streams that take advantage of the digital opportunities. It also allows us to write about what we want to, not needing the approval of a publisher to reach our audience. Reaching our audience directly I find this both challenging and exciting.

  27. I’ve just ordered your book from Amazon, by the way. Never to old to learn new tricks.

  28. Hi Dianne

    I’d like to share my personal opinion regarding this inspiring internview. As a food blogger in my country and a contributor for a local English newspaper (but the digital edition only), I experience the same fate (of being unpaid for my writings). However, so far I’m still enjoying it and comfortable with this, as, like Andrews said, we’re mostly writing as a side preoccupation. But that doesn’t mean that the quality of writing is compromised due to the absence of financial incentive. In fact, the exposure seems to be more rewarding than money. Food writing is a rather (if not very) expensive hobby, because of the money, gadgets and time that we invest in making a decent piece of blog entry. At the end of everything, the greatest reward is not how much you get paid for it, but how much people enjoy reading each word that you write.

    • Well, how wonderful to hear from someone who is not writing for money and why it works for you. Thank you Ellyna. What you say has just as much merit as those who are trying to make money as food writers. It is a hobby for most bloggers, and that is how it should be, because it is so difficult to do otherwise.

  29. This is very interesting, I tend to agree that now the public has (perhaps) the last say in restaurant reviews, but after all they always did, if not with words with their wallets. Many good restaurants cannot make end meet even if they get good reviews.

    For being able to live as a food writer, a few people do, but I don’t agree that adding travel improve chances. I have never written a food related travel article without being on a loss. Even if you get expenses payed (and mostly now this doesn’t happen, magazines tend to commission a travel article if you are already going there by your own means – all free trips are taken by the editors ) it is time consuming, you are often compelled to talk nicely about your host, and it is worth only if you like to see your name in print.

    Also, I have the impression that more people want to be a food writer now than ever before… blogging has changed people dreams and aspirations a lot!

    Ciao, not sure if I’ll see you in NZ, I hope to be free.

    Alessandra

    • Great to hear from a travel writer on this subject. I think his point was that by diversifying, people have more than one avenue for pitching stories. But you are right that neither avenue is a good way to make a living.

      I enjoyed your comment about restaurants.Good point.

      It would be great to see you in NZ at a free event! We don’t have those in the US.

      • hehehe, I hope to be free (myself) to come to the event, but I think that yours is a dinner (NZ$100+)…unless you have more than one event that I am not aware of…

        Ciao
        A.

        PS
        I am mostly a food writer now, as it still pays better than travel writing

  30. Great interview! As someone who also went from professional print media to personal blogging (for a while – I’m on break now), I really related to this statement of his: “When you’re not writing for an editor and writing for yourself, sometimes the writing is better. Sometimes people freeze up when they’re “writing a story.”

    I got so much joy from blogging that I never got from writing for a newspaper, and the reason is that I was able to be personal and passionate, which is generally frowned upon in newspapers (at least the personal part).

    I also completely agree that free web writing is faster and generally less researched. When I’m being paid, I put much more work into what I write.

    Nice piece!

    • Thank you, Holly. I also feel joy about blogging. I write whatever I like, and the comments are what keep me going. In print, there was only silence most of the time, unless someone found an error. Here I feel like I’m part of a big community. Before I only felt that when I could get out and meet readers at conferences and events.

      Some online sites have well-researched and thought out articles (like Slate), but yes, in general you’ve got be quick when it comes to online work. I suppose it’s not a bad thing to learn how to work faster.

  31. Saveur is my favorite food magazine as well (my fantasy job is to be on staff!), so I admire Mr. Andrews for founding it. But I can’t say that I back him up on his “new model” theory. Yes, he’s absolutely correct that the writing/publishing world has changed. It’s moving in leaps and bounds and there’s nothing we can do to stop it or turn it around and go back to the $3-per-word days. Sadly, those days are gone.

    However, the reason why pay for writers has gotten so bad is because editors are doing exactly what Colman Andrews is doing–NOT paying and covering up the practice with the veil of offering “exposure” as a perk. I understand the impulse to get away with not paying writers because I do believe that writers are indeed lining up to write for them. But that doesn’t make it right. It only perpetuates the wrong. Unfortunately, I don’t see a solution to this. The thing that stings is that this man made and makes a living as a writer and he knows–as he stated in this interview–how tough it is, and to rip that away from others is dismaying. I would think that he’d have more respect for writers and the profession.

    Yes, sometimes a new, fledgling writer can get good street cred by offering some work for free, but there’s a limit to that, and publications should set limits on that, too, and not just garner all their freelance content for free. That’s not what the “free” in freelance is supposed to stand for.

    • Roberta, people who write for free often do it in the hope of getting paid one day, a bit like those who model for free, or sing for free… a very few make it anyway, and most are terrible too. But the quality of writing in print has gone down because of cuts, in -house jobs, and employing young and/or unexperienced staff that can be paid much less that proper writers. I don’t know Saveur Magazine, I heard of it but I don’t read it (better to google it and find out Lol), but I certainly would never consider writing for a magazine where the writers are not paid and the editors or publishers are, it would be like working in a mine where the miners are slaves and the directors gets all the gold (even if it is little).

      • There are other reasons people write for free. They write for exposure and visibility. They write for free because they think it’s fun and they have never even considered whether they could be paid for it.

        Re Saveur, almost everyone who writes for the magazine is a professional writer. Many have been writing for national magazines for decades. And always for pay.

    • True. But the people who write for The Daily Meal would never get published in Saveur. They’re not professional writers.

  32. […] Q&A With Colman Andrews: He’d Never Recommend Food Writing as a Career […]

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