Aug 162009
 

Two leaders in print food writing have acknowledged the power of online restaurant reviews. They’re not about to say they value the opinions, but it’s a start.

imagesSam Sifton, the new restaurant critic for the New York Times, says the net can add value where newspapers cannot. Answering questions about his new post on Diner’s Journal, he said,  “The biggest change in restaurant criticism since my days at NYPress is — hands down — the Internet. I don’t know that I trust the opinion of that guy who loved the sandwiches at Xie Xie and wrote about it on his blog, or Yelp, or Eater, or Midtown Lunch. (Why prevaricate? I don’t trust his opinion.) But boy oh boy do I like the photographs he’s posted, the menu he’s scanned, the information he’s provided for all to share. For myself, I look forward to joining that discussion.”

(By the way, he failed to provide links to Yelp, Eater or Midtown Lunch.)

The announcement about the nation’s most powerful restaurant reviewer prompted some to ask if that title is still relevant, now that anyone can write a restaurant review online, whether a rabid  citizen reviewer or a well-known blogger.

I’m biased enough to think the answer is yes, with a background as a print journalist. I can’t think of a single online reviewer with his influence, when it comes to the fancy restaurants. Can you?

images-1Back in 2006, Gourmet Editor Ruth Reichl said that restaurant reviews in her magazine no longer make sense, because online reviews appear immediately. National magazines often work six months in advance, so scooping the net would be a “ridiculous” proposition. Now the magazine focuses on trend stories, adding depth and insights that online posts do not, and posts reviews only on its website.

She made these comments about print versus online food writing during a New York radio show about “Amateur Gastronomes,” otherwise known as food bloggers. Bloggers Josh Friedland of TheFoodSection.com (who just did what used to be unforgivable: posted a mugshot of Sifton August 10), Jennifer Leuzzi of snack.blogs.com, and Regina Schrambling of gastropoda.com were also on the show. It’s worth a listen.

Jul 122009
 

imagesI might be in trouble. A friend warned me not to rant on this blog, and I agreed. Now I feel a rant coming on and I can’t stop myself. But just humor me. Wouldn’t this irritate you, if you were a food blogger?

According to the Los Angeles Times, the people who post restaurant reviews on Yelp and Chowhound are food bloggers. So they say in today’s story, about a nasty, unfounded, anonymous tip that appeared on the blog Eater LA, and how “food bloggers” must be held accountable.

The blog on which the offensive item appeared, LA Eater, covers the city’s restaurant, bar, and nightlife scene and relies on tips. There’s even a button on the right that says “Submit a tip.” So back on June 30, some tipster talked smack about the quality of food in a particular restaurant. The editor who reviewed the email should have pressed the Delete key. At the very least, she could have contacted the restaurant for a rebuttal. Instead, she just posted the tip. That’s not blogging, and it’s certainly not journalism. It’s just crap. An apology to the restaurant and readers now appears below the post.

Now, according to the Times, food bloggers need to smarten up. “…As the truism goes,” says the story, ” with great power comes great responsibility. If the Internet has helped democratize discussion and critique, requiring traditional print publications to be more transparent and responsive, then bloggers who comment on or work in opposition to the mainstream media have become its de facto watchmen. What, if any, standards should food bloggers be held to?”

Um, hello? Who are they talking about? First, most food bloggers don’t “work in opposition to the mainstream media.” They provide an alternative. Second, most food bloggers couldn’t care less about commenting on the mainstream media. And third, since when is an anonymous tipster a food blogger?

So food bloggers, I want to hear from you. Are you in the same category as citizen reviewers on websites like Yelp and Chowhound? If not, what is the difference?