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.
Sam 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?
Back 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.