The Times Picayune wants to “enhance its award-winning food and dining coverage” – and it’s doing that by laying off James Beard award-winning food writer Brett Anderson.
Great strategy, guys. Not like anyone in New Orleans cares about food!
Today marked a round of brutal cuts at the Times Picayune newspaper, as 200 staff members were informed that their last day of work was Sept 30 by the newspapers corporate overlords, Advance Media.
Brett Anderson, the Times Picayune’s chief food critic and a recent recipient of a Nieman Journalism fellowship at Harvard, was among those unceremoniously axed by the Pic’s new Advance Publications overlords.
Anderson suspects the fellowship – which will require him to spend a year at Harvard – was part of the decision, although it’s worth pointing out that according to the Nieman Foundation, no one has ever been laid off from their newspaper jobs before for receiving the incredibly prestigious journalism award.
But considering that Advance Publications appears to prioritize crappy, cheap journalism over high quality coverage of one of New Orleans’ most important cultural touchstones, such an unprecedented move may actually make sense.
Comments on NOLA.com and elsewhere from residents of Ann Arbor, Michigan, another city that has suffered the dubious affections of Advance, indicate the best and most experienced reporters will be laid off or see their jobs cut – while young and inexperienced reporters will be assigned to fill their shoes.
Basically, New Orleans is going to get an armada of youthful journalists just like myself to fill the roles of hardcore veterans. I know this scares me.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Advance feels any idiot can do food writing and restaurant reviews—a sentiment that led them to choose “the food guy” as a prime candidate for the boot. (Who needs him, anyway?)
Some browbeaten and underpaid 22 year old, part of the Times Picayune’s impending unexperienced army of journalists-turned-amorphously-titled-bloggers, will doubtless be assigned to occasionally go out to reasonably priced restaurants to “review them,” preferably “on a blog.”
Since blogs are totally where it’s at these days.
Of course, I am writing this on a blog. Blogs are awesome! But I think that turning all journalism into “blogging” is definitely not the answer to the dire straits the newspaper industry is in. Reporters can be good bloggers. Bloggers can be good reporters. But they are two different styles of writing that requires different approaches—and furthermore, reporters can avail the services of editors, who do an amazing job of improving and fact-checking journalism.
I’m afraid putting young reporters into a blogging mentality – instead of a reporting mentality – will lead nowhere good. And that applies to restaurant criticism especially.
We all know what generic restaurant reviews sound like, especially if the poor beleaguered reviewer has been told to write as if they are “on a blog.” The disinterested restaurant reviewer always seems to order a cheeseburger or the most painfully boring thing on the menu, instead of bothering to experiment with what may be a much more exciting menu.
Any restaurant that is not actively dishing out molded-over swill is deemed “delicious.” If they are dishing out molded-over swill, they are let off with a gentle “Needs Improvement.” Positive ratings are given to restaurants that provide such classy niceties as crayons on the table and play-places for customers spawn, thumping, irritating music, and conveniently priced “meal-deals.” Style, culinary history, and insight into the history of the dish or the cuisine? Forget about it.
This isn’t food writing. Restaurant reviews of this nature are better suited for small-town newspapers where no one gives a crap about eating anything they can’t easily obtain on deep-discount sale at Walmart. Food writing, good food writing, is an art, a science. It is something that takes a very long time to learn and to become good at. You cannot just contract it out to Cyndi or Bobby who-just-graduated-and-kinda-likes-to-grill-and-stuff.
A New Orleans food writer has the responsibility of becoming intimately familar with hundreds of years of culinary tradition.They need to read up on the great chefs of the past. They have to familarize themselves with local ingredients and foodways. They need to sample everything they possibly can, talk to everyone experienced that they can browbeat into a discussion, and most importantly, they need to feel a fierce, somewhat insane love of food and the culinary arts, specifically of the food and culinary heritage of Louisiana and New Orleans.
Only the truly, bizzarrely obsessive should be allowed anywhere near a published restaurant review in New Orleans: a city with a cuisine like this deserves nothing less. A young person can do the job, sure – but food writing has got to be one of the paramount loves of their life. I honestly don’t think I’m asking too much from a city that has so, so many people who fit this description.
And what about audience? Does Advance Publications realize that the food section is of serious import to many New Orleanians? If I read one thing in the Times Picayune or on Nola.com, if my time is short and the day is bereft of any particularly exciting murders, it will be the food section. I suspect I’m not alone among the many, many people who love both New Orleans and its food.
Simply put Advance Publication’s decision to let go of the Times Picayune’s top food critic is their special, special way of saying “screw you” to everything New Orleans stands for.
And Advance Publications really expect this special, food-obsessed community to embrace their “new and improved” version of the Times Picayune?