Sunday, June 19, 2011
AA Gill Pans ‘Food Blaggers’
I posted a link to a great article today, which sparked a bit of banter on Twitter, so I thought I’d write something about it. The piece was about the food writing scene in Australia, and the attitude of PR people towards food bloggers compared with traditional (ie. paid) food writers, and included an interesting quote from the always closely-guarded AA Gill.
Although firstly declaring a non-interest by saying he never reads food blogs (he doesn’t have the time), he then went on to put the knife in, by saying food bloggers (or food blaggers as one writer on Twitter called them) are sponsoring their hobby by getting freebies from PRs.
He panned the lack of critical commentary in their writing, and suggested they were giving suppliers and restaurants an easy ride to maximise their goodies.
This roused a flurry of sleepy Sunday morning activity from food bloggers, who accused him of living in the dark ages, and pointed out that he’d obviously NEVER do such a thing himself (nice sunglasses Adrian).
Food blogger @rocketandsquash summed up the mood, by saying: “It’s true for some, but it’s also a lazy generalisation, undermined by his point that he doesn’t read any (food blogs).”
The interesting thing was most agreed with Gill to some extent. They knew all about the food blogs out there, giving them a bad name. The ones drooling over wonderful suppliers, fabulous pop-ups, and smashing restaurants in the hope of furthering their gluttony/writing ambitions.
Hell, they might even get paid without the calories one day...
And it seems the PR firms and their terrible, shameless minions just can’t get enough of it. In fact, it’s frightening how much marketing cash there is still out there in these belt-tightening times. This blog has been offered goodies and press trips in the past, but nothing compared to some.
Simon Majumdar, who writes one half of the excellent Dos Hermanos blog, said despite posting less recently due to work commitments, DH still gets around three dozen invitations a week – which they always decline.
But we’ve all read, or at least passed a cursory glance over, the sort of food blogs that are far less discretionary. It would be unfair to name names, but you know the sort – they get a free pack of organic vegetables delivered to the door, then a crate of meat from some famous, hideously-overpriced butcher in London, or seafood from a wonderful little fisherman in the West Country, invite a few friends around for a meal Jamie-style, and then endlessly Twitter and blog about the suppliers.
Some on Twitter pointed out that many blogs do at least suggest it is more advertorial than editorial by inserting phrases like “courtesy of...” at the bottom. This may address the issue in a very small way (like throwing a pebble across the Channel on D-Day) by at least acknowledging the plug, but when did you ever read a food blog – or any kind of ‘proper’ food writing for that matter - that slammed a supplier’s meat as gristly, nebulous chunks of putrid offal then put ‘courtesy of’ with a link back to O’Craig’s Organic Ostriches at the bottom?
Part of the reason, must be nerve and experience. One of the first things you learn in journalism is you make few friends, but plenty of contacts. It’s not until you’ve got home to find your furniture's been rearranged, that you realise you’re doing your job properly if people get upset. Although this is no comfort when you’ve put the phone down to the first death threat of the day, and every creak on the stairway is a balaclava-clad thug with an electric drill. Being worried about an angry call from an irate oyster farmer 300 miles away in Devon is pathetic.
When I worked on my first daily newspaper, we got £40 for writing a restaurant review. Nothing for ourselves, mind. The £40 just paid for you and someone else to buy a meal, and write about it for free. I was in Brighton – a nest of PR vipers with hundreds of media-hungry restaurants on their books – so it would have been easy to reverse it so that I kept the £40, and had the delicious, unctuous meal for free.
But we didn’t. And the main reason was that it was just about the only chance we had to really write what we thought, no doubt in a tedious, self-congratulatory way. Of course, there was one major advertiser – a local, highly successful Italian restaurant – that was completely off limits, but we had great fun scrawling our scathing, highly-invective, but genuinely-held views. And it just wouldn’t have happened if we’d pocketed the £40 ourselves.
PS. If you’re reading this and work for a PR firm, please don’t be put off by the above. Just leave the goodies in the usual spot, and I’ll send you a link to the plug. Corfu’s awfully nice at this time of the year...
Best, Lennie xxxx