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February 11, 2006



I read your blog because I ENJOY it! I try recipes at your suggestion & I pick up hints about cooking. I read about places I've been & learn about places I want to go. Mr. Wells needs to lighten up & smell the roses. Or...maybe he just hasn't ever had a REALLY good grilled cheese!!!


Mom -- thank you!

Sam -- Maybe he wanted to stir up controversy? Sometimes people do. Or maybe he really believes that most food blogs are total crap and was sick of hearing otherwise. What's interesting to me, besides what I enumerated, is that most of the "blogs" he likes aren't really blogs at all.


Those who can will blog, those who can't will criticize.

clare eats

I reread the article in the cold light of day and I think it was terrible. A badly written piece that has no clear argument. P.W. also tries to tell us where he thinks we should fit in, as people that should digest the food magazines and not as people that write recipes or review restaurants. Bah! Like he is such an expert.


THanks for this, Catherine (and for including me -- if he wants someone who sees food with a sense of purpose, I'm here). I read that piece as an act of desperation. We who are blogging about food are trading secrets, stories, and recipes, in lightning time. And what I like about that most is that we're cutting the inherent elitism of those glossy food magazines. We're making it ourselves and telling each other about it. I have learned far more technique and passion both from all of you than I have from any issue of Food and Wine. And they know that. I certainly wouldn't mind being printed in food magazines -- I'm working toward it. But I will not write a piece that singles people out in single sentence quotes and makes fun of them.

Essentially, the piece was just a guide to his favorite food blogs? Why couldn't he just leave it at that?


Okay, I have to weigh in as a full-time food writer in print who enjoys reading some blogs, this one included. I actually liked the article. As an editor, I think it is quite well-written and even witty at points. Yes, he's opinionated. So am I. That's why I went to journalism school...so someone would pay me to be opinionated ;-) I do think he makes good points – blogs are what they are. That's neither good nor bad; it’s just a matter of personal preference. I love cheese sandwiches – I even gave a best grilled cheese award in last year's "Best of Northside Food" issue – but Mr. Wells not so much. That's his POV, and that's fine. I have to agree with him on the atrociousness of posts like, "I was enchanted with the room as much as the innovative yet approachable menu. Jamie was still raving about the beef and was loving the magnificently flattering lighting. And Susie was just over the moon in love with it all. She declared, 'This is now my favorite restaurant on Planet Earth.'" I don’t have enough hours in the day to read that stuff. But I can say the exact same things about the clips I get from print writers – many are awful, some are pretty good, and a few really catch my attention – especially the passionate and witty ones, which are the rarest of all. And if I received a clip with a line like this one from the Bruni Digest: "It seems as though the question 'What is this restaurant like?' is not as important as the question 'Exactly how sick will peyote make you if you melt it in a spoon and take it nasally?'” I would take notice and hire that writer in a minute. There are thousands of food blogs and only a few stand out in a big way, and it’s no different in the print world. Only a few of the authors have really great voices and only a few approach food writing from a truly unique viewpoint. That's all he's saying. And he says nice things about the ones that do. I agree that the ones he mentioned – blogs and web sites alike – are definite standouts. I particularly like his mention that Sauté Wednesday "does a great job of bundling worthwhile food writing," but that could just be because Bruce Cole picked my David Kinch profile for his site :-) The bottom line with blogs, like with everything else, is there’s a little bit of great stuff, some falls in the middle and most is pretty bad. But I appreciate that most bloggers are doing this because they enjoy it, get personal satisfaction from it, and want to share their passion for a given topic with others, and in the end that’s all that really matters with anything in life.


Here's the thing, and maybe it didn't come across loud enough in my post: I think the article was well-written. In fact, I reread it and I'm kind of jealous; Mr. Wells is no slouch in the writing department.

My problem wasn't even with the article; though as one friend pointed out in an email to me, I sounded defensive, I was only feeling defensive subjectively. Let's assume I can separate my brain from my heart. My heart was hurt ("Who, me, the writer of a stupid navel-gazing blog?) but my head said, "Mr. Wells, I couldn't agree more. Most blogs DO suck!"

Anyway, I love this sort of debate. More comments! More! I think the debate about media on a bigger scale is a really important one for this country to be having, especially now. I try not to get too political on my blog -- mission creep and all that -- but the news we get and where it comes from is something Americans should really think about a lot more than we do. I don't say that because I don't like who's in the White House, I say it because I think most people have come to believe that news is wholly objective. The fact that the Bush & Blair administrations are criticizing the Danish comics -- yes, they were intended to be inciteful, but then political comics always are, right? -- simply means that they are also arguing against free speech. How ludicrous! Another much more important media topic for debate, but alas, not a topic for this blog...


p.s. Shauna, I do agree that it was really unnecessary for him to quote actual blogs and ridicule their authors. All is fair in love, war and media, but he could have made his point without being so obvious with his ridicule and hurting people's feelings.

p.p.s. But then the other side of my brain says, "I suppose he was doing bloggers the honor of treating us as journalists, who have to take criticism of their work on the chin." I dunno.

p.p.p.s. But I still wouldn't have done it. It felt mean.


Criticism is part of any creative field. It's part of Mr. Wells' job, as an essayist, to call attention to the good, the bad and the ugly. Are publications supposed to pander to special interest readers in the hopes of never pissing them off? How long would any news magazine survive if they placated one small segment of their readership? Not long, and they sure wouldn't be taken very seriously. As bloggers, you are putting yourselves out there in hopes that people will enjoy reading what you have to say, but you also have to accept that you may become fodder for critics like Mr. Wells. I assume everyone here thinks highly of Anthony Bourdain, yet he has a critical and sometimes mean streak a mile wide, as does Jeffrey Steingarten. No one cried for Emeril when Bourdain made him his whipping boy or for Mario when Steingarten said his Iron Chef dish was barely edible. Any time you put yourself out there, you risk being criticized. To play devil's advocate, I don't think anything Mr. Wells said about the blogs he didn't like was any more critical than anything that's been said here about his writing, which has been referred to as everything from bad to ignorant to desperate. (Personally, I think he has some pretty serious writing chops.) And in that same vein, don't you think it's a bit hypocritical to say you like the fact that as bloggers you are "cutting the inherent elitism of those glossy food magazines," in the same breath that you say you aspire to write for those very publications?


It seems to me from reading these comments -- and the ones at Food Blog S'Cool and other bloggers' posts -- that much of this is coming from a feeling of being threatened and defensiveness. From both ends. Mr. Wells really is an excellent writer, most of the time. Last night, I read a piece he had written about eating only the food that was in the refrigerator, and it's great. He has a certain snarky tone, which I like and don't like, and it's clearly part of his voice. The piece that has ruffled so many feathers was -- I believe -- not as well written. But we can't hit it every time.

Criticism is part of writing. When we put ourselves out there, as Susan says, we are opening ourselves to it. Most of us bloggers have had trolls, strange people who come in and try to play havoc on our site. Okay -- that's part of the game. But I believe that good writing is trying to connect, rather than impress. There are powerful pieces that try to connect with readers both in print and in the magazines.

Food bloggers are not journalists. That's the inherent problem in the piece. Mr. Wells assumes that we are all writing for the same reasons. From what I know of the community, most food bloggers are simply passionate about food and want to share their enthusiasms. There are out-of-focus and poorly composed photographs because that's what people can offer. Every blogger has made connections and a community through this. For most of us, that's plenty.

But I agree with Susan. I don't like the way everyone has gone on the attack toward Pete Wells. I had problems with his piece, and I'm going to keep to the piece. But to complain that he derides writers, and then deride him in response? Not so great.

As far as saying that I wouldn't mind writing for some of the food magazines and then saying that they are elitist? Of course. We're all full of paradoxes. I don't think that anyone can deny that there is a certain class hiding within those glossy magazines. Most of them are selling a lifestyle, not just recipes. Hell, most of us blogging are of a certain class as well. The food blogging community feels more capacious, more communal than most of the magazines. It works for me.

Besides, I think that there is room for a panoply of voices in print, and on the internet. Why not?


I think there is a fair amount of defensiveness going on amongst food bloggers about this article, and I don't really understand why. As someone who is in print and who is not a blogger but who can appreciate the well-written, entertaining and informative blogs and even some of the sincere "cheese sandwich" blogs, I think I read the piece with a different eye. As I mentioned to Catherine, I think a lot of people evaluated their blogs against the ones he liked and his criteria and realized that, most likely, he wouldn't care for their blogs. Their feelings got hurt, so they were unable to be objective about the article as a whole or appreciate the fact that he really was saying that blogs have their own place in the world. He didn't try to compare them to print publications nor did he compare the bloggers to professional writers. He compared them to other blogs and other bloggers. And maybe that's why many food bloggers are taking it so personally -- he compared blogs to blogs and the ones he liked weren't anything like theirs, and the ones he didn't care for hit a little too close to home. So what if Peter Wells doesn't like the average food blog? So what if he considers yours average or, God forbid, cheese sandwichy? What's more important is that he drew attention to the standouts. For the greater good of food blogging, I feel that you should see the positive here, which is the fact that he celebrated "the idiosyncratic ones that make him say Wow." Shauna, that's how I look at it when a reader writes to me and says, "I don't understand why you're not writing for the Chronicle," or a chef says, "That article should have be in Saveur." In my heart, I feel a bit hurt because they are basically saying that the newspaper I have built over the last three years and pour my heart and soul into every day is a stepping stone to bigger, better and yes, glossier, things. But instead I see the positive: they are also saying that they think the quality of the writing in Northside is that good. And that is for the greater good of the publication (especially as I plunk down an enormous loan to buy it and become its publisher) and the greater good for community monthlies throughout the city. My feelings were validated a couple of months ago when my David Kinch profile wound up on Bruce Cole's Saute Wednesday under "What I'm reading" and was in the top five links for a week -- above the SF Chronicle food section and articles in the New York Times, Saveur and Gourmet. I guess my point is that it's not where you write, it's what you write and how you write. As you said, Shauna, there is room for a "panoply of voices" in print and on the Internet. And if you are doing something people like, you will gain a readership, whether you're on your own blog, in a monthly decidedly UNglossy newspaper, or in Food & Wine magazine.


My problem, if you can call it that, with most print reportage on food blogs is that the writers, however skilled they may be, often come off as lazy (that sounds harsher than I mean it to be). The "standouts" that they draw attention to are blogs that have been around for a while and have gotten tons of press already. Sure, these blogs may have set (and some, but not all, in my opinion, continue to set) the standards for their particular food blog genre, but to use an analogy: if a restaurant critic proffered as "news" a first review of a place that had been open and *hot* for 18 months already he or she would be laughed off the page.

I've been a reader of Noodlepie from the get-go (and to prove Catherine's point about a sense of purpose, will continue to read it even though he's veering away from food), but - for example - if Mr. Wells wants to include anthropological food blogs in his black book (he does claim to be a fan), where's mention of a well-written blog that highlights little-known food traditions from the Philippines (The Pilgrim's Pots and Pans), or the deliciously photogenic cookingfire.com, that's featured Diana Kennedy-style investigations of Mexican foods, cheese-making in Ireland and now (to come), rural food traditions in China?

Sure, this rant is partially self-serving (writer of a pseudo- "anthropological" food blog? guilty!), but I'm an avid food blog reader as well as writer, and it's gotten to the point that anytime you see a headline about food blogs (just finished reading one in Australian Gourmet Traveller) you can predict the recommended standouts even before laying eyes on the text. Timely indeed - Mr. Wells, if your intention is really to inform me (latest greatest food blogs?) as well as to entertain me (he is an excellent writer, and I do like a bit of snarkiness now and then), then please point me in the direction of some wonderful food blogs that I and 100,000+ other readers DON'T already know about!


Susan's comments are absolutely spot on, "I think there is a fair amount of defensiveness going on amongst food bloggers about this article, and I don't really understand why."

Pete Well's column is pro-blog, pure and simple. I'm at a loss to understand how the food school lynch mob - http://foodblogscool.blogspot.com/2006/02/misc-congrats-to-fellow-food-bloggers.html - have so patently missed that point.

Pete is pro-blog, but he (quite rightly) highlights, but doesn't focus on, the fact that a lot of (most?) foodblogs are shit. The writing's shit, the photos are shit. Any objective read of a representative sample of foodblogs would have to agree with that. He'd be misleading the readers of F&W if he didn't state this. However, that doesn't mean shit isn't valued by someone somewhere - maybe by a cat or a senile Great aunt. But, if you are prepared to air your shit on your blog for all to see, expect critiscism. And for those bloggers who say "Oh, I only blog for myself" Bullshit. If you really believe that, close the comments box and keep the blog private, for yourself.

Pete says that blogging about - say - a cheese sandwich lunch is inherently and categorically uninteresting to virtually anyone. I agree. I would also say it's probably uninteresting to the writer too. However Pete says that good bloggers can take a cheese sandwich and run with it in a creative, humourus, even informative way i.e. a way that other folk could enjoy.

As for yr. point about picking up on other, newer, less publicised bloggers Robyn, it's a good one. But, Pete's a columnist and columnists are paid for their opinions. His column is not really a research heavy piece. I am quite confident that Pete never expected a response like the one he is getting at the Food Blog School. But, as I posted over there, "Where in Pete Well's column does it say that all blogs, bloggers and foodblogs are shit? Where? Show me." I have yet to get a response. Guess they don't like folk farting their lynching party.

And as for those who are threatening to cancel their F&W subs and claiming F&W and its ilk are running scared of foodbloggers. Hunh?? Woah there... I'm not from the US, have never picked up a copy of F&W in my life and I don't know anyone on the mag (apart from a recently formed relationship with Pete Wells). However, last year one of the editors emailed me and asked me to do a piece for the magazine. So, I hardly think F&W feels threatened if they're approaching bloggers to work for them. Like any good editors they're open to approaching new folk based on their blogs. Bravo, I say. I wonder how many of the food blog school whiners would turn down a commission from F&W?



I will indeed check out all of the blogs you just mentioned (I've seen yours from being on Catherine's blog and like it quite a bit). They all sound utterly fascinating. And I agree that it would be nice for an article on blogging to cover those new and really gritty blogs. In defense of print journalists, I have to say that often we are given an assignment that is out of out of our zone and only have so much time to research it (especially in Glossy Land) and so you have to go with the sites that your researchers hand you. Certainly, Mr. Wells has dozens of assignments on tap right now as I do, and he just doesn't have the time to cruise the blogosphere in hopes of stumbling upon the next big thing. I know if I ever do an article for Northside about blogs, I will come right here to the source and ask you all for the up and coming blogs! (That's not a bad idea actually. We have our annual "Best of Northside Food" issue coming up in September. Catherine, what do you think of doing a "Best food blogs you've never heard of" category?) Sorry, the editor in me is always thinkin'...I digress...

As I told Catherine earlier, I use the burrito site mentioned in the LA Times article all the time -- it's been around forever. But I use it for exactly what it is -- a compilation -- so when I am researching for Northside or for Gayot.com I can check out every burrito place in town in preparation for an article or a review (I'll be using that site when we do our "Top Mexican" issue in May). But for emotional impact, I'd rather read Catherine's account of Mr. FM's appetite returning (and mood improving) when he sees that ham and cheese sandwich. That's what life's about, and that's what -- at least for me -- food blogs are about.


Pieman, you hit it on the head. I have two bloggers writing for me as we speak, and Catherine is one of them. The other is a woman names Jeannine Sano who emailed me to tell me that, while she is a lawyer by day, she is a foodie by night. She said she liked my writing and sent me the link to her blog. I discovered, from reading it, that she was a wine phenom (this is a woman who, at the behest of the sommelier at Alain Ducasse, guessed both the wine and the vintage he was presenting). I would be a foolish editor not to grab raw talent like that, and I have begun working with her as a food and wine pairing writer. She is taking the sommelier class this fall. I also have Fred McMillin, considered one of the US's top wine journalists and who has been writing about wine for 40 years, as my primary wine columnist. I just like to work with good writers -- old-school journalists, bloggers, fresh out of journ school, it doesn't matter. There are so few really good writers out there, I will take them where I can get them (if you saw the clips I get on a daily basis...most are absolutely awful).

And that brings me back to Mr. Wells. He was basically saying that with blogging, like with everything else in life, there are a few great things, mostly mediocre things and some really REALLY horrible things.

It reminds me of Ann Bauer, a novelist who wrote a piece for Salon about not enjoying her brief tenure as a food critic at a newspaper, something she fell into because she was a good writer (http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2006/01/02/foodporn/index_np.html). The letters spewing venom were AMAZING. How DARE she not appreciate their dream job? So much attitude, so much jealousy. So I posted that I would hire her any day, and defended her right to not like being a food critic (because as a fulltime food critic I can tell you that it's not always as fun as it looks). Next thing I know, Ann writes to me to thank me and we start emailing back and forth. She sent me her novel, "A Wild Ride up the Cupboards," and we made plans to dine together when she is here on her book tour in July. I told her that she could write for me any day. I have no need to be snarky or jealous of her writing - I know I'm a good writer. But I want to be an even better editor, and that means recognizing talent, wherever it may be.


I shared this with Catherine earlier today, but here is a great example of a guy who can make the mundane utterly fascinating and, more importantly, laugh out loud funny. Jon Carroll's piece on why cats are like serial killers, which is one of my alltime favorite essays:



Loads of thoughtful comments. I couldn't begin to respond to everything but here is a bit of further thinking/reactions.

I've spent most of the day mulling over my reaction and subsequent reactions. I agree that a lot of us went on the defensive. I reread my post after Susan pointed out I too sounded defensive and realized she was right. I didn't really mean to be. I just typed fast and hit publish. I was trying to agree with Mr. Wells and have a bit of fun in the process. But I digress.

If bloggers want other people to read our stuff, we have to take the praise and the criticism. Mostly, the blogosphere and its supportive community insulate us from that, and so when someone says, "Eh, I didn't like that one so much." we all gasp in surprise and shock.

One point Shauna made with which I agree is that I don't think Wells should treat bloggers like journalists (and I'm not sure he does). We're not -- most of us, anyway, and even those of us who are are not journalists on our blogs. We're bloggers. They're two different media with different purposes and different rules. When I write for my blog, sure, I try to write something that I'm proud of. But when I write for the Northside or any other publication I'm lucky enough to write for, I damn well do tons more research, double-check my facts (and check the intimate details of my life at the door) and reign in my word count. I'm glad that Mr. Wells is evaluating blogs v. blogs and not v. print media -- I was the one who brought that tangential comparison into the mix, and I wish now I hadn't muddied the waters.

Like Robyn, I too wish some of these articles would point out blogs that are really new or unheard of. Susan sent me a piece from the LA Times and much of the blogs (maybe 30%?) were recycled from the Wells article (or vice versa -- I'm not accusing anyone of copying anyone else specifically, just making the point that the same blogs get highlighted again and again).

Pieman & Susan both addressed a similar point with different questions, namely why would people boycott F&W for highlighting a few good blogs, and why F&W would pander to a portion of their audience by refusing to run this piece. Though I didn't voice it in my post, I too am baffled by this part of the blogosphere's response. I said earlier that maybe F&W were trying to stir controversy, but actually I doubt that at all. I doubt they (or Mr. Wells) thought this would be very controversial at all. And I'm definitely not going to stop subscribing to them or anyone else. I want to know what's happening in the world of food. I read all the food mags; some I love (Saveur, Gourmet) others have great recipes or the occasional feature, column etc. that I really like. About the only reason I'd cancel a subscription to a magazine is if they started advocating eating small children. You can't agree with all the people all the time, and a bit of disagreement makes the world go 'round. And you never know when you'll discover a great new writer.

Susan, as for your idea for the Best of issue, it's a great one! I love it!


I read your post, Catherine, when it was first published but am so glad I came back today, to read the revision, yes, but especially to hear the tone/nature of the comments, the best so far that I've seen. I've been thinking about this, a lot, since it all came to light on Fri/Sat, and have talked about it with several people, not writers, not bloggers, just people. And while I could hit PUBLISH on my own post, I am still, indeed, thinking and absorbing. Thanks for creating a place for thoughtful and spirited discussion. Alanna


Alanna, I'm glad you came by. Again. It's great that there is such a spirited debate and yes, I agree, the comments on this post tended to be very well-thought out, intellectually stimulating and for the most part cool-headed. Looking forward to what you post, whenever that is...



I don't think you sounded too defensive. Even after reading all of these comments I still feel Mr. Wells was generalizing and made some really poor judgements. As mentioned by many others, most of us are not writers and should not be compared to professional publications. Also, I didn't think his recommended blog list was the best example of great food blogs.

While I respect that others thought his article was well-written, I did not. That's actually my main complaint with the article.

Anyway, I would go on about this but it's 4am and time for bed! No use in commenting more about this with a sleepy brain.

Thanks to everyone for posting calmly about this subject. While I didn't change my mind I enjoyed reading what you all had to say.



Mr. Wells didn't compare bloggers to professional writers or blogs to professional print publications. He compared them to other blogs and other bloggers. And I think that may be where some of the sensitivity and hurt feelings came from. I think a lot of bloggers looked at the blogs he liked and realized theirs didn't fit into that category, then looked at the ones he didn't like and found it hit a little too close to home. As far as his list, as a print writer I have to say that I do agree with some of his choices. Saute Wednesday, for example, is the best place to get a drilled down look at the outstanding food writing out there, and most every professional food writer and editor I know visits that site. And Gastropoda and the Bruni Digest have the very things that, as an editor, I look for in print writers -- a unique voice, wit and edge. Peter Wells, in fact, has all three of these attributes and I have always enjoyed his writing. For bloggers who are doing this because they enjoy it and enjoy being part of a community, having all those things is not important. But for bloggers who want to set themselves apart and be recognized along with sites like these, it is. So in that sense it isn't different from print publications -- voice, wit and edge will make a certain print writer stand out to me from the many clips I receive, and the same things will make a blog stand out amongst the thousands upon thousands in the blogosphere.


I don't have any problems with Mr. Wells' article, per se. He shined good light on some very good bloggers, and food blog press is always a good thing. Only problem I had was that to do that, he felt he had to mention specifically what he felt were "bad food blogs," to illimunate those he liked. I love Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. I should be able to say that simply and state why, without giving you a list of all the candies I hate, you know?


I don't think Mr. Wells did anything any journalist hasn't done when comparing and contrasting. When I review a restaurant, I call out dishes I like and often compare them to dishes I don't so that readers are clear on my reasoning. To not mention the lines from blogs he didn't like and only mention the lines from blogs he did like would be to not compare and contrast the formulas, which is a basic rule of essayist journalism. The piece would have become, instead, a fluff piece, and that was not his intent. Mr. Wells' mission statement was essentially that there are a few great blogs out there and a lot of mediocre or weak ones. Readers want to know what he believes is weak content, and I think the lines from the blogs he highlighted define that pretty clearly. Had he simply referred to "cheese sandwich blogs" and not given examples, readers would have been left wondering what that meant. It's no different than a movie review that highlights the great scenes and lines as well as the not so great ones, or compares two movies of the same genre, one strong and one weak, thus explaining to the reader the difference in the critic's eyes.

Dave Barnhart

Mr. Wells' tone reminded me of the way I imagine the railroad tycoons talked about the automobile and airplane eighty years ago.

Wells has barely scratched the surface of the blogosphere. If he dug deeper, he would find virtual communities teaming with intelligent life. Something profound is going on here. The linking between blogs, the camaraderie between bloggers, and the conversations across multiple blogs form the metaphorical protozoa of a whole new kind of network or communications medium. Blogs and the Internet are to traditional mass media as the telephone is to television. Blogs are the people's network.

In Wells' world of Mass Media, the communication is one-way. The tycoons decide what we shall read, hear, and see. We mere mortals have no voice except for the Letters to the Editor page. Well, screw that. On the Internet we come together around content that interests us, and if we can't find an outlet for content that interests us we'll create our own outlet.

Wells scoffs at bloggers talking about cheese sandwiches, but the blogosphere is a microcosm of the rest of the world. If bloggers are talking about cheese sandwiches then clearly people are interested in cheese sandwiches. If Wells thinks that cheese sandwiches are not worthy of discussion in his exhalted publication, then it's his loss.

The iron horses of today are Mass Marketing and Mass Media, and blogs and e-Zines are the equivalent of the automobile and airplane. Only this time the tycoons don't have sixty years.

Marty Fitz


I visited that link to the SF Gate article by Jon Carroll you so highly recommended. This is one of those perfect examples of subjectivity which we are all discussing here. I thought that Jon Carroll piece was, at best, bird cage liner, but you clearly felt it was the cat's meow...almost literally. Maybe you have to be a cat lover or owner or "understander" to enjoy that piece, but, boy, that was just a bunch of esoteric drivel to me. One of your "alltime favorite essays"??? To each her own, I guess. That's what I'm getting out of all of this brouhaha anyway. So...

...to Pete his own.


Susan, I think the problem people have with his examples is that he took them out of context. Sure, in a restaurant review you compare the food you like to dishes you don't like - but do you compare the gestalt of a dish you like to the limp garnish on an otherwise acceptable dish? Probably not. Even good blogs have lines that are lousy - I can think of one where the writer seems to gush and "moan" over every dish she makes, similar to the restaurant reviewer that Wells spiked, yet this particular blogger is popular (in part because she conveys her unique passion, which makes his point I suppose). We could probably find lousy sentences in Deep End Dining or Noodlepie, but that doesn't mean the whole blog is tripe. That's what made people so mad.

Eddie Lin


Actually Deep End Dining is a lot of tripe and intestines and, occasionally, disembodied tentacles.

Okay, going away now.


All -- thank you for adding more intelligent comment to the debate. I've been watching this comment segment grow and reading it with much interest.

Dave -- I love your metaphors! (analogies? I am utter crap with all the literary terms.) And I take your point about the one-way street of print media v. the networks of the blogs, as well as the idea that people at the water cooler talk about all sorts of useless drivel. Thank you for contributing those, so far, unique thoughts.

Marty -- I think where I'm netting out with all this is a similar place -- to each their own. That isn't the same as saying "everyone is a great writer and we LOVE you!!!" which the blogosphere has (rightly) been accused of, but hey -- if you blog it, and they come, then you're doing something right. Enough right? We must each decide that for ourselves.

Tricia -- also another good nuance to add to the discussion. If we all agree that comparison is essential to a good debate of good v. bad [fill-in-the-blank] I do think you make a worthwhile point about the integrity of context. Great writers seldom write (or at least keep) sentences that truly suck, in or out of context, but if you work hard enough you can make nearly anything sound limp.

Eddie -- har, har. Everyone needs a good laugh about this, so thank you for bringing it to the table.



I started online. I got a journalism degree, and my first "real" job was as the lifestyle editor for LookSmart.com's innovative product LookSmart Live!, where we answered readers' questions live on the Internet ("Dear LookSmart Live!, Should I refrigerate port?"). I remember sitting in a conference room with the six other topic editors feeling like we were true pioneers: The Internet was new, hip, now -- print was not. Print saw us as a threat -- who wanted to get ink on their fingers anymore? We would put them out of business -- no one would be reading magazines or newspapers in a year or so because the Internet was going to take over the world. My friend was a writer for the Industry Standard, and she was certain that the Wall Street Journal was obsolete. Then our stock dropped from $70 to $30. I got out. Others weren't so lucky. They got laid off. I watched a number of the editors who sat in that room with me go to work for print publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and The Chronicle. Some went into TV broadcast news. A few went to other Internet media companies, most of which are no longer around. The Industry Standard is still around, but so is the Wall Street Journal. LookSmart is still around, but so is Food & Wine and Home & Garden and Saveur. The Internet may well be the telephone to print's television as you say, but neither is going anywhere and neither makes the other less viable or necessary. I like getting information on the Internet, but I also like to curl up with a print publication and feel the pages between my fingers. And I find the writing in most print publications to be superior for a very simple reason -- the writers were hired, over thousands of others, to be there. That's what I love and don't love about the Internet -- anyone can get online and write about anything they want to write about, which is wonderful, but most of it's not that interesting or particularly well written.

I don't think Mr. Wells cares whether or not cheese sandwich bloggers deserve ink in his exalted publication -- in fact, he gave them more ink than he's ever given other print writers. I believe his point is that just because some bloggers are talking about cheese sandwiches doesn't mean anyone but them and their friends and family cares. And that's okay. No one would find my personal journal very interesting either, I'm sure. But I don't do it for others, so I don't care what they might think. However, if I chose to put it online and people started reading it and saying, "God, is she talking about her damn cat again?" I would expect those people not to keep reading about my cat's latest escapades in the garden next door, leaving an audience composed of me, my friends, my family, my cat, and that camembert on rye I made for lunch.


I do indeed have a cat, named Steven, and Jon Carroll's words hit home in a big way. But just as you have the right to refer to Jon Carroll's writing as birdcage liner, Mr. Wells has that same right to refer to "cheese sandwich blogs" as boring. You're not interested in cats, he's not interested in cheese sandwiches. And that is the point of this whole discussion, is it not? Read what you like, and don't read what you don't like. It's irrelevent whether it's in print or online.


As a journalist, I defend Mr. Wells' right to criticize any piece of writing, as long as it didn't come from someone's private journal hidden under their bed, and to pull lines out of context to prove his point. Most things in this world are out of context. I can tell you that in nearly ten years of reading clips as an editor, good writing is good writing, and I rarely have to read the entire piece to reach that conclusion. I usually know after the first paragraph, and often after the first sentence, whether or not I want to hire the writer.

Regarding how I review restaurants, I often compare the dish of one chef to another, and often those chefs are not evenly matched -- one has more natural gifts than the other, or a bigger shinier kitchen. But they're both putting themselves out there, which levels the playing field and makes them fair game for diners and professional critics alike. And I get letters from readers critiquing my critique -- some agree, some don't -- which is also fine, because as long as they're reading, it's a good thing. But regardless of what I think or my readers think, if a chef has talent, people will eat his food and he will stay in business. And it's no different with writers.

Now I must get my inky fingers back to deadline for two newspapers set to go to the printer next week.

Catherine -- I'll be looking for your column over the weekend :-)


A couple of points that I haven't noticed in these discussions is that most traditional media companies just do not *get* the internet.

Trying to find reviews of a particular restaurant or type of restaurant on most food magazine or newspaper websites is frustrating to impossible. Some newspapers only keep archives for a couple of weeks. Some sites even charge you money to read their old article! What the ...?! A lot of sites have a separate restaurant finder that just provides address information or a one-sentence blurb. Why not link to that nice, long review from a couple months ago? To illustrate my point, try going to F&W's site and finding reviews of restaurants in San Francisco.

As for the criticism of food blog quality, I have to say that food blogs offer many advantages over traditional media. Magazines and newspapers don't seem to realize that they aren't so constrained by space on the internet. Complaining about mediocre photographs and prose seems hypocritical when your own publication's site offers just a blurb and a 1x1" barely discernable picture (if that). Many restaurant review blogs include a virtual play-by-play of the meal. Even if the prose isn't polished or the lighting on the picture isn't artistic, it's still an extremely useful document for visitors. Recipe bloggers often include step-by-step photos of a recipe, which can be a hundred times more useful than text instruction.

Food magazines are so pre-occupied with being pretty that their objectivity is almost strained. A lot of food bloggers would have no problem of taking a picture of a mediocre dish and show us a true picture of the dining experience. I don't know that I've ever seen a picture of a lousy dish in a newspaper or magazine review.

Another point that others have touched on is the community aspect of blogging. I think that's great, but as mostly an lurker on food blogs, the more important thing about commenting to me is the instant feedback. Many times you'll see blog comments that offer different opinions about a restaurant. Magazines and newspapers seem to want to be the final arbiters of taste. As we all know, restaurants change and their consistency varies, it's great to have different points of view over time.

The thing I find most infuriating is that newspapers and magazines have so many more resources than bloggers, but they won't come up with something better. I'm not sure if it's greed or stupidity, but my guess is that it's a combination of both. They pull in tens of millions of dollars in revenue, but they can't post a few high-resolution photos? They won't spare a few bytes and include their full review? They won't come up with an interface that lets you actually find their reviews? They won't use their authoritative site to provide a central place for discussion? And don't even get me started on the spamminess of their sites. Some sites are even blurring the line between review and advertisement by providing hosting for restaurant sites (see my hometown's SignOnSandiego.com).

To be fair, there are some traditional media sites that are doing things right, or starting to, but my experience is that the great majority are not even close. To my eyes, they have a lot to learn from the "amateurs" with a free Blogger/Typepad account and digital camera. If they don't, they deserve to die off like the dinosaurs they are.


Howie -- you know, I think that might be something that hasn't been touched on: comparing blogs to the web sites of established print publications a la NYT, F&W etc. You make some thought-provoking points; thank you for adding your two cents to the discussion.


Oops, I meant to give kudos to the local SF Chronicle site, which does have an easy-to-use restaurant finder with links to the full review.



Again, I'm not sure what's with the "us against them" attitude. When has a newspaper or magazine restaurant critic ever said they want to be the "final arbiters of taste"? I know I sure haven't. As far as food magazines and newspapers pulling down "tens of millions of dollars in revenue," I'd like to know which ones so I can give up my two newspapers and go work for them! And your comment, "they deserve to die off like the dinosaurs they are," is the very extreme kind of statement that makes print publications roll their eyes at bloggers just as they did at the dotcoms. As I mentioned above, I got my start online and I made sweeping generalizations like that in the dotcom heyday along with all my dotcom friends. We frequently scoffed that we would "put print out of business" and referred to newspapers and magazines as "dinosaurs." Now a number of us are working for those dinosaurs, and probably even more are still unemployed. One of my two newspapers, the Marina Times, is a free neighborhood monthly, and it has been around nearly 20 years. People love their morning newspaper, and I don't see that changing. The great thing about the Internet is that the "staff" is HUGE. As you said, you can read about a myriad of restaurants all over the Bay Area and there's great diversity and discovery. A friend told me that he read recently it would take a person nine years of their life to eat at every restaurant in SF. I do it for a living and can only get to between 15 and 20 restaurants per month. And the other thing I love about online is THIS. The dialogue; the feeling there's someone else on the other end. I loved that at LookSmart, too (where we were ahead of our time with live message boards and reader interactivity) and I agree that print doesn't provide that. But don't count print publications out -- at the Association of Food Journalists conference last September, we had a number of seminars about better online presence and many publications are starting their own blogs to interact with readers (in the Bay Area, the San Jose Mercury News is already doing this very well).


I'm not really sure why you would compare a print publication's Web site to a blog. Like Howie said, the big print publications have staffs just to do the Web sites and professional photographers. I certainly don't want my (currently outdated) Web site for Northside compared to Food & Wine's site, even though I DO have a professional photographer... at least not until I hire that new web designer and we do the relaunch in the fall ;-)


Susan -- I guess I just mean to point out that what has been compared to date is print media v. blogs, but nowhere has there been much discussion about print media's online sites v. blogs. Though it's still not an apples to apples comparison it is, well, maybe apples to crabapples (okay, so this analogy limps but you get my drift). I think that seems worthy of consideration because it changes the scope of the debate -- where can they compete? Where can they not? Where, if anywhere, should they compete?


As far as the Peter Wells piece, he wasn't comparing blogs to print. He was comparing blogs to blogs. A print publication's Web site is still that print publication -- same writers, same content. So all you'd be doing is comparing electronic media to electronic media. I don't think it's lost on print publications that the advantage to the Internet is speed, two-way communication, and worldwide exposure. But the New York Times is doing okay with their Web site, as are most major publications. Still, no one has mentioned the biggest issue about the Internet -- how to make money. Unless you offer goods (eBay) or service (Google) it's still not financially viable. And while the New York Times admits they're doing well with their online presence, they also admit they're not making any money -- the print version supports the online version. For most print publications, the Web site is a service to readers and an electronic archive. The money is made in the hard copy. If the New York Times can't figure out how to make money, I don't see bloggers figuring it out any time soon either. And let's face it, money is power. So until someone figures out how to make millions just from writing on the Internet, ink will continue to rule the world.


Susan -- PW didn't compare blogs to sites but I guess I'm willing to let the conversation drift from the original post if it's still engaging. I agree with a lot of what you say -- that the advantages of the web are not lost on print media, that the bottom line is well, the bottom line for print-related sites -- but it isn't for blogs. Is that an advantage? Maybe; I'm not sure. I think that, when money cannot be made directly from a site/blog/etc. then the sole advantage (outside of personal expression) is branding. Marketers would call "community" by another name: audience. Now there's no point in companies running blog ads; they do, but I doubt that the click-through rate is much higher than it is on any other kind of web site.

I think marketers (including people marketing themselves) have decided that blogs are useful brand builders, but they're still trying to figure out what to do with them. Already you see companies with blogs as part of their web presence, published authors penning blogs to accompany new books, and even one of the best-known and arguably most influential restaurant critics in the country is writing his very own Diner's Journal. I don't think any of these ventures will make anyone any money directly, but might they produce a larger audience, maybe in a different demographic, or increase brand loyalty? Yes. And most everyone seems to believe that loyalty has some value, even if they're not sure exactly how much or how to exploit it.

The only thing I can think of is that it's yet another avenue of communication, but this time on a more intimate scale with the added benefit of interaction. And then for those who want to write a book, be it about food or politics or fashion or what have you, you can build your audience so that when it comes time to pitch your big book idea to a publisher, you've got some bragging rights. And with that, I am waaaay off topic so I'll stop.


I see the Internet as being similar to the Indie music scene. When I was in the music business I had friends with bands who couldn't get the time of day from big record companies. So they put out their own CD and got a following. The buzz was so big (and the sales so strong) that the major labels came calling and signed them up. Granted, those bands are few and far between, but the labels couldn't ignore them. If a blogger wanted to write a book or write for print, I could see where a very high quality, popular site could help push those few strong candidates into the realm of "professional."

I agree with everything you said about marketing and why blogs (and Web sites) are important: "Produce a larger audience, a different demographic, increase brand loyalty." I think most companies see blogs and Web sites as an enhancement and a vehicle to gain those things. But I don't think they see a way of making big bucks off of it. I can tell you that even on LookSmart the clickthrough rate was pennies and any of you who do the Google AdSense know that it's pocket change. On the other hand, a full-page color ad in a glossy can bring thousands for one placement. And most advertisers are loyal and sign contracts for more than one month, giving the publication months of guaranteed ad dollars (flip through the front of Vogue and add up those full pagers from the big design houses, cosmetic brands and department stores).

I believe that the Internet is a powerful tool that shouldn't (and can't) be ignored -- I grew up in the Valley of the Olive Garden, remember, so I watched companies like Yahoo, Google and eBay sprout up in my own backyard. But I think we're years and years away from figuring out how people can make a living off of it if they're not offering goods or services.


"Again, I'm not sure what's with the "us against them" attitude. When has a newspaper or magazine restaurant critic ever said they want to be the "final arbiters of taste"? I know I sure haven't. And your comment, "they deserve to die off like the dinosaurs they are," is the very extreme kind of statement that makes print publications roll their eyes at bloggers just as they did at the dotcoms."

It's not really an us against them attitude since I don't consider myself a food blogger (I'm mostly a food blog lurker). I'm sorry if I came off as sort of angry. It's because I've been doing research recently that has prompted me to visit a *lot* of newspaper and food magazine sites, and it's left me kind of bitter. The large majority of them have severe usability problems -- some bad enough that they make the site nearly worthless. SF sites tend to be better so maybe you haven't noticed, but you'll see my point by trying to browse for restaurant reviews on sfbg.com. I'm serious, if they can't improve (and there's no technical or financial reason why they can't), I hope they fail; I don't necessarily think they will, but those sites surely deserve it. They're just an embarrassment.

It just seems so hypocritical to criticize food blogging on a large scale, when it seems to provide a lot that newspaper/magazine sites do not. They might have more polished prose or prettier pictures (not all of them do), but if getting to the content is so frustrating, or it's been truncated for who knows what reason, I don't want to have anything to do with it. Give us accessibility, more content/pictures, a forum for public feedback. If an amateur can do this on their own in their spare time, what's stopping a well-funded commercial publication site?

As for how traditional publications can make money online, it's going to be a challenge for them. I think they're losing print readership to the internet, and they can't figure out how to make up the advertising revenue from their website. I don't have a magic solution, but I will say that making a nice online environment for users is one step. Another is something that food blogs are already doing -- creating a community. People get addicted to sites when they get involved. There are many ways to improve and most don't require a lot of time or money.

Sorry if I got this discussion off-topic a bit. It's been a fascinating read.



Sites like SFBG are indeed hard to navigate, but their print readership is enormous. I can also tell you that a paper like SFBG does not have a limitless budget. If you were complaining about Epicurious or 7x7 or SF Magazine, I would agree with you. Their budgets, while not enormous, are much larger due to the "glossy factor" -- full page clients like Mercedes and Saks Fifth Ave. help the bottom line a bit. I would also agree if you were talking about dailies like the New York Times or even the Chronicle. But with smaller papers -- weeklies and monthlies -- the staffs are much smaller than you might think. I am in the process of buying Northside and am currently interviewing graphic designers who can not only redesign the print version but also the Web site (any designers out there?). But the previous publisher is an older gentleman and didn't see the value of a Web site. Coming from an online background, I do, but with my current budget I just can't put the time or money (or, correction, HIS money) into the Web site. One big difference for bloggers and print is that it costs very little to have a blog, and it costs a lot to print a publication every week or every month (more than some people make in a year).

I don't believe that print publications are losing the majority of their readers to blogs. A lot of them are losing readers to their OWN sites. Why buy the cow when you can get it online for free? I haven't bought the Chronicle in so long I can't remember and I haven't had a subscription for years. Another reason for the downturn is the loss of classified advertising to sites like Craig's List - newspapers made huge revenue off of a captive market, and now that market has dried up. Statistically speaking, the papers that are actually doing better than ever are free weeklies and monthlies with community-based focus, because they never depended on subscriptions or classifieds, and because readers say they want drilled-down local news and stories that dailies and nationals don't provide. I can tell you that our two papers are growing in leaps and bounds - readership is up and so is ad revenue.

As for community, I agree that is the greatest part of blogging, but I also see a lot of infighting and pissing contests that you don't see with print. For example, I can't imagine going into a public forum and debating Michael Bauer or Josh Sens about who wrote a better piece on Manresa. But I see this kind of thing on blogs all the time (check out the Food Blog Scool Peter Wells debacle or the KQED thread on the blogger panel at the Ferry Building). I also think that people trust print publications a bit more about their content, and with good reason - as journalists, we can't get away with trashing a restaurant we've never been to or pronouncing a restaurant is "not authentic" because the chef comes from another country of origin. Even if we did something like that, copy editors and fact checkers would call us on it, and it would never make it into print. We are also held to certain standards ethically and legally - no one is editing or monitoring blogs for accuracy and, thus far, no one knows what to do with them legally (though I don't think that day is far off).

I enjoy blogs - I think they provide entertainment and options and community, and that's all good. But I also think that print publications are well aware of the importance of online presence and most will continue to grow and expand that area of their business. Like I said, many newspapers already have blogs on their sites, many written by the print staff themselves. It is a challenge for them, no doubt, but it was a challenge for them just getting online. When I was a LookSmart, many newspapers didn't even HAVE Web sites. Now they all do.


Susan, earlier you said: "As a journalist, I defend Mr. Wells' right to criticize any piece of writing, as long as it didn't come from someone's private journal hidden under their bed, and to pull lines out of context to prove his point. Most things in this world are out of context."

But more recently you said: "I also think that people trust print publications a bit more about their content, and with good reason - as journalists, we can't get away with trashing a restaurant we've never been to or pronouncing a restaurant is "not authentic" because the chef comes from another country of origin. Even if we did something like that, copy editors and fact checkers would call us on it, and it would never make it into print."

Interesting. In response to your first comment, I thought: I guess that's a difference between journalism and academic publications. If I quoted something out of context to make my point, I would expect peer reviewers or editors to call me to task on that – and if it somehow slipped by, you better believe it would be caught further down the line (e.g. someone else citing the article as sloppy work or weak theoretically or what have you).

So in light of the second, how come the first (pulling lines out of context) is acceptable? Where are the fact checkers in that situation?



Mr. Wells was not critiquing a blog as you would a restaurant, where the critic takes one restaurant and goes through the entire experience - menu, ambiance, service, wine. His piece was an essay on what he liked and didn't like about food blogs as a whole, and for that, it makes sense to call lines out to make his point and to illustrate just what it is he means by a "cheese sandwich blog." Context really has nothing to do with the end result: he thought the writing was cheesy. In this case, why would fact checking be involved? It is a fact that these lines exist on a blog and it is a fact that he found them "cheesy." If, on the other hand, he said, "ALL food blogs are like this," or commented on a blog he'd heard about but never visited, a copy editor should step in and question him on that. "Did you really go to ALL food blogs to reach that conclusion?" "Should you be commenting on that blog if you haven't visited it?"

Similarly, there is no fact checking involved when Newsweek pulls quotes out of context from a speech by President Bush. The story itself should be fact-checked, but if the line exists in the speech, then how would "fact checking" be employed, other than to prove it exists? Writers pull lines and quotes out of things all the time to make a point, and context isn't always an issue. I believe context isn't an issue in Mr. Wells' essay.

I was referring to professional food critics (who happen to be journalists) when I said that "we can't get away with trashing a restaurant we've never been to or pronouncing a restaurant is 'not authentic' because the chef comes from another country of origin." This actually came up in Michael Bauer's Sunday review in the SF Chronicle, in fact, when he mentioned that bloggers were trashing Dosa who had never been to the restaurant and commenting on its lack of authenticity because the chef was not from southern India. As he rightfully pointed out, is Thomas Keller from France? These are the kind of "bloopers" that would (or at least SHOULD) be caught in copy editing before a review went to print that are rampant on blogs because of the very nature of blogging - natural, spontaneous, personal and unedited. These things are part of what makes blogs so unique and so interesting. I respect a blogger's right to say whatever they want and to pull any line they want out of context from another blog or Peter Wells' article (as many did during the fray over his piece on food blogs). However, if they want to be taken seriously as food writers (not all do, but I think, judging from the letters I get, that a fair number do), then they should refrain from trashing restaurants they haven't visited or from making blanket statements like "the food isn't authentic because the chef isn't from southern India."

I agree with you that journalism is different from academic writing, but fact checking and copy editing is still essential as it provides that second set of eyes to catch things (or at least question things) we might not see because we are too close to the story.


Thanks for the clarification, Susan. I now better understand the distinction you are trying to make. I guess I mostly had a knee-jerk reaction to "defend his right to ... pull lines our of context to prove his point" because I certainly don't have a right to use things out of context. I forget that "essays" are different.

I'm intrigued by the discussion about the utility of a magazine or newspaper’s online site. They should be thinking in terms of ‘value added’ beyond archive and searching. What can they provide online that they can’t provide in print? That’s where they should focus their energies. Seems like there should be enough turn-key systems to reproduce the publication online, but how can they go beyond? For example, a few years ago the Cooking Light site had a personal "recipe box" kind of feature – that’s going beyond print and taking advantage of the functionality of the medium. And yes, it was only available to subscribers, but that’s fine (in my opinion). If I found a magazine's site that was providing novel content and powerful functionality, I’d subscribe to have access. The NPR site is another good example of adding value. Many stories end with "for pictures of X, go to our web site”. On occasion they provide additional audio that got cut during editing, thoughts from the reporter, links to related stories, other stores by the reporter, etc.



Interesting article that arrived in the newspaper industry newsletter I subscribe to (dang, that sounds dorky). It's about the very thing you are talking about, and indeed, publications are starting to get creative. At the Guardian (UK), they are having their music correspondent blog from a live show, for example. I am interviewing web designers to overhaul our sadly neglected site (right now, I'M the Web Mistress, and you don't know how scary that is with my extremely limited knowledge of HTML and even more limited time), and I told one candidate that I'd like to be able to offer video on the site so that, for example, people could SEE my "10 Questions with Chef..." segment and actually hear the words right from the mouths of Bradley Ogden or Gary Danko or Sara Moulton.

I think once publications do start figuring out how to make their Web sites more interactive, you will see it happening in a big way. Some, like the New York Times, are already doing it. I watched a reporter interview a kid who had starred on his own kiddie porn Web site and, while that's interesting in print, it was mesmerizing hearing it from the kid himself.

Here's the link to the article I mentioned above. It's entitled, "It would be folly for a newspaper to ignore the rise of the blog":

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