Food critics vs bloggers: storm in a teacup?
It's a little hard to imagine restaurant critics challenging food/restaurant bloggers to a throwdown. But in the world of food reviewing, there is a degree of suspicion by traditional critics for bloggers (and vice versa).
It all started innocently enough with "Londonelicious," a food blog by an American ex-pat named Krista.
In early July, Krista's post about the restaurant Morgan M. had several asides about taking freebies, whether it's ever OK to do so, whether full disclosure is a sufficient disclaimer, and in general, the role of bloggers in the world of reviewing things.
If you look through the Londonelicious archives, Krista says up front how much a meal cost, or if someone else paid, or if it was a freebie. There was a decent exchange of comments that presented different views on the subject without getting nasty about it.
On July 3, TimeOut London published their own thoughts on the matter in the form of a blog post. After pointing out that food bloggers "may not be trained journalists or even writers," and that "readers, I imagine would feel rightfully betrayed" by finding out their favourite food blogger was invited to review meal comped, the debate began in earnest.
The TimeOut London comment thread was a little angrier. Many people commented that most bloggers are motivated by love for what they blog about, traditional media is dying, and professional food journalists are clearly threatened by bloggers' increasing influence.
This prompted Time Out London to repost the July 3 piece on July 8, including bits in italics that had been edited out of the original which they said should clarify the original post, mostly by taking some of the edge off the snarkiness. So what we, the readers are left with is that there are multiple sides to this story:
1. Accepting freebies biases reviews. "Real" food critics don't do this, according to Time Out London.
2. Bloggers aren't throwing down the gauntlet. Most just want to write about food and most say up front that they're writing about a freebie when they are.
3. Online readers generally believe they are smart enough to be able to tell when a food blogger's opinion is skewed and account for it when forming an opinion.
But at the end of all the shouting, everyone seems to be wondering if there is a certain line that is crossed when bloggers write about free things they've been given. Some say yes. Some say no, as long as they disclose the fact up front. Some say people look at blogs and traditional media differently and are intelligent enough to know how seriously to take any review regardless of media.
Fact is, reviewing is opinion-based regardless of media, and people who regularly follow reviews will gravitate toward the reviewers or bloggers whose style and content appeal to them. Perhaps food and restaurant blogs should not be compared to traditional media restaurant reviews in the first place? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.