The trust thing
All writers want to be read and all seek the reward of trust and consequently the foundation of a loyal readership. That precarious writer-reader relationship is personal and one which I think is dependant on both the skill of the writer and his untold mojo to draw an audience.
This trust thing is tricky. Take my own trusted reads for example. I’ve never been to New York and know next to nothing about it, but I regularly follow the midtown lunch updates and over time, I’ve established a level of trust in the blogger – to the point where if I go to NY, he would be my first point of resource.
Contrast that to London, where I don’t tend to be a loyal follower of any one source. While I have a bias toward the timeout chaps, I’d feel safer taking a second opinion from an american in london and even urbanspoon before finally taking the plunge.
It must be psychological I’m sure – but this trust thing, its difficult business.
If you can’t beat em, may as well join em
More and more publishers are now embracing web 2.0 rather than loathe it. In addition to his rather gloomy reviews, Jay Rayner regularly flexes his muscular opinions in the guardian word of mouth blog. Hah! The empire strikes back, foodies.
Still I can’t help but feel that Jay is writing as ‘Jay Rayner, restaurant critic’ on word of mouth, instead of just writing as Jay Rayner, a food lover and human being.
With the line between the pro and amateur increasing blurred, one cannot help but wonder what this means for the future of media. In the fast moving world of the modern eater, does he care for the flowery fluff when all he wants is an affordable and juicy steak?
A review is a diary entry
At the end of the day, all food writers professional or otherwise are exactly that: they write about their encounters with food. I’d like to think of a review as a journal entry and another one chalked up with each restaurant visit. If a reviewer (applied to both critic and blogger) were to bind all their essays in a book and compile them chronologically, you could easily pull out the personal diary bits from the eating.
Which makes all reviews subjective since it is a perception of an experience. Unsurprising really, hence the spread of opinion on the same restaurant (if we disregard the kitchen consistency argument) ; which leads me to introduce the third protagonist: community.
Have your say
Like most things, word of mouth (the real thing not the blog) is one of the strongest way a restaurant builds its street cred. The internet hasn’t just given an unsecured outlet for living room writers to have their voices heard, it’s also a place for communities to form. Because we tend to take reviews with a pinch of salt, a good way of gauging quality is to get the popular vote. Sites such as london-eating, trustedplaces and tripadvisor empower the public voice by letting users give an account of their experiences, lending to it a balanced view of how good a restaurant really is.
Then there’s this argument (misconception?) that you only go online when you feel compelled to rant – so maybe that view is not representative afterall.
Urbanspoon goes one step further by summarising not just the critic and blogger views, but also gives the user the opportunity to vote on the restaurant (victim) , leaving with it a score based on the number of likes and dislikes.
Metrotwin on the other hand, puts a spin on social media by purposefully empowering bloggers giving them free reign to create all the site’s content. Yet the user is kept well in the interaction loop as the website uses a bunch of background metrics to track popularity.
Change has already come
What started as an argument for the case of the critic against the blogger is really masquerading as a discussion for the way we receive and interpret media today. We are no longer slaves to the traditional media outlets nor do we rely on just the word on the street. Instead, media saturation allows us to choose what we want to read, when we want it and who from. Media has simply evolved to this conglomeration of the powerhouse, the arthouse and the you and me.
In my view – the critic and blogger are both of equal importance, a yin to the yang, you can’t have Charmaine the timeout reviewer without Charmaine the tasty treats! food blogger. Whether Jay Rayner likes it or not, the foodsnob blog is here to stay and I am as likely to hear his views as I am Jay’s.
But that’s just my opinion, what’s your view ? Which side of the fence do you fall on – the food critic, the food blogger or neither?
Read part one here.