My friend Michael Bauer, the San Francisco Chronicle executive food and wine editor and restaurant critic, laments the job losses occurring on a regular basis at newspaper food sections around the country.
For Bauer, this issue really hits home for two reasons: his own newspaper—which once had the single largest staff of any newspaper food section in the country—is under intense financial pressure, and many of his friends and colleagues find themselves out of work.
It is indeed a terribly difficult time to be working at newspapers, particularly at the food section. Why?
- Newspaper ad revenues in general, both display and classified, are on a precipitous, perhaps irreversible decline.
- Food sections are often not taken all that seriously at the top of the newspaper editorial food chain, so if staff cuts are necessary, food section staffers are often the first to go.
- Freelance food writers, ever anxious for a respectable by-line and steady work, are plentiful and ready, willing, and able to work for low wages.
- People interested in food can get information about various aspects of the food culture, including recipes, from multiple websites and blogs, in much more timely fashion than once-weekly newspaper food sections can provide.
Let's face it. Blogs and websites have forever changed the way food news, information, and entertainment is disseminated, and I'm afraid there is no way to put the genie back in the bottle. We are, as Ruth Reichl once told me, in the middle of an industrial revolution. Where it all shakes out no one knows, but we can be fairly certain newspaper food sections as currently configured have to change and adapt to the new food world order.