It's an old trope that the only people who care about media news are members of the media themselves. And while we are a "blog," we do indeed consider ourselves part of this illustrious and infamous industry. So please indulge our navel-gazing here in this installment of The Year That Was. In the interest of getting this particular retrospective over with in one shot, I'm going to lump many different media fields together.
Newspapers and Magazines
It was not a good year for newspapers in general, with several dailies reducing frequency and coverage, going web-only, and even filing for bankruptcy. It's no suprise then that newspaper food sections were also downsized accordingly (and Serious Eats readers were a mixed bag on whether this affected them or not).
Either because of or in spite of the downsizing at papers and magazines, we saw many veteran food writers migrate wholly or partially to the web.
- Mark Bittman started blogging on the New York Times website in addition to his typical Wednesday column
- Amanda Hesser left the Old Gray Lady to start a web venture called Seawinkle but has lately been a principal in Plodt.com, a third-party Twitter service (you may know it from its tracking of Top Chef shenanigans)
- Alan Richman resigned from Bloomberg News and now reviews restaurants for Men.Style.com
- Gael Greene, the grand dame of New York City food critics, was ousted in late November from New York magazine but can now be found online at Insatiable Critic
The New York Times food section online did away with the antiquated practice of posting all its food news to the website late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning and is now publishing stories online—often days before the traditional Wednesday print version appears.
But not all publications are in dire straits, we're told. Non-mainstream food mags (above) are getting more attention via the web than they might have a decade ago, while men's magazines are supposedly getting serious about food. And at least a couple new magazines launched this year: Food Network Magazine and Jamie Magazine. And a trend piece tried to convince us that the crap economy is actually good for food magazines, as people are cooking at home more now.
Television and Video
The year was not as bad for food TV shows. There were almost too many shows to watch, what with old standbys like Top Chef, Next Food Network Star, and Hell's Kitchen, which will be joined by Top Chef Junior and Top Chef Masters.
Speaking of Iron Chef, Robert Sietsema called it bogus while our own Ed Levine, a sometime judge on the show, defended it. Several months later, Nightline did an oh-so-hard-hitting exposé that told us all nothing we didn't already know about the show.
In other food TV-ish news, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia bought out Emeril Lagasse's brand for a cool $50 million ($45 million of which was in cash—smart move, Emeril). And to top it off, MSLO and Emeril snagged a ten-book publishing deal with HarperCollins. Martha's empire also debuted Whatever, Martha!, a show whose improbable-sounding premise is that it was inspired by Mystery Science Theater 3000—with Martha's daughter and her radio co-host making fun of old Martha Stewart Living shows.
If all that sounds old hat, maybe that's why the most exciting and fun food show of the year was web-based. Sure, it debuted in late 2007, but Thu Tran's Food Party (above) really blew up and blew us away in 2008. Think twee hipsters meet Muppets inside the kitchen of Pee Wee's Playhouse, and you've basically got the idea. It's super cute and totally works
Japan got a Michelin Guide and OpenTable started accepting user-generated reviews, in what could be seen as a ploy to compete with Yelp, which garnered some negative press when business owners started crying foul about it once again.
Websites and Blogs
Maybe some of those blogs will be contenders for the James Beard Awards new food blog category.
Big book-publishing shake-ups this year, too, but Michael Ruhlman had reason to believe—at least in April—that a new way of publishing cookbooks could help save the industry.
Rachael Ray reportedly got a deal for a memoir. But there's been no word since July about it.
Yay! New food words in the dictionary! (This pleases my word nerd side very much.)
As if navel-gazing about the media in general weren't odious enough, here are some thoughts about food critic anonymity. Yeah, I know. Nice to see Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman poke fun at the whole industry with their Second Annual Golden Clog Awards.
Marketing and Lame Marketing Stunts
The year was rife with lame stunts and viral-marketing attempts that too many people bought into. Yes, even Serious Eats. Most of these stunts seemed to be perpetrated by Burger King (the lost wallet, the Whopper Virgins, the body spray, among many others).
But what really got our goat was the stupid Ruby Tuesday restaurant demolition. They punked us all by making it sound like they were really going to blow up one of their own restaurants, symbolically shedding their old image. But instead they "accidentally" blew up a fake restaurant next door. What could have been a really cool and genuine piece of marketing instead became a big lame FAIL, taking us all along for a ride.
The other big marketing gimmick of the year was that stupid cellphone popcorn video, which mysteriously appeared and had people talking, was then debunked, and then revealed to be a come-on for some brand of Bluetooth headsets. And, yes, we fell for it, too, even going as far as showing you how it was done.
Sigh. Now that wasn't too painful was it? It was? Sorry. I'll have a fun Year That Was coming up next.