Did the Internet Kill 'Gourmet' Magazine?

Or, 'I'm Mad as Hell and I'm Not Going to Take This Anymore!'

I've listened to all the heartfelt obits for Gourmet I can at this moment. My emotional and intellectual hard-drive is full. The final straw was Cook's Illustrated editor Chris Kimball's piece on the op-ed page of the New York Times this morning.

Kimball's not-so-subtle, sledgehammer-like thesis: The ignorant, inexperienced, and untrained internet masses masquerading as journalists killed Gourmet. How do we plead, Mr. Kimball? Not guilty. Not in the least, as a matter of fact, as Hamilton Nolan so aptly noted on Gawker.

Kimball in the Times:

The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up. They can no longer be coronated; their voices have to be deemed essential to the lives of their customers. That leaves, I think, little room for the thoughtful, considered editorial with which Gourmet delighted its readers for almost seven decades.

As Nolan points out, "The internet loves experts. And it loves thoughtful, considered editorial. If it's presented correctly."

Kimball's solution:

To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice.

As Nolan notes, democracy is not always pretty or neat: "Perez Hilton notwithstanding, there's no reason why smart things can't thrive on the internet. The democratic aspect of the internet that's so terrifying to the old guard is not one that means that every opinion is equal; it just means that every opinion can be equally heard. The good stuff can still rise to the top."

I wrote for Gourmet and the New York Times for many years before I founded Serious Eats, and I have profound respect and admiration for both publications and the talented and hard-working journalists who work (or, in the case of Gourmet, worked) there. Many of them are, in fact, my friends. I have tried to bring with me to Serious Eats the same standards and ethics and skills I learned writing for those publications, and I try to instill those same standards and skills in the many smart, talented, and responsible journalists contributing to Serious Eats.

Everything that appears on the internet is not created equal. There's lots of smart, responsible journalism being practiced on Serious Eats and other sites like it. And then there's a bunch of stuff on the internet and in the blogosphere that's not so smart and not so responsible. Kind of like print or any other kind of journalism, I guess. But just as in print journalism, as Nolan points out, the good stuff does rise to the top.

Maybe, just maybe, journalists and their bosses who work at the old guard who are justifiably terrified about the ground shifting beneath them, shouldn't be so quick to judge internet-based journalism with a single brush stroke.

So let's make a journalistic mutual proliferation pact: If you promise and acknowledge not to unilaterally judge or tar the internet with a single brush stroke of condemnation, I'll do the same. We all want to do the same thing, we're all fighting the good fight, we all want people to eat seriously delicious food and make educated decisions about what they are eating. To unilaterally impugn our motives, deride our methods and the over-all quality of our work, does everyone a disservice.

The internet didn't kill Gourmet. And Ruth Reichl and her immensely talented staff didn't, either. What did? Condé Nast's inability to develop an effective, coherent digital strategy. And, oh yes, the fact that the powers that be at Conde Nast built a house for the magazine that they could no longer make the payments on. And neither of those things are my fault.