I’ve always looked forward to opening The Calgary Herald on Wednesday morning. I knew there would be food content that was editorial and journalistic. Whether it was her Cooking the Books review column or the scoop on a new development in Calgary’s burgeoning food scene, Gwendolyn Richards wrote with savvy and gave a voice to stories that would make a difference in our community.
I met The Edmonton Journal’s (until yesterday) food editor, Liane Faulder a few years ago when she was teaching a food writing course at The Okanagan Food and Wine Writer’s Workshop. I watched her in the field as she interviewed a pioneer in the seed saving movement, synthesized the data and crafted a story which she then filed for print the next day. If you scan the headlines of that paper’s food blog it’s easy to see her dedication to covering the stories of Edmonton’s food scene and to imagine the impact of those stories.
Both these journalists had the ability to judge the impact of stories that would be important for their community. They made a difference for fledgling restaurant businesses, chefs, farmers, food artisans, cookbook authors and cross-cultural food community events.
I wonder how news about local food projects will be shared now? We’ve lost two trusted critical thinkers. You can be doing great work as a food business but unless there’s an objective editorial voice to share that with your community it can make or break your project’s success.
Today, when I read the paper I found a long-standing recipe advert-orial column sponsored by the local gas utility and a collection of food photos from Twitter and Instagram. The photos and their one sentence tag lines don’t seem to contribute meaningful impact for the broader community given their propensity to glittering generalities and myopic focus.
I know this content helps newspapers pay their bills but, sometimes it seems newspapers are turning into a print version of Pinterest. The publishers “pin” stories from news feeds and patch together a scrapbook for publication each day. I’m not sure this is a great strategy as consumers can find that content themselves – very easily and in much more beautiful formats.
If content is king, then it is no wonder our local papers are turning into paupers.
Local papers have always been about local content. If that is missing, the local paper will be less and less compelling as a part of local culture (culture as in DAILY LIFE and HABITS). The last bastions of local content in local papers seem to be backgrounder columnists for politics, business, finance and human interest breaking stories. But, let’s face it, breaking news is old news if you wait to receive it in paper format each morning and so is the re-hashing of it.
I value original story journalism and observe with solemnity the bleeding edge of print media and its declining subscriptions. But, instead of holding onto their strength – the provision of depth and variety in local original content for local interest – newspapers that let go of local content experts take the leading edge that they had and add to that bleeding edge that’s slowly (or not so slowly) killing them.
We just lost two golden keys that opened the gateways to understanding our food scene as a piece of our local culture. To use an analogy from the food world, restaurants that take favourite features off the menu frequently fail in entirety shortly thereafter. I’ll see what the Calgary Herald’s Friday Swerve Calgary and Saturday food section continue to bring, but in all honesty, reading today’s paper felt like “the day the music died” for me. I’ll be looking elsewhere in my efforts to savour it all.