Lately, it seems that food and wine journalism has taken a strange turn. Or It might be that it’s always been strange, and it’s just that I’m new to it. Or that my perception is peculiar, as I’m in this odd position of being on both sides of the industry, both producing the ink on the page and finding my name written in it.
When we first opened, food journalism worked just like most believe it does. An editor would write us. A journalist that would visit. He or she would know very little about the region, the food, the wine, the extra virgin, all of which required a massive learning curve. What that means to you as the ‘talent’ is that you’ll hear yourself quoted back as the opinion of the journalist on the page. It’s rare that this will be attributed to you, and as often as not, you’ll eventually be edited out of the final article anyway (usually it has to do with the fact that they interviewed too many of the same demographic, so you’ll be cut as a source but not as content provider). TV is famous for this, and three, 12-hour days of content might appear in 8 seconds. And sometimes 8 seconds less than that. (The case with a French documentary, and food shows for American PBS, England’s Channel 4).
And sometimes we’ve been edited out for good reason, such as the Australian article where I foolishly contributed one of our local rabbit recipe, knowing nothing then about Australia’s multiple intentional introductions of mixomitosis into their rabbit population. Or as a television sommelier on a cookery show that eventually replaced me with the producer’s girlfriend, a beautiful woman to say the least. (First rule of television: be pretty, and I’m often told I have the perfect face for radio).
Sometimes the journalists themselves have been fascinating, such when we (me and my little antique FIAT) appeared in an article for Bon Appetit. The journalist had both written and presented entire science and architecture-based television series, written best sellers and turned in a different major magazine article each month over the years, ‘just to pay the mortgage’. Last month, Borneo. Next month Normandy. And so on, for years.
And other times the journalists have been invisible, such as ’Italy’s Top Cooking Schools’ in Food & Wine magazine. We have no idea who wrote it, only that he or she passed through our school like a ghost. Was it the chubby man who needed to sit while making pasta? A grandmother? One of the young gay couple? As a teacher it’s hard to pinpoint when any interview might be happening, as everyone asks questions all day long anyway.
Usually each of these appearances- and disappearances- involved days of our unpaid time. Once the journalists left you will never have heard from them again, under any circumstance. The editors either, until it was time for the photographers to come, and then the time between notification and their actual arrival will be very, very brief (The Los Angeles Times was less than a day, and the second time we were in The New York Times, notification only came after the photographer didn’t find me home, 7 months after the journalist departed). The unspoken subtext moving from, ’not remotely interested in speaking to you’, to, ’where the hell are you? I needed you 4 hours ago!!!
When the photographers would arrive, they would be friendly and well-travelled, but have Cabala-like notes of what pictures were needed. ‘Look, I’m supposed to shoot you with fresh herbs but since it’s January, would you mind digging out a summery shirt and laying down in the soil between the rosemary bushes’, or ‘It says here, ‘donnish’ but I don’t know if they mean ‘professorially’ or ‘Mafia boss’, so let’s just shoot both, first with an ascot and then piano wire’.
Add the photographer to the list of ‘missing at sea’, as another person that won’t return your email, no matter what. Then, 8 months later, a year (with Travel & Leisure three years passed between first contact and publication) the magazine or newspaper comes out. There are always errors. Sometimes they are the writer’s but often as not they are the editor’s, changes that make the story ‘better’ but not as accurate. (the 4th time we were in The New York times, the article placed many of other schools also in the historic centre of Lecce, rather then 20 or 30 kilometres out in the countryside, not an insignificant fact, as most arrive by train).
But this, I’ve come to learn, was considered the golden era for journalism, when magazine and newspapers had budgets to pay journalists AND photographers AND fact checkers. The golden era was first replaced with email, where the journalist don’t actually visit but rather send you both questions to answer, and requests for your own photographs to contribute (sometimes credited sometimes not, but always for free). Sometimes the fact checking replaces any real interview, so that ‘interview’ email exists only to put words in your mouth (‘is it true that….’). The positive upside to this type of articles is that you could receive press AND photo credits.
The latest version of magazine and newspaper journalism though is now driven by the first-person branded voice of bloggers. Part broker, part writer, they craftily cobble together trips by soliciting all the restaurants, cooking schools, airlines and hotels to give their services for free. Some times it amounts to a product placement, ‘Aboard the new Air One 373, I signalled for a second drink as I…’ or ‘checking into the gorgeous new Hotel One, the concierge asked me…..’ Usually though, these are the massive hotels and business that have budgets large enough to cover these costs. It’s likely that you’re reading these articles all the time. Only that now the bloggers are published in print.
Quite by accident, I backed into the role of food and wine journalist in 2010. I now have been the writer, lost and late to show up as the talent writes the editor. I’ve been photographer asked to shoot whimsical scenarios, that will likely go unused. I’ve been the one to whom the editor never responds either. I’ve seen my payment go from the price of used car to a tiny fraction of that, that often as not, never actually arrives.
Real, trained journalists snicker at the fact that I still frame and hang the articles I write and shoot, that without anyway journalistic training, on my part, each amounts to something of a cesarian birth. Returning to ask the questions that I didn’t the first time. Forgetting camera equipment. Feeling too embarrassed to ask someone to wear winter clothes in July, or not knowing where to source peaches in Italy for a photoshoot in February.
But I’ve been invited into intimate worlds, of elbows on the tables and real conversations with wine producers and restauranteurs eager to hold back the curtain, the part of their businesses that they normally hide from paying customers. I’ve had cases of wine and smiley face cards arrive at my home once the magazine comes out. And I’ve made lasting friendships with those that might not have been as interested in me without my initial press credentials, however meagre in comparison.
It’s too easy to waive it all way with, Don’t believe anything you read. If anything I miss the golden era of snooty and velvet-roped editor’s offices, of turning the pages advertising watches and sedans I’ll never be able to afford to see Emiluccia- in my little FIAT- trespassing into the world of the celebrities and luxury hotels and glamourous locations. To temporarily tiptop into the world of the real VIPs.
If you’re in Italy check us out in the Italian version of Food & Travel magazine. On sale now in newsstands all up and down the peninsula.
To our calendar
To our new site
Or just ‘respond’ to say ‘ciao’.