The food and drink business has a love hate relationship with its media. They are either moaning that newspaper sections and magazines don’t write about them. Or when they do they get it wrong.
Then there is the thorny issue of critics, the journalists that probably get the most stick for not rating restaurants (or anything subject to critique) quite as highly as the owners would like.
When I started my own food magazine Tomato (which became this blog) eight years ago in 2004 I met many restaurant owners who moaned about Epicure, the food section which appears in the Tuesday Age. They felt it didn’t support the industry.
What they didn’t get is that most jounalists (and critics) don’t feel they are part of the industry they write about. They are part of the media industry and are there to inform, entertain and keep an industry honest.
But now according to a report from Crikey Epicure, which already publishes Sydney produced recipes and stories, is about to change name and publish more Sydney content. Basically, Epicure is going to become a bit like News Ltd’s Taste section, which republishes Matt Preston, various recipes, wine critic Tony Love and a bit more nationally while local critics write reviews.
Suddenly the industry loves Epicure and is campaigning on Twitter through use of the hastag #saveepicure.
Naturally, The Age denies any changes and is at odds with the Crikey report. What’s more interesting in The Age article is that all it says is that it won’t close and they are committed to local content. But that can still mean a name change and Sydney editors controlling the paper.
Then this arrives in my inbox:
For those not up to speed, Crikey published a piece on Friday suggesting that Epicure was going to undergo a significant change. Read the article here: http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/07/27/ages-epicure-to-be-a-half-baked-steak-and-sydney-pie/
Following this, there were many of us who started to push to #saveepicure
I received an email from Andrew Holden this morning that did not answer the questions that I put to him and note that others have received the exact same letter. His vague response has not convinced me of anything.
I now have it on excellent authority that Fairfax is not telling us the truth. I also understand the following is fact:
The name will change.
There will be one Editor between Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, with a deputy ed in the states where the editor is not
There will be fundamental changes to the content of the insert.
This will happen by September
I think it is time to ask the editor for the full truth and some reasons to support the decision.
Those of us agitating know the value of Epicure to us.
Please note I have blind copied you as I dont want to put anyone in a compromising position – I dont or have not written for Fairfax so there is no danger of me being shafted by this. I am letting you know because I think it is important that Andrew Holden gives us the full facts, rather than shrouding the rumour in vague platitudes as a response. There are jobs on the line here.
We have to continue the fight here friends so that Epicure remains a locally produced magazine, by local journalists and editors, with local content for a local industry. This is the key – Local. If we are reading about seasons north and west of our border, then we are not getting the Victorian story, if we are reading about chefs in NSW or ACT, then we are not hearing enough about our own.
We dont want an Epicure that is filled with macaroon recipes and stories of chefs and pets, or chefs and kids, or chefs and their tattoos. We want valuable, locally researched information, about local interests, and with locals writing and editing the section. We want Epicure to deliver us content that is relevant to us. To borrow the words of Melanie Young, “In food terms, people want to grow some vegies at home; they want to buy food at the farmers markets; they want to know who grew the tomatoes. In wine terms they’re interested in the winemaker. Many people want a story and some meaning instead of continuous meaningless consumption from the same supermarket, over and over again. They want to connect with a human face, another person, not a system. I am one of them. For me, the most interesting, ethical food trends in the world are about returning to local sources. For me, Epicure covers this well – and in an approachable way, not to the exclusion of readers who just want a good-value feed at a local restaurant rather than sophisticated philosophical material.”
Please write again to Andrew Holden, please ask him to tell us the whole truth and please ask him to consider what is at stake.
In the seven years since I started blogging hundreds of food websites have emerged. In Australia any food magazine you can name has a site and there are a few more offering cooking advice.
What none offer though is a hyperlocal look at the food and drink any region or city. Some blogs cover news partially such as Claire at Melbourne Gastronome with her fortnightly round-ups.
I suspect there is an opening for a hyperlocal site if the industry will support it. Last year I was paid by Wine Australia to give Jamie Drummond, the founder of the Toronto-based food not for profit Good Food Revolution, a tour of Melbourne. His business model is to have 100 or so sponsors paying roughly $1,000 to fund the not for profit.
I reckon it’s a good model. Perhaps it is time to build something hyperlocal with local food and drink businesses – in addition to bloggers perhaps – contributing content in the face of what looks like less local content from The Age. If enough of the industry supported it perhaps it could be built to overturn the domination of Urbanspoon over restaurant ratings by doing clever things with Facebook Open Graph.
When I look at my clients’ web statistics I find that very little web traffic is driven to their sites from any newspaper, including The Age, The Australian and the Herald Sun. Maybe 50 to 100 visitors in a month. In contrast many of online sites are driving far more traffic with Urbanspoon driving 5 to 10 times more than any print publication.
Print is nice to have if you have the luxury. But Epicure’s offering online is weak, hidden under Entertainment on The Age website . Under Life & Style on The Age website is Cuisine, content from a New Zealand-based magazine. The reviews section is clunky too, divorced from The Good Food Guide content from what I can see.
It’s a commercial necessity that all of Fairfax’s food and drink content in print or online should sit under one umbrella and brand.
I have no idea if this will occur under the mooted changes to Epicure. But more sharing of content is inevitable. Since I posted this Fairfax has revealed that appointing a single food and drink editor “will be followed by the launch of a food and wine website to round out our offering and
reinforce our leadership in the category”.I still reckon that probably means it is very likely there will be less by locals for locals in Epicure whether it changes name or not.
It’s up to you to campaign to save it. Or build something new to serve locals
Thursday update: Crikey reports:
Fairfax Media will “remove duplication” in its popular foodie inserts and appoint a new bon vivant to edit a “refreshed” national product, a leaked internal email has revealed. But the media giant’s Sydney-based food and wine manager Lisa Hudson has refused to spell out the full details of what the consolidation plan actually entails.
A letter to staff from a Fairfax manager (full version here):
We are about to embark on the most exciting period for decades in Food & Wine at Fairfax Metro
Media. Our print sections are soon to be relaunched, continuing our long tradition of providing
Australia’s best and most trusted food journalism while introducing some fresh new ideas.
This will be followed by the launch of a food and wine website to round out our offering and
reinforce our leadership in the category.
To ensure the structure reflects our digital expansion, we have created the role of Food and Wine
Editor to oversee content across all platforms. Importantly, though, we remain firmly committed to
local content, with State-based editors and writers continuing to showcase local restaurants, cafes,
bars, producers and personalities.