Friday, December 12, 2008

What Does It Mean to Be a Blogger?

Looking back through my backlog of entries written by my fellow bloggers, I found Kevin's review on his second trip to Bazaar. Except, this entry was not as much a review as it was an examination of what it means to be a blogger. From his interview with Chef José Andrés and the subsequent comment by Rameniac, I took away something issues I'd like to address on my own.


The title of this entry is phrased as a question precisely because I am not sure what responsibilities a blogger has. The evolution of communication has created this sub-class of journalists open to anyone with an opinion and a clever (or not so clever, as in my case) blog name. I remember before the term "blog" was even coined; my friends and I traded URLs to our then "online journals." It's something we seem to take for granted these days, the empowerment we gain from such easy access to publication. I started many blogs in my lifetime, but always as journal for myself. As such, I sometimes forget that this blog isn't a diary; it's written for an audience.

So now that my readership has expanded beyond just myself and one or two loyal friends, I encounter the issues of responsible blogging. This is the area highlighted by Chef Andrés to Kevin, I found most thought-provoking. I do believe that bloggers should be held to a higher standard in their field of self-prescribed expertise. By broadcasting your opinion, you have assumed authority in your subject matter. There are even places like Article Writing Services that will provide you with alternative viewpoints on whatever your subject matter is. Of course there are many people who write with no authority, but at what point can you continue to write ignorantly, especially when you have gathered a sizable readership? Of course Kevin has grabbed this horn by the bulls; his research and thoughtfulness is easily apparent. Personally, I enjoy food research, so I try to be informed about what I write. I try to make my blog more than a collection of places I ate and what I found delicious. Food writing shouldn't simply be a documentation of food. A major benefit of blogging versus Yelping is the personalization of the eating experience. Exceptional food writing inspires me to eat or to find joy in eating, not just tell me how salty the fish is at so-and-so restaurant.

Another issue brought up in Rameniac's comment was the need to "blog with a conscience." The consequences of our writing actually has a real impact on restaurants. Something I may have lost sight of, in an effort to become more critical, is that restaurants are businesses. Reviews are an important metric related to financial success. Therefore, I will strive to be more considerate of the things I write. Although, nasty food will still warrant nasty comments.

As I mentioned before, actually having readers certainly shifts the focus of the blog. Now that I'm writing for others instead of just myself, I feel like I have a duty to present honest criticism of restaurants. It is the balance between the conscientious blogging concept and the duty to readers that will be increasingly difficult to uphold. Ultimately, I believe we should write honestly, but make that writing as accurate and informed as possible. And if that's not hard enough, make it fun and delicious to read as well.



ila said...

well written, aaron! since i've started my blog, i've had my share of bad restaurants... but i choose NOT to write about them in elaborate blog post.
one, as a recipe developer myself, i know that most of these 'gross' recipes was someone's beloved creation. two, i'm easily influenced by service: bad service will instantaneously sour my meal, forever to taint my memory, however well executed the food was. three, in human anatomy class i learned that everybody's body is different - that includes tongue palates - due to nature and nuture. that was years ago, but i still use that excuse to not want to enjoy durian ever.
so, my take is that if you're not going to take all of these factors in and write, then don't - which is why my posts are recipe heavy, i guess. i seem to only post places i really enjoyed as of late (i think my last bleh post was in august?).
anywho, thanks for your insight!

kevinEats said...

Nice post Aaron. You've succinctly captured some key concerns that you, me, and many other bloggers need to consider. I'm definitely thinking more about these issues as I write now, and hopefully that'll result in a better blog.

H. C. said...

I definitely try to blog with a conscience as you and rameniac put it, I tend to give restaurants the benefit of the doubt when I had a bad experience ~ though a twice-over will definitely result in some sort of negative commentary by me.

As for a blogger's responsibility, I think people should hold themselves to whatever standards they want to and that will eventually reflect in their entries. Personally I aim to be transparent, if meals are comped I'll definitely disclosed that at the beginning of the entry, as are my backlogged posts since menus and prices may have changed since.

I don't necessarily expect other bloggers to that same standard, but those the ones I adhere to. And it's pretty easy for me to spot blog / yelp / chowhound entries that are on varying degrees shadiness, and I'll do my part to avoid them or even call them out.

Frequent Traveler said...

Very good post. As a relatively newbie blogger, your thoughts here will help shape my reviews. Thanks :)

Aaron said...

Ila: I appreciate your perspective as a recipe blogger. It does make the comments seem much more personal from that perspective.

Kevin: I look forward to your future entries.

HC: I've always appreciated the care you put into separating out the comped events. You're right though, each blogger write according to his or her standards, as he or she will ultimately be the final judge.

Annie: Thanks for the feedback. I'll check out your blog sometime. Good luck with it!

Foodie Traveler said...

Aaron, I was also intrigued by Kevin's post and then by your insightful comments. Many salient points of discussion in your post, but to just hit on one: As a blogger, I feel I have an ethical responsibility to give my honest opinion, but at the same time if I have personally met the chef or owner of the restaurant I find I am more apt to soften my words. I would like to think I am always fair, but if there a personal connection, I find myself more likely to cut breaks. Recently, one chef (established restaurant) both emailed and VM'd me asking how dinner was. Well, the place was mostly good but missed a few marks, and my review said so. I thought I was fair. I emailed it to him and never heard from him again. I really feel bad about that, but I would also have felt bad if I said it was all hearts and flowers.

Anyway, it is nice to hear about others having the same struggle and how everyone deals with it.

Frequent Traveler said...

Aaron : in response to the comment that you left on my blog - yes, Judi from Doodlebug did it all.
I found the pictures that I liked and gave her the general idea, but she executed it magnificently...
And thank you for the compliment on it :) !

FoodDigger said...

Nice post, Aaron. Reading the comments, I agree with Andrea(Foodie Traveler) that it is the responsibility of any blogger to be honest in his/her opinions. I also agree that circumstances do affect our opinions. For me, I've thought of the lessons Chef Andres instilled in us that evening at The Bazaar. One of his main points was to be educated in as many aspects of the topic as possible. For instance...he spoke of a taco recipe he serves at one of his restaurants. He travelled throughout Mexico to educate himself on the different preparations of tacos. He wanted to see and taste as much as he could before he created his own. His point? Know and understand what you're talking about before you judge. You may still dislike something you ate, but seeing things from different perspectives will allow for a more educated opinion. Whether bloggers should be held to a higher standard is up for debate, but being informed and open minded can only help! Hope to see you soon.


Aaron said...

Andrea: Thanks for the anecdote. This is certainly a universal issue.

Will: I appreciate you elaborating more on the talk with Chef Andres. It was his talk that kicked off this post to begin with.

Food, she thought. said...

Thank you for your thoughtful commentary.

I both blog and yelp. I eat many meals and experience many services that are not blog worthy. As a yelper, I recently was contacted by someone lambasting me for a negative review of a new restaurant, that after several visits (it's in my hood, and I have a friend who works the bar) still has very bad food, coupled with a great atmosphere.

Do we NOT commentate upon anything below par? We definitely should do it without ire and childishness, giving credit where credit is due. However, a poorly run and managed restaurant and/or kitchen deserves due commentary after having spent my money there. Maybe word of mouth is enough, coupled with a lack of repeat business.

I remain contemplative on this issue...