Metablogging: Newspapers, Food Blogs and Stock Photographs

Anyone who has visited this site over the past two years will undoubtedly walk away knowing that I am a huge advocate of the blog medium. It’s a medium that I’ve enjoyed exploring. I love the unknown of what food blogs can do and I truly believe that there’s a tremendous future ahead for those people willing to put in the time and effort.

I’ve also learned to avoid comparing food writers of the various mediums out there. Book writers, magazine writers and blog writers all work in their respective milieux, and each requires a different, yet similar, skill set. But I’ve come across a fair amount of professional food writers who are militantly dismissive of food blogs.

I’ve never complained when other food writers called food blogger’s “obsessive”. I prefer to think us passionate. I don’t care when we’re called sloppy, as I believe the immediacy of the medium can oftentimes trump bad spelling or grammar. I don’t blink an eye when we’re called amateur food writers, even though many bloggers make the monthly equivalent of one small magazine article sale, if not more. This firmly places them in the position of being “professional” food writers.

My point is that I’ve refrained from being snippy right back to those who dismiss food blogs, because in large part, I think the medium speaks for itself. It doesn’t need me to point out the failures of the food print mediums because those failures are just as redily apparent.

That said, I would like to make an exception to my standard of conduct by quoting something that Regina Schrambling of Gastropoda wrote in her Bites Section about newspapers and stock photographs:

The newest trend in food, at least in newspapers, is using stock photos with recipes. It’s more insidious than outsourcing journalism — why should the Wall Street Journal shoot a fresh creme brulee from a New Orleans chef when there are iconic images to be had for almost nothing? All cremes brulee are alike, no? All that matters in media anymore seems to be the bottom line, not credibility.

In my experience, I have yet to come across any food blog who uses stock photography to represent the recipes that the writer has created. Period. This is most assuredly a function of the medium, as the food blog writer doesn’t have to worry about budgeting for a site photographer, because the writer and photographer are often the same person, something that newspapers can rarely claim.

Consider how many people it takes to get a recipe printed in a newspaper. You have the writer, editor, people who work in the print department, people who sell the ad space on the food pages, human resources, accountants, etc. etc. All of these people are required in order for a food writer to get their article published.

How many people are required to get a post published on a food blog? After the blog is set up, all you need is one person. Granted, you may need someone to help set up your server, or create/install your software, but that cost is minimal (and also out of pocket).

Or to put it another way:

  • The amount of money required to get a food article published in a newspaper = $$$$
  • The amount of money required to get a food article published on a blog = $

It’s no wonder why newspapers are turning to stock photography.

But Regina is absolutely correct in the cost to the credibility of food section newspapers. When you see a picture on a food blog, you know that the author made the dish. The picture is the unspoken truth to that fact. Using stock photographs removes that unspoken truth. At that point, a recipe is simply a recipe, and a reader has no point of reference, no context for what the recipe entails. I’m not saying that a photograph is always needed with a recipe, but it sure helps.

Food Blogs may be many things, including obsessive, sloppy and amateur. But nearly every food blog I’ve come across has something that many food sections in newspapers lack : authenticity. The use of stock photography only compounds to this problem.

(Thanks to Slashfood for the heads up)

UPDATE: I now know of one food blog that also uses stock photographs. I won’t mention their name or URL here. I will say that it’s not one that get’s mentioned a lot.

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