Food Writers Guild talk on Blogging

On Tuesday night I was invited by my friend Lou to a talk entitled ‘Blogging: A beginner’s guide’ at the monthly Guild of Food Writers. A Guild! How very Medieval. The intro blurb in the mail said:

“We can’t afford to ignore bloggers. Blogging is an important and influential aspect of food writing, with more and more new writers being comissioned [sic] on the strength of a good blog … It’s imperative that YOU know all about the medium, or you’ll risk appearing outdated and unprofessional … Miss this workshop at your peril!”

Blimey, strong stuff indeed. Moreover, the talk was set to take place inside Sainsbury’s head office, in their development kitchen. Well that might prove interesting? (and it did but more on that later..)

The members of the GFW who attended last night’s talk were, as Tina Turner put it, ‘women of a certain age’. The talk was given by Silverbrow, a food blogger who isn’t ‘in’ the industry and has a day job in finance, and he rattled the ladies through the basics of blogging. Indeed, what qualifies as ‘industry’ is a hardy perennial in the blogging vs main stream media world. It’s worth noting that the Guild of Food Writers admission criteria state that membership is only open to people from ‘tradional’ media backgrounds. It seems you must have a TV show or a book deal, what’s more you have to be ‘seconded’!

So having explained the basics and dropped a few anecdotes for the Golden Girls we shifted to a Q&A. There were a few technical questions, then a up goes a hand at the back. ‘I don’t get it… why would we give our work away free?’ followed by murmurs of approval. Ahh this old chestnut. I was reminded of the Polar bear image woman I met at BAPLA – ‘Everybody came to me!’ And the changes that are affecting the photography industry are the same for journalists and writers too . The other main theme was along the lines of ‘But how do you make any money?’ – To which came the reply, ‘erm, you don’t really, I do it because I love it’. Stunned silence.

Besides me, there were two other people in the room who had a website or blog. One ‘fessed up to being the Northern part of the Marina O’Loughlin hive mind. (Yes it’s more than one person.)

It was interesting to watch people being exposed to this new technology for the first time, a mixture of intrigue, denial and bafflement; it would also be easy to mock. But you can’t exactly call ‘all aboard’ for the digital revolution and then not help people up the gangplank right?

At the end there was a feeling of ‘phew well that was all very interesting’ and then the host ended with “Well thank you Silverbrow for that. Next week… matching food with Beaujolais.” A subject the ladies seemed much more at home with. Then the food and drink came out, and tell you what, nice spread, though I don’t think I’ll be invited to join the Guild anytime soon.

Now, about Sainsbury’s head office…

16 Responses to “Food Writers Guild talk on Blogging”

  1. 1 Sonja Coryat July 13, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Hi: I started a blog on food and the environment last month here in the U.S. and thought you might be interested. I used to be a nationally syndicated columnist on this subject so I have loads of information to impart that I gathered over the years.

  2. 2 Silverbrow July 15, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Pleased you enjoyed it. It was very good to meet you.

    I don’t quite get the MO’L reference, do tell more?

    I understand that there was some slight hostility to my position. Afterall, I’m little more than a dilettante and for most of the people in the room it is their living. Nonetheless, I was made to feel very welcome and the bottle of champage went down very nicely last night.

  3. 3 John Whiting July 25, 2007 at 9:42 am

    As one of the GFW Golden Girls (I was the one in drag, with a beard), I feel a certain sympathy with those who are forced to earn a living from food writing (though I am no longer among them). It’s easy for bloggers to feel superior–such easy relaxation is made possible by the regular paychecks that come from other sources.

    But if volunteers were to come into their offices and analyze their activities, pointing out what compromises with truth and integrity they were being forced to make in order to keep the shekels rolling in, their love of amateurism would melt away like the froth on a cold cappuccino.

  4. 4 LSF July 25, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    Nobody is forced to earn a living from food writing.

  5. 5 John Whiting July 25, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    Most people are forced to earn a living from something. Food writing is a valid option. Once you have made that decision, as with any other line of work, you no longer have the freedom of the amateur.

  6. 6 Yestermoro July 26, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    I caught a piece on R4 this week (Front Row, most likely) whereby writers were discussing ‘writing’, and the subject of blogging was touched upon. Their take on it (of the same cloth as the GFW members I met that evening) was that young / aspiring writers could be waylayed by the siren’s call of the giddy immediacy that web ‘publishing’ offers; the general thesis of all of the writers featured on the programme was that, if you are trying to be a screenwriter, novelist, what-have-you, and had an hour every evening set aside to write a blog, you would be far better served writing your manuscript or polishing that second draft of your novel, than throwing time and inspiration into the ether of the blog-o-sphere.

    To be fair to Silverbrow, he (mostly self-depricatingly) acknowledged his amateur status throughout and never demanded that all food writers should blog, rather pointed out that he enjoyed his ‘hobby’ and that the hobby was being used by some professional food writers to further the spread of their careers (or at least be seen to have that precious web presence).

    I’m a food writer and if I were to turn my hand to blogging (currently I have neither the time nor the inclination), then likelihood is it wouldn’t be about food. But then perhaps I have the luxury of writing for the web for a living already.

    Certainly, I’d warn off the current trend for professional panic-blogging. As with most matters: if it’s false it will fail.

  7. 7 John Whiting July 26, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    “As with most matters: if it’s false it will fail.” If only. The most successful people I’ve known have been those who faked it so assiduously that they even came to believe in themselves, at least for the duration of their careers. Then, having exhausted the possibilities of sham, they retired to make a nest egg from writing the autobiography that told it like it *really* was.

  8. 8 eyedropper July 27, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Hi John. I think the greatest strength of blogging is what we’re doing here. Having the debate ‘underneath’ the catalyst for that debate, as well as linking to Silverbrow and back, and forming connections and opinions.

    To focus soley on the quality of the writing is to miss some of these points. Good blogs, and there are many, are like digital dim-sum, bad blogs, and there are many more, are like digital doo doo.

    It’s not just in the tiny world of food writing that these changes are taking place, it’s every medium (images, words, video) across every subject.

    This is worth a read

  9. 9 John Whiting July 27, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    My reservations about blogs relate to their suitability as a medium for displaying one’s off-line talents–for selling one’s self, in other words. Serious writers that I know maintain web sites rather than blogs (although they may also have the latter). But as a means of conveying information rapidly, blogs are invaluable. Some of the best political writing is in blogs maintained by serious academics, political scientists and activists. But for organizing forces on behalf of campaigns, the bloggers go back to the web site format. (All this is quite aside from the blog-as-ego-trip, which is the black hole that most of them fall into.)

  10. 10 LSF July 28, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    As I said, John, nobody is forced to earn a living from food writing. If you’re unhappy with what you have to do to get paid, then you can choose to take up another job and write as a so-called ‘amateur’.

    I assume that when you say the serious writers you know run websites you mean they run non-blog websites. After, a blog *is* a website.

    I took a look at some of the websites you mentioned that belong to members of the guild of food writers and most a boring, out-dated brochureware websites that very poorly demonstrate the writer’s alleged skills.

  11. 11 John Whiting July 28, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    There are some very good writers about food, but they are not spending most of their time in restaurants, or even in kitchens for that matter; they are writing about how our methods of food production have become an integral part of the human race’s ecological suicide. Some of the best are not even food writers as such. For instance, Gwynne Dyer, a military historian, wrote a brilliant summary of the accellerating food crisis in an article for the New Zealand Herald:

  12. 12 gloucesteroldspot July 29, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    I was at the GFW blogging meeting, I am a member, I thought it was great and a very interesting evening. I started my own blog 3 days later!! Anthony has very kindly given me advice and support.

    Though I am a GFW member, being a professional cook/teacher/demonstrator is my main occupation, I just happen to have written 2 books, plus various spin-offs.

    I am passionate about all food and eating, and have a deep knowledge having spent most of my life IN the kitchen.

    I just like writing about it, I want to put my thoughts “out there” and hopefully someone will read them. As yet I have not said anything very controversial, but I will. I am very opinionated!!!

    Unfortunately I am a bad speller. GOS

  13. 13 eyedropper July 30, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    You should have put a link to your blog in that comment Gloucester old spot!

  14. 14 gloucesteroldspot July 30, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Thanks for the tip eyedropper its:


  15. 15 Marina O'Loughlin September 5, 2007 at 7:33 am

    this was pointed out to me – possibly the source of the new rumour going around town that i’m a figment of metro’s imagination, cobbled together from a pool of staff writers.

    so much for my distinctive style…

    i’d just like to reassure everyone that, despite my increasing girth, there’s really only one of me. other metro’s nationwide have their own restaurant reviewers, but they are bylined with their own names. the lady in question probably meant northern counterpart. i hope.

    so it’s goodbye from me and me and her over there. mx

  16. 16 realfoodlover April 22, 2008 at 12:44 am

    This was very entertaining – both the review of the talk and the comments. I am a member of the Guild of Food Writers – I can dig what you are saying about the stunned silence greeting the idea of writing for nothing. Wherever writers gather, money is discussed – it’s because we are so impoverished. I totally identify with compromise in exchange for wages. I write my food blog because I need a form of expression where I am free to be me. It’s also my calling card.

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
July 2007

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