I was sneaking into Murray’s again for some Choco-latte Express (and a taste of a FANTASTIC pink grapefruit champagne sorbet… I’ll be back for more of that, yessirree!), and noticed a little pile of newpapers on the windowsill. One was called tastebud, and looked foodish, so I snagged it.
Jennifer and Gordon Roe are already on the second issue of this pretty little 16-page tabloid, and they have gotten a nice start with a full-color lightweight food-and-wine publication.
It’s clear that they put a lot of effort into their design and layout, but not so much into their editing and content selection. They’ve obviously gathered a stable of pals together to write up what they know (and certainly, some of them do indeed know what they’re talking about), but so far they’re staying very safe, noncritical, fluffy and upbeat.
I don’t know about you, but I like it when my critics get to be a little ruthless. There’s not one ounce of honest criticism in this entire thing… but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that this could be just because they are scrambling to get the next edition out, and are limited in their selection of writing.
The editors repeatedly address business owners and restauranteurs in the pieces that feature interviews or reviews of businesses… a glaring error. Who wants to hear some business owner’s self-promoting brags? Talk directly to your readers… they’re the ones who you want to hear from!
This is sort of a long-term irritation on my part, actually. I’ve been a journalist for decades (oh, lord… almost 3 of ’em, now), and the delineation between the advertising and editorial departments get blurrier each day. If it were up to me, there would be zero crossover… no reviewer should ever be reined in because an advertiser might pull their series. I understand that the financial reality of print publishing these days necessitates a revision of these journalistic ideals… but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
The cookbook article featured a book published in 2003, and not even a local author. It was one of the slam-dunk Cook’s Illustrated books. The accompanying recipe referred not once but twice to “illustrations on page 92.” This will not do… you must find current, local authors and write real, honest-to-goodness reviews including thoughtfully selected sample recipes!
The article on making flavored vinegars looked interesting… I would have liked a little more guidance in the types of herbs and fruits to use. The rosemary sidebar was a total throw-away bit.
The “review” of Boulevard Bakery and the “interview” with Ali Shirazi were completely uninspired and pure cheerleading. Was EVERYTHING really perfect at the bakery? Did Ali NEVER have a setback in his career? How do these folks choose their ingredients? Would they share a recipe? What do they think of the KC food scene? Get some meaty quotes in there, not just rah-rah-come-eat-here-it’s-great. Yawn!
There is a marginally interesting story on knives, but it needed better graphics to fill out the text. The coffee article isn’t much more than an ad for a local beanery. And the food calendar is a visual mess… some good events, covered up by unreadable entries.
Ditch the article-ads. Send a food writer and photographer to the farmers’ market… do a feature on using seasonal produce, experimenting with local herbs, get a farmer to explain what it means to make a philosophical committment to growing food organically.
Corner a local chef. Get him to tell his funny stories about kitchen disasters and brilliant successes and surprise discoveries. How about Christopher Elbow? What turns that guy’s crank, I’d like to know!
Don’t we have some big-time publishers in this town? Find out what the scoop is on the holiday season’s gift cookbook trends ahead of the curve! (You might need a mole for this).
Why on earth should I pay $50 for a meal and wine? What sets Bluestem apart from Blue Koi? What’s the difference between the pad thai at Thai Place and Lulu’s? Where’s the best local greasy spoon diner? Any all-night eateries in this town?
Visit some of the local specialty markets and tell us what to do with those exotic items! (Bella Napoli, the Middle Eastern shop at City Market, the Asian Food Marketplace, for example)…
What exactly is “soul food”? Any connections with food and local jazz? What do the Wizards/Royals/Chiefs like to eat and who fixes it for them? There’s a master chef who feeds the scientists at Stowers Institute… what’s his story?
How do I make crepes? Should kids be allowed in nice restaurants? How do chefs eat at home… I’d love to know what the Aixois mom and dad feed their little ones! Let’s sit down with Doug Frost and see what’s on the viticultural horizon…
So… my advice to tastebud? Get a few real writers who will do your interviews and reviews independently of your advertisers. Bust away from the local-boosterism mentality and be constructively critical. Mine the incredible brains of the local food and wine crowd, and get their stories, not just lightweight surface comments. Brainstorm a little and get creative in your subject matter. Hire a copy editor and follow general AP style (but build your own in-house style manual).
And don’t let the critics like me get you down… take what we have to say with a grain of Fleur de Sel, take the suggestions that work for you and discard the rest, and have a blast in your new publishing career!