Strong opinions, weakly held

Christopher Kimball on the demise of Gourmet

Cooks Illustrated editor Christopher Kimball laments the demise of Gourmet in a New York Times op-ed today. Unfortunately, in the process of reminding us what was good about Gourmet, he decides to case aspersions of the darned old Internet along the way:

The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up. They can no longer be coronated; their voices have to be deemed essential to the lives of their customers. That leaves, I think, little room for the thoughtful, considered editorial with which Gourmet delighted its readers for almost seven decades.

To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice. Google “broccoli casserole” and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing. The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise — the kind that comes from real experience, the hard-won blood-on-the-floor kind. I like my reporters, my pilots, my pundits, my doctors, my teachers and my cooking instructors to have graduated from the school of hard knocks.

I’m not sure why I’m linking to this, the latest in a huge long line of ignorant straw man arguments against blogs (and now, Twitter) by people whose lofty perch is threatened by the democratization of the media. In response to his argument, I’d make three points:

  1. There are a lot of people who’ve been able to build an audience by exhibiting real expertise and great writing ability on the Web who would probably have never gotten that opportunity anywhere else.
  2. There are a lot of so-called experts whose lack of insight and effort has not prevented them from being published and promoted in traditional outlets.
  3. 90% of everything is crap. Yes, it’s easy to find crap on the Internet, but it’s easy to find crap everywhere.

1 Comment

  1. Gourmet has been dying for a while. I’ve been reading it since the early 80s, and I finally stopped renewing a few years ago. It wasn’t that I could get recipes on the internet. It was that Gourmet was no longer Gourmet anymore. It used to have interesting “destination” articles with talks about places, food, farms, cultures and families, usually by well educated and interesting writers.

    When Ruth Riechl took over she started turning it into a kitchen magazine rather than a culture magazine. The in depth New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco rotating reviews were dropped and replaced by little press release snippets from around the country. I didn’t mind losing the NY-LA-SF focus, but I did mind not having the old reviews versus blurbs. There were more kitchen gadget articles and the travel articles were more mechanical and read like PR releases rather than like old fashioned reviews. If anything, the reviews on Tripadvisor, Yelp and other idiosyncratic web sites were more like the old Gourmet articles.

    The food also got less interesting. I think they started to care more and more about ease of preparation. Do gamers look for easy to win games? I can understand simplifying a few recipes and substituting ingredients here and there, but the whole point of Gourmet was to open one’s mind as well as one’s mouth. What would an Amish picnic be like? How did a traditional family celebrate Christmas in Sardinia in the 1950s? That was all gone.

    We gave up. We still have tons of Gourmets around and one of the Gourmet cookbooks, an heirloom from the 60s.

    I think Ruth Riechl, whom I greatly admired as a food critic at the New York Times, made a gamble with Gourmet when she made it into a kitchen magazine. It was suddenly filled with stove and refrigerator ads. The quirky little canned squirrel ads in the back were long gone. (So much for ever having real Brunswick stew.) When the remodel business crashed, the ad revenue vanished. If the economy had held up, it might have been a bet well made.

    P.S. Yeah, Kimball is sadly confused or perhaps worse.

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