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What If Nobody is Listening?

June 19, 2009

It turns out I like blogging.  I do.  And every day I feel grateful that you, yes you, are reading my posts and that some of you are submitting comments.

On a side note, if you haven’t commented, today is a great day to start.  Just type in “I am here” or “I can’t believe I read the whole thing” or even simply “Hi.”

I am especially grateful because I read plenty of interesting and well-written blogs on very similar subject matters where the vast majority of posts have not received any comments.  I try to comment on other blogs as much as possible.  But there is only so much one person can do.  Yet thankfully those bloggers persist, and continue to post.

And I think that it must feel like talking into a vacuum.

While I like the independence of writing what I feel like talking about, and doing so on my own terms, on another level I do harbor petty jealousies towards the established media.  Not just those on TV, the radio or in newspaper but also the long-established bloggers who have accumulated a significant audience.

Perhaps together we’ll grow an audience in time.

In theory, the advantage of having an audience is influence.  One writes because one has something to say.  In the process of writing, the writer hopes to convince the reader to adopt a certain point of view, and the larger the audience the greater the influence.

For example, by now I hope to have convinced you of the banality of farmed Atlantic salmon, that you don’t have to be a snob to enjoy wine, and that not all cocktails are created equal.  But if more people believed these things, we could change the world.  Well, maybe not.  But we might eat better.

Last week the Albany Times Union released its readers’ choice Best of 2009 survey.  After reviewing the section it seems that the newspaper’s readers are unconvinced by its food critics’ points of view.

This year there have been a few restaurant openings.  But only one of these received a rare four-star review from Ruth Fantasia, the executive features editor at the Times Union.  In fact the Hollywood Brown Derby is only the fourth restaurant out of over 150 area restaurants to earn the paper’s highest rating.  I would think this would be significant.

Yet, when asked for their thoughts on the best new restaurant of the year, readers put the Hollywood Brown Derby beneath Creo, which the Times Union awarded an above-average three-star review.

There is more.

The readers also put the newspaper-proclaimed four-star “classic” beneath the two-star shopping mall behemoth The Standard where our dear executive features editor had a meal “which went from bad to worse to unbelievable.”  I suppose one way of looking at it is, at least the Hollywood Brown Derby made the list.

Now please do not misinterpret my intentions.  I am not advocating for the Brown Derby.  I have read and reread the review of the Hollywood Brown Derby and I still cannot understand based on the write up why it was a four-star meal.  But that was the paper’s official verdict.  And the people like it less than below-average food at the new restaurant in the mall.

This is just one example from the report, but I think it is sufficient.

And I have to wonder how Ruth Fantasia feels about this.  Maybe like she’s talking into a vacuum?

I mean, she and her staff have a daily medium to communicate with tens of thousands of people: to delight, educate and inform them about food and dining.  And in theory it is primarily these people who are voting in the reader’s choice survey.

So what gives?

I have a few ideas, but it would seem the food and dining section is out of alignment with its readers.  And I think that comes across most clearly when looking at what the readers chose as the best Asian restaurants in the area.

Earlier this month, I discussed a Times Union review policy for which restaurants are eligible to receive stars.  Well, none of the top three readers’ choice Asian restaurants had received a review, much less a starred review (at least based on what’s available on the paper’s website).  And on the flip side, the readers made no mention of the 3½-star Hana, 3-star Blue Spice, 3-star Sakura Hibachi, or even 3-star P.F. Chang’s.

Could the paper have no influence on the dining decisions of the region?  Or is it possible that the readers just do not trust the Times Union restaurant reviews?

Perhaps.  But I don’t think that has to be the case.  And we’ll just have to talk more about that later.

Now, if you would, take a moment and say “Hi.”  It would be great to put a screen name to the page-view.  Cheers.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Tonia permalink
    June 19, 2009 11:14 am

    I have not read the Times Union 2009 thing yet. I have read the Metrolands reader picks for local restaurants and many of the top choices I’m like what the ?? Don’t get it.

    Love this line you wrote, “But if more people believed these things, we could change the world. Well, maybe not. But we might eat better.” My boyfriend was one of those that needed to be “educated,” now I’ve created a ‘fussy’ monster. :-)

  2. June 19, 2009 11:47 am

    Roger Ebert and most other critics will give his highest ratings to films that very few people will see, but that doesn’t stop him or others from doing it. Food critics are no different. A critic is never going to be writing for the masses, just the select few that are enthusiastic about that particular medium.

    Oh and HI I READ YOUR BLOG!

  3. June 19, 2009 12:49 pm

    most of the picks for the Best Of were completely ridonkulous!

  4. June 19, 2009 1:13 pm

    I’m here. Keep up the fuss.

  5. Mirdreams permalink
    June 19, 2009 1:50 pm

    Me, I like the Standard, though I think Dale Miller is my favorite new one. We’ve got a $150 gift certificate to blow at the Brown Derby so my mind may change in the near future.

  6. Matt permalink
    June 19, 2009 1:56 pm

    A public “best restaurant” poll can really only mean “best restaurant that I ate at.” And if it’s an annual vote, it would be “best restaurant that I ate at in the past year.” If a small, four-star restaurant doesn’t get a lot of customers, then it won’t get a lot of votes, even if the customers that it has all think its the best.

    Also, the question of “value” is tied up a lot in income. A restaurant reviewer may be in a significantly higher income bracket than her readers. A great meal at a fair price to her may appear horribly overpriced to a patron earning significantly less.

  7. Skye permalink
    June 19, 2009 2:55 pm

    I subscribed to your RSS feed as soon as I saw you had a blog! You’re my favourite Yelp reviewer.

  8. Crackity Jones permalink
    June 19, 2009 3:59 pm

    I can’t believe I read the whole thing

  9. Vanessa permalink
    June 19, 2009 4:05 pm

    Hi Daniel..I am here today and every day you post..I completly embrace your fussbudgetry (is that a word) and look forward to your pov. Cheers, my friend, Vanessa

  10. Thomas H White permalink
    August 27, 2009 10:03 am

    I just found you a couple of weeks ago, but I follow you pretty regularly. I’ve also tried several new restaurants and ordered food with co-workers because of what you’ve written. I’ve subscribed both here and on yelp. You are not just talking into a vacuum.

    However, you and the other critics will only affect a small part of the food audience. People like what is easy and relatively cheap. They also tend to follow the crowd. Therefore, those best of columns only rarely manage to hit the correct target.

    “Hi.”

    tom

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