Friday, September 25, 2009

New Food Media

A few recent developments in Houston food media:

Southbound Food Radio

Would you believe the best new source of information about Houston restaurants is on . . . AM sports radio?

Southbound Food is a weekly radio show about Houston restaurants with three great hosts:

Bryan Caswell: chef and co-owner of Reef and Little Bigs
Lance Zierlien: Houston's best am sports radio host (I'm a longtime listener)
Jenny Wang: the shining star at the center of Houston's Chowhound and blogger scene

I just discovered Southbound's podcsts, which include Randy Rucker explaining why he left Rainbow Lodge and new restaurants by John Tesar and Tony Vallone.

These are not only informative. They are a huge amount of fun.

Fearless Critic's new restaurant guide

A few years ago, I mentioned the first Fearless Critic Houston Restaurant Guide. Its reviews were mostly written by local chefs.

The new 2010 edition has just been released. This time, the new reviews were written mostly by Houston bloggers -- with a serious amount of editing.

Disclaimer: I was one of those bloggers. I will not make any money off the book. But it would be unfair for me to review it.

I'll leave you to decide: are reviews better written by professional chefs or amateur bloggers?

Houston's food blogs: dying or just changing?

Last year, Houston food blogs exploded. As Fearless Critic editor, Robin Goldstein, told me, Houston had the most exciting food blog scene outside of New York. And Houston's scene was more of a community than New York.

This year, the air seems to be rushing out the bubble. Many amateur food blogs have gone silent. Others are published less frequently. And they are less adventuresome.

Some of the bloggers have gone professional. The Houston Press hired several oustanding bloggers -- which is both a good and bad thing. On one hand, the Press's Eating our Words has frequent posts and is a great source of information. It may now be Houston's best food blog. On the other hand, you can feel the corporate control. Writers have to write a minimum number of posts. And the style is not as idiosyncratic as an amateur blog.

Of course, the same thing has happened to me. Although I'm not paid, I put more energy this year into Fearless Critic than this blog. The Fearless Critic had style guidelines. And my style changed to comply.

One by one, the bloggers have been co-opted by for-profit ventures. And the blogs have changed.

The energy also has diffused because so many bloggers now spend their time on Twitter. Twitter makes blogs seem wordy, old-fashioned, and old media.

Worse there has been a lot of public criticism about food blogs in Houston, including a rumor that food bloggers demand free food from restaurants. I seriously doubt that rumor is true, but the charges hurt the community.

Our food blogs have lost the high energy, DIY ethic of 2008 when we all did it solely for the love of food.

Perhaps food blogs will continue in a style that is more informed, restrained, and mature. Or perhaps the halcyon days of Houston's amateur blogs are over.

12 comments:

thehoustongirl said...

I enjoy your blog (only food related one I read) but I guess food blogs are like hungry recording artists. They had the passion and drive and the blogs were good, BUT once someone else is financing your blog (or record contract) you have to do what THEY tell you to and what's the point of that? just keep it funky and share your experiences for free :D but ah the fine art of the U.S: sell out for money as soon as possible! It doesn't always equal success. Thanks for being real and not selling out :D

-thehoustongirl

ps: do you have any volunteer positions? LOL qui

Katharine said...

Fantastic (and timely) post. I can only speak for myself, but I'll say that I really do miss blogging just for myself over at she eats. I adore working/writing for the Press/Eating Our Words, but there is a LOT to be said for just writing for the love of it. Like anything else, eventually it becomes work, which is sad to an extent. On the other hand, it definitely makes you more aware and more accountable for what you're doing/writing on a daily basis.

I wouldn't consider myself a sell-out, as thehoustongirl puts it above. I'm still writing the same things that I would have written on she eats. (or Houstonist, another non-paying gig), just in greater frequency and with more of an attempt -- attempt being the operative word there -- at professionalism.

Interested to hear the other food bloggers in town weigh in on this... :)

rachAel said...

I wholeheartedly agree about the Twitter effect. My blogs are sadly neglected.

I think another element that affects blogs is that they also change when authors know they have an audience. Sometimes for the better, but not always.

It's such a different thing to write for yourself than to write for readers. Throw a boss in there and deadlines and requirements and it changes rapidly.

Again, not necessarily bad, but I find that you do lose some of the 'flavor' (ah ha ha ha) when more people are involved in a blog than the original writer(s).

anonymouseater said...

@thehoustongirl Thanks. I don't think the Houson Press people or me have sold out. But there is something to the idea that, in hypercapitalism, corporations eventially co-opt all art and culture. Ideas arise on the web with great excitement, corporations move in to profit, then everyone moves on to something else.

@Katharine. Sorry, I think the third part of my post was a long way of saying again how much I miss sheeats posts.

@rachAel. You're right. The audience has a huge effect compared to when we were writing for ourselves and a few friends. I used to be much more biting, sarcastic, and critical. Now I worry that some restaurant will read me and will know someone else who happens to know who I am.

artyeater said...

I also really miss she eats! I keep checking to see if there's something new! All the best.

MC said...

I know in my case, I got really busy right after Ike. Blame it on increased responsibilities at my job, followed by a promotion to a position with insanely long hours (basically I'm on-call 24/7). I tended to blog more about cooking at home, but by the time I got home, I only had enough energy to cook a little dinner and relax/talk with my husband before going to bed and doing the whole slog again. The last thing on my mind was cooking recipes and blogging about it. Lord knows I have enough ideas floating around in my head to do it. And frankly, it bothers me that I haven't been writing. I guess it's time to change that and get some new ideas going. Thanks for the swift kick in the butt!

buzzboy1 said...

I used to follow Houston food blogs faithfully. I still drop everything and come to this one whenever I see there's a new post; same with Misha's blog and a few others. And I go to Eating Our Words at least once a day. But I have to admit, once I found Twitter and started following all the bloggers, chowhounds and chefs there, it has become my primary source of Houston food information (and gossip).

I think you hit the nail on the head when you wondered if blogs have become old school. Twitter is bite-size information in real time. When someone I recognize from this wonderful Houston food community says Ciao Bella is so-so in 140 characters or less, it's usually all I need to know.

hotdog_guy said...

I know there is a great hot dog place in Houston.

Though it is on the outskirts of the city, it was well worth the drive. Stop in for some darts too.

Check it out at
dogsontheroad.blogspot.com

issa said...

you have always and seems to always will be my favorite source for local food reviews.. i never really got into reading the sudden spurt of them that appeared last year.. thanks for continuing on!

by the way i just wrote up an entry of my experience at joel robuchon at MGM. :)

-issa
issarocks.blogspot.com

RestaurantZoom said...

Blogging about food is as natural as well...just about anything else that you are passionate about yes? I don't really see much merit in the suggestion that bloggers are holding out for compensation for restaurants. That to me would suggest a different business model yes?

Anonymous said...

i still enjoy reading your blog but i have noticed that something seems to be missing nowadays from most of the Houston blogs- i used to love hearing about the dumpling runs, the hole in the wall posts-
robb walsh, jay francis still do a good job of making sure the cheap but delicious ethnic eats don't get left out. that's what makes Houston so special to me.

most posts nowadays seem much more geared towards the latest trendy restaurant, what's new in fine dining, special chef-driven dinners- while its great to generate publicity, some of us can't keep up cost-wise with the food blogging community.

i know that twitter seems to be the newest posting ground but i hope the blogs do continue- but in such a way as to represent all of Houston's diversity (not just the fine dining scene). Please keep up the great work! Food in Houston is still one of my favorites by far!

anonymouseater said...

Last anon post - Thanks. I agree with you and try really hard to strike a balance between pricey, trendy places and holes-in-the wall.

Most of Houston's great holes-in-the-wall have been "found" by one blogger or another. But THE biggest thrills I have had in writing this blog have been about finding great tongue tacos, dumplings filled with soup, and a Vietnamese roasted pig head.