Journalism….actual journalism….is really boring.
Like being a cop, or a spy….it requires a ton of
work 95% of it really boring. For cops
and spies it means filling out endless paperwork or sitting with cold coffee
and full piss-bottles on a stakeout for hours and hours….that will mostly end
in meaningless nothing.
Journalism is like that….you have to talk to
multiple people, get everything right that they say, spend hours and hours
on-line or in musty libraries….or bars, or on boats or in pilates courses
verifying that what you are about to put into print is true.
If you give a shit that is.
I started working for newspapers when I was 14. I was a stringer for the New Jersey Star
Ledger covering sports and I had a sports column in the local Chatham
Herald. I also worked in production and
delivery in Chatham.
I got paid 35 cents a column inch at both papers. For the Ledger, I would scout basketball and
football games and call in my copy from pay phones. I had a weekly column in the Chatham paper….so
I made maybe $3-4 from Chatham, and I’d get about a buck for each game I could
cover for the Ledger.
Back in the day in Monterey I had a job as a food
writer for a local coffee table magazine: The Pacific Monthly. I wrote about food and food related stuff in
general. I demanded $9 an hour for my
work, which made me very unpopular at the magazine…but they liked my stuff….and
it worked out to be about the same pay scale as in New Jersey,
There was constant pressure from the struggling
monthly for me to write nice things about advertisers. I understood.
Money talks, bullshit walks. $.35 a column inch.
Except in critic lands. I was trying to build a brand of actual facts…so
that people could read my material, trust it, have a good experience based on
that trust…and buy the magazine next month.
My $9 an hour did not include any budget for the
cost of the meals I would incur. That
was on me.
After a few months, everyone knew who I was and what
I was doing (along with running my own restaurant, catering company, soccer
league, etc)…so it was not like Ruth Reichl from the New York Times disguised
in a wig, etc. . Everyone knew me, knew what I was about, and why I was there
in their place.
I would never ding a hardworking, owner-operated
place….unless it was a clear and present danger to public health.
I am still proud about having written a puff piece
about two local bakers who used to deliver to me at 4am at Silver Jones….and
who got together, got married, and had wonderful kids. My article is still up on the wall at their
But, I was not for sale…..If something sucked, with
the owners, waiters, cooks, etc knowing that I was a food writer there to write
about them…….sorry, guys. No amount of
advertising pressure from the editors would make me say nice things. The integrity of my writing and the integrity
of the magazine depended on honesty….and hard work. I knew my shit.
Integrity in journalism!...What an idiot.
My last article for those folks was about a major
advertiser. Great new restaurant in a
new space…the manager was a friend, the wife of another dear friend. I knew many of the wait staff, and all of the
I went there for lunch, and my friend was obviously
so coked out (this was the 80’s) that she had no clue. I ordered a calamari steak. It arrived,
beautifully browned on the properly floured, egged and panko-ed outside……..still
frozen solid in the middle.
The start of my review:
“Watching the staff at The Ryan Ranch Rotisserie is
like watching a monkey fuck a football.
This lunch spot’s apparent popularity is proof positive that Salinas
produce brokers will crawl through broken glass to have their Tanqueray and
Tonics delivered by a pretty face, no matter the devastation happening all
I got fired.
Thirty years later, though….people know that I don’t lie.
Back to “Raising The Bar In Carmel Valley”…..
If you are an actual journalist writing an actual
critique of a restaurant you talk to the owners, the chef…maybe the DR manager
or wine guy. Also, you ask around: the
Mission Linen guy, the fish guys you have relationships with…because you are a
pro. The meat guys, the high end produce
guys….and the low end produce guys.
The top ingredients available locally are in very
short supply to our 500+ restaurants.
Those of us who plan, drive, bargain and overpay all know who each other
is. Our suppliers of one thing know the
suppliers of the other thing. Our
competing chefs and managers know all of this.
The neighbors also know what you are up to…..They
watch your delivery trucks. Eighty footers full of frozen food? Extra time while the driver has to go on and
hunt down a COD check? Does the guy
receiving look like he has a clue….or is he a Craigslist temp? Is the chef constantly unloading stuff from
his or her own car after competing for ingredients? What kind of vehicle is he/she driving that
they are willing to get soaked in fish, blood, poop, raw milk, etc. What kind
of cars are the workers drivng?
Who is the chef?
Where is he from? Do we know
him? Where did he train? Who is his sous? What is his team like? Is he getting paid….or is he a “partner”. How
many chefs have been there before and for who long?
It is like baseball…..It is fun, and intensely
competitive. And, like baseball…everyone
knows what is going on.
How much are the waiters making in tips? Which wineries are they supporting…and how
much are they buying. How much linen are
they using? How big is their dumpster…and
how much re-cycle do they go through, and how do they handle it? How much empty wine and beer bottles are
there, really? Are they paying their
bills? Who is on COD, which winery is
carrying them because the wine/vintage sucks and they have to move it no
This info is readily available to every single
worker in every restaurant in every town in town, including the girls at the
pet store, the veterinarian, and the clothing outlet workers 50 feet away. Let’s
not even talk about social media.
If a professional journalist can’t do better….
Supposedly in our modern world….money is speech, as
said recently departed Judge Scalia.
recently departed Abe Lincoln said: “You can fool some of the people some of
the time, and all of the people some of the time….but you can’t fool all of the
people all of the time.”
Money maybe speech, but speech is not necessarily truth.
Journalists are supposed to be the ones that arbitrate this fine line.
Good luck with that in the Herald….enjoy your
commercial Rykoff salad dressing in your sulfite soaked lettuce at the place
that is “raising the standards in Carmel Valley”.
No, really….it’s great! It said so in the newspaper!