Tuesday, February 16, 2016
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 place…..Paris Bakery.
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 dishwashers.
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 around them.”
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 matter.
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…. Yipes.
Supposedly in our modern world….money is speech, as said recently departed Judge Scalia.
Much less 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!