NOTE: I am commenting on the actions of the ownership of Hugo’s, The Honey Paw, and Eventide Oyster Co. As I mention a few times below, my company has worked with the restaurants in the past, and I consider them friends.
When I was publicly complaining about the weeklies as they were acting terribly and imploding left and right, I was told by several people that the only people who ultimately care are those who work for or with said weeklies. I get exactly the same sense from the “fallout” surrounding the ownership of Hugo’s, The Honey Paw and Eventide Oyster Co. “banning” MaineToday Media food blogger John Golden. The scenario is about three steps more abstract than insider baseball, and includes a ton of context and layers that aren’t immediately self-evident or presented by those reporting upon it precisely because of how layered and complicated it is.
I am close to the situation in that the restaurants in question have been clients in the past and I consider them friends beyond that, so I am too close to any of it to weigh in too deeply without looking like a hack one way or another. It should be noted, though, that while I don’t think people actually care about this, or that much of this will stick one way or the other, that won’t stop people from talking about it or being outraged on behalf of one side or the other for a minute or so. That’s what we do. The media presents two impossibly even sides and we take sides. We take firm stances relating to science, economics, philosophy and a shitload of other things we don’t understand. Not understanding what is going on, or being presented a nuanced report of what is happening, has never stopped us from holding extraordinarily strong opinions.
The question posed by the group’s move against Golden is one about quality of content and discourse, but it has not been presented as such. In fact, reportage has read a bit like, “Golden has nice things to say about these restaurants? Why are they so mad? Moving on…” What is at the root of their action?
Related questions include, but are not limited to: Why is it the case that bloggers that work their asses off, treat topics and subjects with respect, put the work into researching with the same diligence as their journalistic counterparts, have to have a plan to prove to those subjects with whom they are in contact that they maintain the aforementioned standards? Why do we have to be so ready to distance ourselves from other bloggers when they contact subjects for insights or a quote? What does it mean that restaurants, breweries and others in the food and hospitality industries have to spend countless hours undoing the work of amateur, sloppy, careless reportage? What is the standard for quality in blog-based reportage, and who is allowed to call it out? The aforementioned complaints about blogger standards and self-restraint don’t end at “the other paper’s” masthead, I should note. I have seem them struggled with, and heard them complained about, at this paper as well.
I can understand why colleagues of mine, both journalists and bloggers, have been sharing this story and hollering about freedom of press. Of course, it is more complicated than that, and this said, we should do well to recognize what is really happening here—that the quality of some of our collective output is being criticized by the communities it draws from—and consider being reflective about the standards we hold ourselves too.
I have no input on the work or reportage of Golden, whom I have met on several occasions and with whom I get along socially, but it appears that—right or wrong about their assessment—the aforementioned owners have weighed in on quality of industry-specific journalism and food-focused content. Amateur critics do this to restaurants via Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and elsewhere all the time, some offering valid opinions, while many, many others weigh in with insufferable, entitled, driveling bullshit. Being uninformed, again, that has never before stopped us from weighing in.
What sticks out to me in this whole ordeal is not about whether the guys at Honey Paw are right, or if Golden is deserving of negative attention, but this question which remains un-addressed: Between those who create content—particularly us bloggers, prolific Tweeters, Facebook soap-boxers, and Yelpers—and those in the food and hospitality industry, why is it that only one side is allowed to be critical of the job and quality of output of the other?
UPDATE [May 13, 2015]: Chef Mike Wiley has responded to the fallout caused by the aforementioned controversy.