BlogHer Food '11 Closing Keynote Liveblog


Welcome to the final session of BlogHer Food ’11!

These women on the panel today have been the leading voices in food writing, recipe creation and epicuring.

I want to start by asking the women to introduce themselves with just a taste of their experience in the world and why you left it all to blog.

Molly: I was a poet and a painter until I realized I had to make a living. So I began to cook and after 10 years in the food industry I realized I had to reconcile cooking with having a life.  I began as a restaurant critic and I had a blast.  I left media to start my own multi-media company and though it failed, I continued to endeavor on telling a story of a nation who is still cooking today. I think the blog is the only way to gather, in an official manner, the stories.

Meridith: I started as a chef as a third career and I was fascinated with food styling. I started writing recipes and teaching and things began opening up.  I was asked to come in to write professionally as a restaurant critic and worked there for almost 6 years. Then one evening I got an offer to come to Atlanta to be a chief food writer for an Atlanta paper where I was up until last year when I left it behind to start a blog about what I used to do. I want my blog to be something where people understood that change is important, you should embrace it and lemonade can be made from life’s lemons.

Tanya: As an 8 year old I started cooking after being inspired by Julia Child on TV. I later worked in a beauty and fashion magazine until I realized I hated worked in it. So as a young 20-something I got a position with Food & Wine Magazine and worked my way up from there.  From there I continued to write for many years (with different magazines) when I was asked to flesh out an online database of recipes into an online magazine for recipes.  From there it evolved into a food online publication that currently gets between 5 and 7 million unique visitors a month.

Lisa: I want to point out that all 3 of you have left major brands in traditional media to enter into this new world of food documentation. What do you think is on the horizon?

Molly: For me, food is the alternate liberal arts exercise. New media allows us to exercise muscles in so many fields. If I am a sound-bite queen, for example – I really want to dive in to Twitter. The idea that we knit these things together and find our voices is thrilling!  I love the multi-media aspect.

Meridith: I think book applications online is one of the biggest things I see right now. We are going to see an enormous amount of cookbooks self-published online.  Online books are a new opportunity for people to get their recipes and messages out there. I think in 10 years we might not even view traditional publishing as we do now. Will newspapers even be here in 10 years? That’s a scary thought – but we all have people we’re connected to who don’t pick up newspapers anymore. I think the next part of the blog is that tabs will turn a weblog into an E-zine. I think that’s the new wave.

Lisa: Recipes are the # 1 most sought after content by the people BlogHer reaches each month. Food is #2.  I’m interested to hear what you think the difference is between E-zine’s and Apps.

Meridith: I think the day where people thought publishers would call them and offer them a cookbook deal, are over. Publishing is so personal now. I can publish my own book now if I have to! Look at these people who write, and photograph, and make videos, etc. You are so far ahead of the curve I think you have no idea how amazing you are.

Lisa: Tanya, what is the new “cookbook?”

Tanya: I think enhanced cookbooks are where we are moving… we’re clearly past the wave of print books and have moved into e-books. An enhanced cookbook allows you to experience the book in a passionate way, oftentimes as the writer intended.

Lisa: Are you going to embed familiar faces, trusted advisors, etc. in the food-related apps?

Tanya: Epicurious is all about the community; of course they will be part of the content in our cookbook. In reality, it does cost a lot of money – so what do you do? We find what we are best at, what no one has done, and what the audience wants and we pour in to that.

Molly: As the technology becomes more accessible and less expensive, we are going to see possibilities open up that were not there before. We can use it better and more frequently than we ever could before.  Your voice becomes a person’s guide – you take them through your journey and you find the people who see the world the way you do, or wish they did. Those various levels allow you to extend your relationship with those people, those readers. If you can’t bring along new readers, then you’re almost putting yourself at a major disadvantage.

Q: What is crowd-sourcing?

Molly: Basically an open call for one specific recipe. That gives up your rights and doesn’t really follow ethical standards.

Q: What about this idea of crowd-sourcing of food?

Molly: I’ve been doing that the past 11 years and the dirty little secret is that very few of these recipes can just be used as-is. You have to bring in expertise, taste, ethics, etc. and make it your own.  Crowd-sourcing is another word for FREE, and you get what you pay for, right?

Tanya: You also have to determine who you can trust. Just because it’s online doesn’t make it a trustworthy source. You should go to a source that has integrity and that takes the time to get it right.

Q: What if a blogger’s goal is to head toward the traditional forms of media like TV, food magazines, etc.

Tanya: You have to be your own brand. But you also have to really excel at the core of what you do. In order to get in to traditional or new media – you have to perfect what it is you excel at. You have to do your homework and your diligence, and from there you build your brand. I’ve been doing TV for 15 years and I will always recommend you do an interview with anyone who lets you because I think it’s important to get your message out.

Meridith: I think you have to be a really good writer – hone your craft, develop your voice and learn how to write a recipe. Learn what AP style is – they don’t have time to edit like they used to. Be a great writer.

Molly: I agree that writing is very important, but we have also lost ethics and diligence. There is no method right now to learn that. I learned the hard way from humiliation, but nowadays there is no organized establishment to teach you how to have integrity, a trusted voice, etc. I don’t know where I would go today if I were starting today as a food writer.  What are we left with? Learning it well and doing it.

Lisa: I am going to take a different perspective.  What I’d summarize your message to say is that if you have the quality, the presentation, the validation, and the entertainment factor – I think you can really do it. You can make a name for yourself.

Tanya: I agree. Also reliability is very important.  We are very specific about the times the blogs need to post. In the past I’ve had bloggers we’ve worked with that have a complete disregard for deadlines.  It is important to always give it 100% to be professional and reliable.

Meridith: I couldn’t agree with you more; especially in this day and age of the internet. I want to know that someone is going to be reliable, dependent, etc. If they don’t do it that way, then they don’t get a second chance.

Molly: Blogging is today’s Entry-Level position, unfortunately you don’t get paid.  The connections you make doing it are very valuable and the more you write, the clearer it becomes where you belong. Yes, you can do it.

Lisa: BlogHer was founded for this very idea of offering support for writers.

Q: Most of us are not traditionally trained chefs or writers – do you think traditional schooling is essential to achieve success in these realms? Are there other resources?

Tanya: Education is always really important and of course if you can do it that is great – but honestly if the person has a real voice they can stand out regardless of their educational experience. Voice is louder than formal education.

Meridith: I think you should decide based on your own feelings toward that. If you think the trained skills will improve your confidence, then that may be best for you.

Molly: There are a lot of lesser ways to gain a feeling of mastery – and that is what you’re really looking for.

Q: How do we form partnerships with one another to benefit everyone involved?

Molly: we have to stop giving away everything for free. Fees for page views can be an great way to incentivize honest work.

Meridith: If there is one thing the internet has taught me it’s that we all have to all get along. If we aren’t reaching out and forming partnerships, then we’re doing ourselves a disservice. We need to collaborate and allocate what we put on our blogs, and giving credit where credit is due is really important.  The possibilities are UNBELIEVABLE.

Tanya: If there is any message for this conference it is that: Content is Key. Figure out how to take your brand “outside the laptop” and investigate the numerous opportunities that exist to elevate your brand and your name. 

Q:  What would it look like to you if the bloggers were getting back what they give to traditional media? I’d like to stop seeing just a few blogs getting highlighted over and over, and instead see a wealth of people featured.

Tanya: I think the best way to do that is to contact us.  Push yourselves toward editors and let them know you’re out there.

Q: I feel like it could be so much better for food media in general – but it feels very one-sided.

Tanya: Of course quality control is something we need to keep a handle on and your point is well taken.

Molly: I have always been known as a ridiculously hard worker, and yet I cannot compete with these people today. These people get so much done.

Meridith: I think we’ve answered your question: If you’re good at what you do – pitch yourself! Don’t have mistakes in your writing and be solid. If you have something great you do, then be accurate and make yourself known.

Lisa: And with that I have to say three things: Quality is everything, stop giving away the milk so cheaply and think outside the laptop!