In Defense of "Ten Best" Lists
Recently, the Huffington Post published
a whiny rant a blog post decrying the decline of food journalism.
In it, the author (himself a chef/restaurateur turned writer) takes issues with many of the common threads of today's (mostly online) food media coverage. Not being a millennial, he also (predictably) treads the well-worn road of blaming food bloggers, "young people," social media, and people who take pics of their food (i.e., millennials), etc. etc., yadda yadda yadda, ad nauseum infinitum, yawn.
The first thing the author takes issue with is something we do quite often here on Clean Plate Charlie -- weekly, in fact: "The best list."
I edit this food blog, and I'm going to take a moment to stick my neck out and attempt something perhaps no self-respecting journalist has ever attempted: to defend that most-read yet most-reviled of blog posts.
Here at Clean Plate, we do only one list a week, and in between we produce copious amounts of other food content, from new menu announcements and openings/closings to chef interviews to hard food news to our a traditional "thoughtful and analytical" Dish review column.
Back to the lists.
You read them.
With the advent of the internet and traffic tracking software, media outlets have up-to-the-minute feedback about what stories are being read or watched and shared or "liked."
Can you guess which posts are consistently at the top of those reports? I'll give you a hint -- glance at the headline of this post.
You freaking love lists! You love tagging your friends and saying, "Hey, we should check some of these places out!" And you really, really love slamming them. "WTF New Times?! If [insert favorite restaurant] isn't on here, then clearly this entire list is garbage and you are all morons!"
I am the first to admit that there are a LOT of stupid listicles on the internet. I will also admit that, like you, I click on them.
I have also come to realize that The List doesn't always have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Lists can be intelligent and well-researched.
And The List actually accomplishes the one thing that any piece of journalism must do above all others: It serves the reader.
Now, sometimes a list serves the reader simply by entertaining them, and that's OK. But lists like ours do more than that. They serve an important function in the brave new world of online news. They take the potentially infinite, overwhelming, and unapproachable amount of information the internet provides you with and cut it down into an approachable, readable format.
Our Ten Best lists are well-researched by our most experienced food writers. These are writers who live, sleep, breathe, and (of course) eat the local food scene every day. No list is perfect, and by nature they cannot be all-inclusive, but they aren't intended to be. They are a handy reference, a useful curation of what we believe are the best craft beer selections, burger, sandwiches, etc. And when you complain that X restaurant or dish wasn't included, we actually love it. That gives us a new place to visit or to revisit and reconsider. This is true community journalism in action.
Looking for a new sushi place to try? Would that be Broward or Palm Beach? If you are heading out to eat in Fort Lauderdale but want to try something new, we have a list for that. When you want to support Florida breweries but don't know which pricey craft beer to take a risk on, we have a list for that.
Our lists are not meant to be the final word on anything. We revisit our lists, updating them as new restaurants, breweries, chefs, and trends arise. Best craft beer selection? We put that together for you in 2011, 2012, and 2013. (Hmm, looks like we should revisit that one soon.)
It's also worth noting, the author of the offending post that started all this is himself a chef and restaurateur. His complaints are that a review doesn't give his business as much of a free advertising boost as it once did and that "hip Twitter feed[s]" are somehow to blame. He manages to accuse food writers of "pander[ing] to the most basic, low-brow instincts of the readers" for web hits while simultaneously taking themselves too seriously by writing "not for your pleasure but for their own." (Careful, guy; don't break your hip.)
He bemoans the fact that blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have made anyone think he too can be a food writer, while he himself is a chef who has turned himself into a blogger. Maybe he should reread that piece on "egotarian" chefs he likes to quote so much.
The only thing "stale as day old bread" that I see is the usual backbiting criticism of "The Media" by someone in The Media -- or at least someone who is attempting to be.
Here's a real newsflash: There is no The Media. Sorry.
Newsrooms like ours are populated with regular people: people who can speak eloquently about the First Amendment while scarfing down fast food in their cubicle because they are on deadline; people who are forced to pump out daily blog posts to satisfy the demands of "new media" while simultaneously producing thought-provoking long-form print journalism; people who are passionate about telling stories, informing the reader, speaking truth to power, giving a voice to the voiceless, and, yes, writing Ten Best lists.
You can contact Rebecca McBane, Arts & Culture Editor/Food Blog Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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