Friday, January 25, 2008

The Blogging Issue

This week's Time Out Chicago, entitled "Everyone's a Critic", looks at the world of blogging and who's opinion counts. While most of the blog-related articles focused on food, books editor Jonathan Messinger managed to get his two cents in:

"Book blogs tend to all look alike after a while--they get bogged down in the New York publishing industry minutiae or enrapt with hot-shit authors du-jour. But Chicago blogs possess the same qualities as the city we love: They're both cosmopolitan and provincial, and tend to favor the underdog."

I'm not sure if I totally agree with this one, since most of the blogs I read tend to favor the underdog and only two are from Chicago. Isn't the goal for anyone blogging about the publishing industry to serve as a voice for those who don't have one?

In my mind, everyone knows the next Jack Reacher book is going to be fantastic. They don't need me to tell them. It's the books from Soho press, Bleakhouse, and other independent presses that need the support of blogs. While print magazines such as Crimespree and Mystery Scene do a great job of supporting the underdogs, they are not as accessible as blogs. Anyone punching key words into Google can stumble upon a review I wrote last year, but it's much harder to find back issues of print magazines and even then, it costs a few bucks. And what about all the print reviews my editors choose not to run? Why should the author lose press because the publication doesn't have the space? Blogs are the perfect consolation prize. The review may not have made it into the Sun-Times, but I can still deliver a bit of press.

I used to write for the Not For Tourists website, covering everything from museums and parks to bars and restaurants. I'm not a foodie nor a recreation expert. I got the job because I know Chicago and I can write. Does my opinion count less than that of a food critic? Perhaps. Maybe they'd notice presentation and hints of spices that fly right past me. But are those reading my review foodies or are they real Chicagoans looking for a good place to eat that night? While there is a lot of hate toward the "amateur reviewer" really, what are the credentials?

I've touched on this in a previous post so I won't go too much into it, but this article does beg the question of authority. When it comes to food, I do think it depends on the audience. If the publication is like Time Out, serving the urban public, I don't think you necessarily have to go to culinary school to be a food critic. With things like books and movies, some background helps, but I'm not sure it's necessary. Ultimately, what makes your opinion count is your track record. If you continuously recommend good books and warn readers of the bad ones, you will build authority and a meaningful opinion.

The reason I blog is the same reason I enjoy freelancing: I want to give press to those who don't get a lot of it. I love writing about local bands, indy publications and diamond-in-the-rough restaurants. I don't think my sentiment is exclusive to Chicago. Isn't this why we all started blogging?

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