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Oregonian "new direction" in food coverage


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#1 myswandive

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 09:38 AM

This, from Eater, all sounds horrendous.

Roger Porter was summarily dismissed from his position as restaurant reviewer, with some clues as to the future direction of the paper.

"I was told, in an email from the current editor of The Oregonian's A & E, DeAnn Welker, that my services were no longer wanted at The Oregonian, and she was terminating my relation with the paper. “I have come to the conclusion that this is not a good fit. It is clear to me that we are going in a different direction from the past,” she wrote me. And again: “We are radically changing the way we cover dining and restaurants.” That changing direction means, as Welker told me in person, that The Oregonian intends its restaurant coverage to be aimed at ordinary people. It will henceforth meet the needs of readers who go to the places where most of the people go [...] we had had some disagreement over the paper’s forthcoming increased attention to restaurants in the suburbs and to chains, at the expense of coverage of Portland’s extraordinary restaurants. She was insistent that The Oregonian would embark on a new course and this appeared to signify in part a new regime."

"The Oregonian, under Karen Brooks’ superb editorship, produced strong, dedicated coverage of a restaurant scene that has made Portland one of the great food cities in America. It is clear that the paper’s new policy aims to counter what Welker and her cohorts believe has been an excessively elitist point of view regarding restaurant reviewing. The new direction was evidently symbolized by the dismissal of Brooks some months ago. Coverage of new restaurants will continue, but in a greatly reduced fashion. In its place there will be more A & E dining articles on such subjects as how to assemble a tasty picnic. This shift cannot be good for the morale or the business of the extraordinary restaurateurs of the city, and signals a remarkable indifference to the great food city Portland has become."


Is "Battle of the Cheesesticks: Applebees vs. Chili's" in our fair paper's future?

#2 SarahWS

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 10:07 AM

Sad, sad day... I really enjoy Roger Porter's reviews. Even when I don't agree with him 100%, I always find the reviews fair, informative, and enjoyable to read. He was one of my favorite professors to help when I did tech support work as a Reed student - great restaurant tips and a genuinely nice, sweet guy. Here's to hoping he gets hired to do reviews for Portland Monthly or another local publication!

#3 Flynn

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 10:08 AM

Sucks. Roger Porter was one of the better food writers in town IMO.

I can't argue with better 'burbs coverage. None of them have comprehensively written about the mini-Koreatown explosion of good eating out in Beaverton, even after it's been well-documented online and in the Fearless Critic guide. Oh yeah, that's because no one cares.

Chains? For real? I guess I can't wait to see what grade Claim Jumper gets?

#4 vj

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 10:53 AM

I'm just echoing the rest of you, but this is a sad sad day. It amazes me how far out of touch the Oregonian has gotten, and is continuing to go. To find out relevant cultural & entertainment news (and some news news as well), you have to go to other publications.

Maybe this is a desperate attempt to bring in ad revenue. They probably aren't getting a lot from Le Pigeon, Clyde Common, Nostrano and the like. But is Olive Garden and the Cheesecake Factory going to give any better?

I wish Roger the best of luck. I enjoy his reviews.

#5 ExtraMSG

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 11:01 AM

I had originally just heard that he was butting heads with the editor there and then heard Saturday second-hand that he was gone, though without confirmation.

Truth is, though, Flynn, that while there's been no "comprehensive" approach to the Korean restaurants in Beaverton, the Oregonian has done better than anywhere else in talking about them. Trib, WW, and Merc have barely touched on them at all. And some people I know, ehem, got all pissy when certain other people I know highlighted Beaverton Korean because they didn't get credit for the "discoveries". Cough, cough.

It's worth noting that despite the Oregonian's website not linking authors correctly, that Porter was the one who reviewed Du Kuh Bee and gave it a B+. Wasn't he also the one who reviewed Yuzu a couple years ago?

And I'm not sure more articles about the burbs matter if the reviewers don't have the experience or palate to realize Pho Binh Minh is mediocre Vietnamese.

I'm also worried about where they'll get their reviews. I know they have approached amateurs and non-staff writers to do reviews for free. If the Oregonian goes the way of Yelp, I don't see how that helps anything.

This could all just be internal struggle over change, but on the surface, it seems to me this is just evidence that print is largely doing the opposite of what it should be doing in the face of the the financial crunch and rise of the internet. Instead of making themselves less like the competition, instead of proving that there is value to what they do above the internet, they're instead just trying to be like the other guy (Yelp, Citysearch, blogs) which will always be cheaper and more democratic.
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#6 Flynn

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 11:24 AM

Truth is, though, Flynn, that while there's been no "comprehensive" approach to the Korean restaurants in Beaverton, the Oregonian has done better than anywhere else in talking about them. Trib, WW, and Merc have barely touched on them at all. And some people I know, ehem, got all pissy when certain other people I know highlighted Beaverton Korean because they didn't get credit for the "discoveries". Cough, cough.

It's all part of my forthcoming essay on 'How to lose at the internet, 2008 edition'. I'm gonna need one of those fancy pics they run of you in the WW, but with you spitting all over your computer screen.

It can suck when you work to find new places and then the media 'finds' it too. But it's a fact of life. If I were a food writer for a paper, I'd sure as shit go online and see what people are discovering. You'd be an idiot not to. I can live with it, but I end up saving my best stuff for email and conversations with friends. If it's good enough, it'll eventually get out there and then either devolve in quality or get crowded. Or it won't and everyone wins.

It's worth noting that despite the Oregonian's website not linking authors correctly, that Porter was the one who reviewed Du Kuh Bee and gave it a B+. Wasn't he also the one who reviewed Yuzu a couple years ago?
And I'm not sure more articles about the burbs matter if the reviewers don't have the experience or palate to realize Pho Binh Minh is mediocre Vietnamese.


PBM sucks, but there's a lot of Viet places over here in No Man's Land that haven't been covered even close to thoroughly yet. Again, I'm not sure enough people care to make a difference for the papers.

So I wonder, what generates better ROI for a paper? A review of Irving St Kitchen five months after it's been completely covered online, or a in-depth look at something obscure but interesting like pupusas? I certainly like the latter, but given the crowds the descend upon an 'A' grade or the ROY, or Best of winner, I'm not sure 'more specialized' is actually 'better' for the paper. It needs a spreadsheet I guess.

#7 Amanda

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 11:44 AM

That seems lame. This is such a vibrant restaurant city. It's sad that the area's major paper won't even show up to represent. Good luck to Mr. Porter going forward.

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#8 ExtraMSG

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 12:10 PM

It can suck when you work to find new places and then the media 'finds' it too. But it's a fact of life. If I were a food writer for a paper, I'd sure as shit go online and see what people are discovering. You'd be an idiot not to. I can live with it, but I end up saving my best stuff for email and conversations with friends. If it's good enough, it'll eventually get out there and then either devolve in quality or get crowded. Or it won't and everyone wins.


I guess I can agree with this right up to the point El Inka closes down.

So I wonder, what generates better ROI for a paper? A review of Irving St Kitchen five months after it's been completely covered online, or a in-depth look at something obscure but interesting like pupusas? I certainly like the latter, but given the crowds the descend upon an 'A' grade or the ROY, or Best of winner, I'm not sure 'more specialized' is actually 'better' for the paper. It needs a spreadsheet I guess.


Hard to say. As I've said before, in transition periods like this you need a visionary who shows those of us who aren't as clever how things should be done. However, I'm pretty sure that if print continues to reduce spending and quality of their restaurant reviews and tries to compete more directly with Yelp, food forums, and other democratic online review sources, it's going to lose. It can't be as democratic or as cheap as the internet. It's destined to fail in that fight. It has to play to its own strengths.

If I were king of the Oregonian, I'd probably largely cede reviews to other sources. Instead, I'd probably try to focus on areas that Yelp and the like can't really compete on. I'd devote issues to specific cuisines or dishes, using popular items such as burgers and pizza to build a following so that when something less attention grabbing, such as Beaverton Korean came along, people still looked forward to the section. I'd probably look to building expertise or insisting that writers do the work to gain or impart some expertise on a subject matter. I'd aim for more depth. I'd want people to be both informed and entertained in every article and would probably make them less reviews and more looks into the life of the restaurants and its people or the cuisine or food. Reviews are everywhere these days. I don't see that they have much of a future in print, unless print can prove that the opinions they offer are better than the opinions on Yelp or here.

Just spit-balling here. But I don't see how it can be worse than the direction they are going.
The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

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#9 jennifer

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 02:20 PM

Whatever the reason, it's sad. My first impression was that they're shifting gears in a desperate attempt to get more advertising revenue. Kind of like the Food Network dumbing down content to the point that Kraft and other Lunchables-type products are happily being advertised.

As far as whether there's a future for restaurant reviews in print, I can't say. But I do know that most food cities have a huge food section on their newspaper's website, where restaurant reviews show up there as well as in print. So the O could have a fantastic presence covering the food scene online, just as portlandfood.org, eater and that food cart website does. sfgate.com, website for the SF Chronicle, has a terrific food section on their site. There's new content every day and it's a great resource for locals & out-of-towners.

I agree with MSG, I think they're missing the boat. This is an amazing food town that's on the radar screen of every major food city in the country. The O could be the Saveur or the Rolling Stone mag of Portland restaurants. They need to represent.

#10 Flynn

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 02:35 PM

I guess I can agree with this right up to the point El Inka closes down.

Not a good fit for what I'm talking about. Best fit example: ethnic place with established customer base that hasn't been overrun with foodies yet. Like Yuzu in the olden days for example. And I wrote Yuzu up early, because I couldn't tell if they were making money on the 9pm and later crowd or not. I strongly suspect if Yuzu's delightful proprietors had the choice, they'd opt out of all previous and future online and print coverage.

If El Inka has said customer base and is doing fine, you shouldn't worry. But I think I'd give them as much online coverage as possible, given their location.

I think some of the O's problem is that their platform is the suck and doesn't give them much room to get creative with content packaging. You're basically choosing between 'article page' and 'category page'. I'd like to see someone sharp get creative with a platform like Drupal, like Ron did with PDXplate before he left town. Way more flexibility to tie related content together in interesting ways.

The rest of it is the online vs print ad monetization problem that has been covered a million times.

#11 myswandive

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 04:10 PM

The Oregonian responds to Eater here:


What prompted the Dining section's change in focus to more accessible restaurants?

DW: There has long been a feeling, inside the paper and among readers, that our coverage has been slightly more high-end and Portland-centric than the way the average newspaper reader eats. That said, the economy has inevitably affected our coverage, and Dining is no exception. People are spending less money on everything now, including eating out, and we want to honor that. We have been doing this for a long time, of course -- with coverage of food carts, cheap eats, and more -- but we want to expand on that a little.
So how different will the Dining section look? And about those chains... >>

So how will this be reflected in the paper's coverage of new Portland restaurants? Will there be fewer reviews in general, or will proportion of reviews between city restaurants and suburban restaurants shift? Just trying to get a feel of what Oregonian readers will notice in the pages...

DW: Most readers won't notice much change in our coverage. We'll still cover openings, we'll still review the new high-end places, Portland establishments, and the restaurant trends that put Portland on the national map. We will also focus more on the suburbs than we have in the past. This doesn't mean our entire coverage will shift in that direction, but since a large number of our readers live in the suburbs, we don't want to ignore them, nor do we want to focus on just the very highest-end places in those areas. Instead, we want to give suburban readers everyday dining options in their area.

Most of our readers (who have commented thus far) seem concerned at the idea of covering suburban chains, or places that the majority of people already know about. Is it true that chains are on the menu?

DW: We are not going to shift our coverage so much that our focus is on suburban chains. Our emphasis will remain on local establishments. The "Home-grown chains" list in Diner this year is a brief, but good, example of our coverage.



#12 ExtraMSG

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 10:14 PM

I wonder if it has anything to do with this description of some efforts they were making as forwarded in a private email:

One feature we'd like to have is short reviews of Clackamas County restaurants from the public, about three or four paragraphs' worth. I can't pay you or cover your expenses, unfortunately; all I can do is credit you with the review.

We're also launching community-specific websites in the very near future that will have widgets which will allow you to post reviews yourself, with photos. Ditto on the payment for that.


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#13 vj

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 10:28 PM

Ah, the hyper-local model. Should be interesting to see how that works for them. I guess they've done okay by their blogs...

#14 ExtraMSG

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 10:48 PM

Hyper-local amateurs. If I were cynical, I'd say that they were more interested in saving money than reaching out to local communities. However, it's more likely it's an effort to kill two birds with one stone.

I encourage them to be more local, but they should find people who know their shit and pay them to do a good job. And if they're just going to be highlighting places that the masses already eat, who the fuck cares? Are they going to talk about truly hidden gems and quality ethnic places? Or are they going to just inflate the burbs sense of self and pretend that Hall Street Grill is just as good as Wildwood? Or are they going to focus on local chains like the mediocre Typhoon, the mediocre Pizza Schmizza, or the awful Bellagios?

Again, if I were cynical, I might suggest that they won't spend the effort to find or distinguish the truly good places in the burbs.
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#15 abefroman

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 12:43 PM

This, from Eater, all sounds horrendous.

Roger Porter was summarily dismissed from his position as restaurant reviewer, with some clues as to the future direction of the paper.


"I was told, in an email from the current editor of The Oregonian's A & E, DeAnn Welker, that my services were no longer wanted at The Oregonian, and she was terminating my relation with the paper. “I have come to the conclusion that this is not a good fit. It is clear to me that we are going in a different direction from the past,” she wrote me. And again: “We are radically changing the way we cover dining and restaurants.” That changing direction means, as Welker told me in person, that The Oregonian intends its restaurant coverage to be aimed at ordinary people. It will henceforth meet the needs of readers who go to the places where most of the people go [...] we had had some disagreement over the paper’s forthcoming increased attention to restaurants in the suburbs and to chains, at the expense of coverage of Portland’s extraordinary restaurants. She was insistent that The Oregonian would embark on a new course and this appeared to signify in part a new regime."

"The Oregonian, under Karen Brooks’ superb editorship, produced strong, dedicated coverage of a restaurant scene that has made Portland one of the great food cities in America. It is clear that the paper’s new policy aims to counter what Welker and her cohorts believe has been an excessively elitist point of view regarding restaurant reviewing. The new direction was evidently symbolized by the dismissal of Brooks some months ago. Coverage of new restaurants will continue, but in a greatly reduced fashion. In its place there will be more A & E dining articles on such subjects as how to assemble a tasty picnic. This shift cannot be good for the morale or the business of the extraordinary restaurateurs of the city, and signals a remarkable indifference to the great food city Portland has become."


Is "Battle of the Cheesesticks: Applebees vs. Chili's" in our fair paper's future?


"I was told, in an email from the current editor of The Oregonian's A & E, DeAnn Welker, that my services were no longer wanted at The Oregonian, and she was terminating my relation with the paper.

If this is the avenue that they took to let Roger Porter know that his services were no longer needed by the Oregonian then I think it is pretty good indication of where the paper is going on the whole. Being told that you are being dismissed via e-mail is pretty low. I have a friend who was part of a very large downsizing (35,000 employees) by a major banking concern that had a face to face meeting with his supervisor letting him know that his services were no longer needed. At least have the decency to tell them in person. There had to be some level of friction or disagreement already in the works for it to go down like this, but still, show some respect.

#16 ExtraMSG

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 01:25 PM

I wish I could find video from Up in the Air when they fire people via webcam.
The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

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#17 Jill-O

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 01:46 PM

I agree with ya abe (and that name still makes me laugh, thanks ;o), that was incredibly low. What a bunch of classless hacks.
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#18 Amanda

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 02:07 PM

Dismissal by e-mail. Radio Shack, Part II. Up front face to face is the only decent way to do it. God forbid the day people get the axe via text or voice mail. That would be just as bad or worse. If they bother to pick up the phone they could at least get the news from a real person.

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#19 polloelastico

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 02:10 PM

I'm in the minority. I'd rather be fired by email. That walk of shame is horrible.
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#20 Jill-O

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 02:21 PM

I'm in the minority. I'd rather be fired by email. That walk of shame is horrible.


Yeah, but the boss gets off without having to endure any kind of uncomfortable situation too, and THAT sucks.

But I hear ya about that walk of shame, it's not fun.
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