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Is Grant Butler Helping to Ruin Food Coverage?


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#21 Calabrese

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 12:34 PM

As a long time (30 plus years) resident, I will say the Zero has been weak the entire time that I have lived here. And it's just declined and declined. When WWeek can scoop the Zero on the Goldschmidt disgrace (and win a Pulitzer), that's a sad state of affairs and shows the Zero never has been about hard news.

#22 ExtraMSG

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 12:37 PM

As a long time (30 plus years) resident, I will say the Zero has been weak the entire time that I have lived here. And it's just declined and declined. When WWeek can scoop the Zero on the Goldschmidt disgrace (and win a Pulitzer), that's a sad state of affairs and shows the Zero never has been about hard news.


I assume you're old enough to understand this reference: "broken record". You realize this is a food website not the how-I'm-obsessed-with-Neil-Goldschmidt-and-the-Oregonian website, right?

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#23 Calabrese

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 12:43 PM

I assume you're old enough to understand this reference: "broken record". You realize this is a food website not the how-I'm-obsessed-with-Neil-Goldschmidt-and-the-Oregonian website, right?


Wow. Get up on the wrong side of the bed, Mr. Sunshine? The thread had already veered off track when I jumped on board. I guess you save your special snark for some people.

#24 chefken

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 06:24 PM

I think you guys miss the point: people aren't going to subscribe to a newspaper on the hope or promise that it will get better. Would you go to a restaurant and pay top dollar based on the premise that if you do so, then they'll have the revenue to make better food? No, you'd go because it has good food and pay top dollar for it. The Oregonian, like many newspapers, is focusing on cost-cutting to the detriment of its product, rather than finding a way to narrow and improve its focus, making it a more relevant and useful product, while cutting costs where its un-needed. I'd actually like to see papers give up on reviewing for the most part. I think it's something the internet is ultimately better at, just in a very different way (more diffuse voices).

I'd much rather see them focus on subjects/stories about food and the restaurant industry that the internet is bad at, such as investigative journalism, in-depth features, and the like -- things where I would eagerly look forward to each issue. As it is right now, I only read most reviews to link to them. But to get inside the kitchen of June or Fin and find out what the chefs there think, how they cook, what their hopes are, what their goals are? To learn what it's like to be an Hispanic immigrant living in Gresham, barely speaking English, working in a fancy kitchen, to find out what he had to go through to get there? To know what it's like for a recent graduate from a Portland culinary school to be looking for work, to hear their dreams and disappointments, to feel their excitement about their first job? To live vicariously through the Oregonian's pages the day in the life of a dairy farmer and cheesemaker, to know what it's like to get up at 4am and milk goats, but also to taste your cheese that's been aging for 18 months and know that what you made is great? These are things I'd pay for.


Newspapers, like any business, get caught in a cycle that is often difficult to analyze and correct when you're in the middle of it. And it's difficult to make changes when you have an established clientele that is used to the way you do things, and may disappear if you change too much. Sure, all that you mention are good ideas and might make the O more appealing. But what if they were to make these changes and they guess wrong, and they lose the diminished group of subscribers they have left. What if these changes don't result in a mass of new readers and only succeeds in hastening their demise.

Your analogy to the restaurant that, if only you paid top dollar they would all of a sudden make good food is a bit faulty, IMO. The Oregonian used to put out a good product. Or at least a better one. Which attracted a paying clientele, both as subscribers and advertisers. Then the Internet and Craigslist came along and along with them a huge advertising revenue source disappeared and competition for readership - in the form of a massive and moving target - appeared. There was no intent to diminish quality - it was a result of severely reduced revenues, through no fault of their own. Maybe they could have made some of the choices you suggested. Maybe those would have quickened the readership loss. It all seems like a bunch of hindsight.
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#25 nervousxtian

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 06:25 PM

Sorry Nick, doing those kinds of pieces in the O isn't going to bring in lots of subscribers. I know, this is obviously a food board, but most people who would buy the O aren't just buying it for the Living section.

I mean shit, my dad used to buy the paper just to read the Sports page.. but shit.. with ESPN SportsCenter on one of there 3 or 4 channels almost at any given time, plus ESPN.com for up-to-date box scores and stories.. there's no point. If I want sports stories, there's SI, breaking Blazers news? one of the two sports radio channels during the commute home and you have it all.

Narrowing the focus? Too alienate even more subscribers? Seriously, who still subscribes? People over the age of 50+ who don't use computers as much?

#26 Calabrese

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 07:28 PM

Sorry Nick, doing those kinds of pieces in the O isn't going to bring in lots of subscribers. I know, this is obviously a food board, but most people who would buy the O aren't just buying it for the Living section.

I mean shit, my dad used to buy the paper just to read the Sports page.. but shit.. with ESPN SportsCenter on one of there 3 or 4 channels almost at any given time, plus ESPN.com for up-to-date box scores and stories.. there's no point. If I want sports stories, there's SI, breaking Blazers news? one of the two sports radio channels during the commute home and you have it all.

Narrowing the focus? Too alienate even more subscribers? Seriously, who still subscribes? People over the age of 50+ who don't use computers as much?


Most of the people I know who are over 50 use their computers and are not likely to bother with the Zero. Hell my 77 yol mother uses her computer quite a bit though she still reads newsprint (in another state).

#27 chefken

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 07:31 PM

Sorry Nick, doing those kinds of pieces in the O isn't going to bring in lots of subscribers. I know, this is obviously a food board, but most people who would buy the O aren't just buying it for the Living section.

I mean shit, my dad used to buy the paper just to read the Sports page.. but shit.. with ESPN SportsCenter on one of there 3 or 4 channels almost at any given time, plus ESPN.com for up-to-date box scores and stories.. there's no point. If I want sports stories, there's SI, breaking Blazers news? one of the two sports radio channels during the commute home and you have it all.

Narrowing the focus? Too alienate even more subscribers? Seriously, who still subscribes? People over the age of 50+ who don't use computers as much?


I'm over 50, but I use the computer plenty. I still subscribe. And I still buy books, and read them.
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#28 nervousxtian

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 07:51 PM

I just picked a general age, but I'm thinking it trends quite a bit older than younger.

PS: You are both old.. :)

#29 SarahWS

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 08:27 PM

I'd much rather see them focus on subjects/stories about food and the restaurant industry that the internet is bad at, such as investigative journalism, in-depth features, and the like -- things where I would eagerly look forward to each issue.


Amen to that! Unfortunately it's a really expensive business to be in. I'm really enjoying the new SF Bay Area non-profit newspaper/website, The Bay Citizen, which the NY Times is using for their new local Bay Area section. Also Propublica has had great investigative pieces lately - I just wish they both start having a real food section.

#30 ExtraMSG

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 08:40 PM

Your analogy to the restaurant that, if only you paid top dollar they would all of a sudden make good food is a bit faulty, IMO. The Oregonian used to put out a good product. Or at least a better one. Which attracted a paying clientele, both as subscribers and advertisers. Then the Internet and Craigslist came along and along with them a huge advertising revenue source disappeared and competition for readership - in the form of a massive and moving target - appeared. There was no intent to diminish quality - it was a result of severely reduced revenues, through no fault of their own. Maybe they could have made some of the choices you suggested. Maybe those would have quickened the readership loss. It all seems like a bunch of hindsight.


Some of it is hindsight, but some of it is still very relevant. I'm not saying I'm some brilliant expert who is going to solve the newspaper industry's problems. I'm just throwing shit out there. But I'm pretty sure what they've been doing isn't going to work. Reducing quality and trying to compete with Yelp while being little more than a local hardcopy version of the AP isn't going to save them. At best all the cost cutting may slow their demise. I do have some confidence that someone will come along and re-invent newspapers and will show the less visionary publishers/editors the way. Either that or interweb outlets and TV will take on the aspects of news that no one but newspapers currently handle.

My point isn't that they shouldn't be cutting costs or that they can save their broad readership. My point is that just doing the same shit even worse is all kinds of stupid. I don't assume newspapers can or will ever be what they were. It's a new world. But they can at least focus on their strengths and re-double their efforts to do what they do well really well.

To go back to the restaurant analogy: if McDonald's moves into town you don't try to compete by making shittier burgers. You make a better burger or no burgers at all.

And btw, I think my suggestion would make the articles less foodie-centric than the reviews are. Only people interested in eating out are going to read reviews. Meanwhile, Yelp, sites like this, the various blogs, etc, are meeting readers wants better. So you give people stories that are more about the human condition couched in a food-centric setting. I think Eat Pray Love has had okay sales, if I'm not mistaken.

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#31 nervousxtian

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 03:28 PM

"To go back to the restaurant analogy: if McDonald's moves into town you don't try to compete by making shittier burgers. You make a better burger or no burgers at all. "

Doesn't work in this scenario.. because McDonald's doesn't come into town and give away all their burgers for free and not even make you go outside to pick it up off the porch.

The internet isn't just a competitor to print newspapers, it reinvented the rules.

#32 ExtraMSG

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 04:02 PM

So did McDonald's (or White Castle, technically). The point remains: the internet does "news" well and cheaply in a way that newspapers can't really compete with. But the internet -- at least currently -- does news very poorly in other ways. If print journalism is to be successful, it must focus on its comparative advantages and let the internet do the same.

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#33 nervousxtian

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 06:19 PM

So did McDonald's (or White Castle, technically). The point remains: the internet does "news" well and cheaply in a way that newspapers can't really compete with. But the internet -- at least currently -- does news very poorly in other ways. If print journalism is to be successful, it must focus on its comparative advantages and let the internet do the same.


Free with faults still is free. Take the Willamette Week, would you pay for it?

#34 ExtraMSG

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Posted 15 October 2010 - 11:26 PM

Well, if Grant isn't helping to ruin food coverage in Portland, he's certainly defending it's ruin:

I think it's cool that there's a story acknowledging part of the dining scene so many dismiss with rancor.


The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's