Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Final Lesson from the Grave of GOURMET

Today's Op-Ed page of The New York Times included a piece about the passing of Gourmet magazine by Christopher Kimball, who runs the competing publication, Chef's Magazine. Kimball's title ("Gourmet to All That") tipped us off to the retrospective reflections we would find in his text but not to his conclusion, which extended far beyond the boundaries of yet another print publication biting the dust:

The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up. They can no longer be coronated; their voices have to be deemed essential to the lives of their customers. That leaves, I think, little room for the thoughtful, considered editorial with which Gourmet delighted its readers for almost seven decades.

To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice. Google “broccoli casserole” and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing. The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise — the kind that comes from real experience, the hard-won blood-on-the-floor kind. I like my reporters, my pilots, my pundits, my doctors, my teachers and my cooking instructors to have graduated from the school of hard knocks.

Of course nostalgia was lurking even in this conclusion. When was the last time you encountered a phrase like "thoughtful expertise" in your reading, whether about the media, the Internet, or professional conduct? It seemed fitting that Kimball should conclude his piece with an anecdote about the one name we all seem to associate with fine cooking and dining:

Julia Child, one of my Boston neighbors, epitomized this old-school notion of apprenticeship. As her dinner companion one evening, I watched as she became frustrated by the restaurant’s dim lighting, grabbed a huge watchman’s flashlight from her pendulous satchel and proceeded to illuminate her main course. She wanted to investigate her food before eating it, the waiter’s recommendations notwithstanding. This act of spontaneous journalism evolved from a lifetime love of education and reverence for true expertise. Her first question upon meeting a young chef was always, “And where did you train, dear?”

It used to be that the standard joke about cyberspace was that on the Internet no one knows that you're a dog. These days no one knows whether anything you do in cyberspace can be validated on the basis of your training experience!

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