Sky Full of Bacon

One of the dangers of being a blogger somewhat dependent for publicity and awareness on bigger fish is that when you say anything about bigger media, you look like you’re sucking up.  Most notably, to yourself.

Nevertheless, at the risk of appearing to be taking the brimstone-scented gelt of Zell himself, I have to say, the Tribune food section has really kicked some butt lately.  Although the section is often identified with its star reviewer, Phil Vettel, I have to admit that’s not the part I pay attention to, so I have no position on whether he’s getting unusually soft on high-end restaurants, or just usually soft.  Hot new restaurant reviews are for people who need to show off where they’ve been to, not people who care about food.

What’s interesting is that the stuff beyond the starred reviews that is for people who care about food has really been good lately.  In fact I can’t help but think that there is a mandate to let the Tribune writers escape the shackles of the institutional voice and write with more of a personal, blog-like spin– but on the kinds of topics, and with the kinds of resources, that we associate with newspapers and good reporting.  When that approach works, it really is the best of both worlds, and the Trib food section has made it work several times lately:

• Christopher Borrelli wrote a great character sketch of a breakfast obsessive, sympathetic and yet also not afraid to portray the guy as kind of wacky.

• Monica Eng chronicled her visits to various places where animals are killed and her reactions to it– the kind of personal writing that wouldn’t have been in a newspaper pre-blog, but with a length and breadth that few bloggers could have devoted the resources necessary to achieve.

• The newly-redesigned Trib did a lavish how-did-Columbus-affect-food section for Columbus Day.  Not all of it was great, there are some term-paper-cribbed-out-of-the-Brittanica* pieces in it, but several are well worth checking out such as Emily Nunn on pecans and Bill Daley’s video tour of a post-Columbian produce section.

• Monica Eng again with a good version of an oldie but goodie, reporter follows health inspectors on their rounds.

So, count me today as someone who doesn’t think the American newspaper is dead yet.  Actually, I think the Trib’s food section has started making the right move from being for the person who’s just barely interested in food (and will look at the Jewel ads) to the person who’s quite interested in it and wants quality coverage.  So what’s the bad news for the Tribune, since there must be some?

The bad news is, I didn’t find any of these stories via the main  I first heard about them somewhere else— Menu Pages’ blog or the Trib’s own The Stew or Ronnie Suburban’s media roundup on LTHForum or whatever.  In fact, even when I knew about them and wanted to find them via the Trib site, it was usually difficult (note that Menu Pages also gave up on trying to embed the Daley produce section video, which puts Sky Full of Bacon one technological step ahead of the mighty TribCo).  How people who know how to create a visually coherent special section in print can only produce a hopeless jumble online is beyond me, but the first thing standing in the way of the American newspaper online is the messy, visually unappealing, confusing as hell American newspaper website.

There, Sam, keep your damn gelt and use it to make your site work, like the New York Times’ but almost no other paper’s does.

*Deliberately archaic reference

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