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Where Professional Critics and Reviewers Still Matter

August 16th, 2008 by Bob Bly

It has been observed many times that blogging, Web 2.0, and social media are effective because today’s consumers are more intersted in the opinions and recommendations of their peers than those of professional reviewers, critics, and experts.

Certainly the success of the reader reviews on Amazon.com is a great example of this.

But the dominance of Citizen Journalism over professional journalists is not universal. A case in point: the restaurant industry.

Even in this era of social networking, professional restaurante reviewers remain a powerful force in the business.

Restaurants keep extensive files on food critics. So when a food critics enters a restaurant, the staff is alerted to his presence — and can pull out all stops to ensure a good review.

Restaurant reviews carry so much weight with the dining public that “a bad write-up can land a restaurant on life support, crippling its business,” writes Adam Goldman in The Record (8/15/08, p. 30).

Successful NJ restaurant entrepreneur Drew Nierporent says seeing a bad review of your restaurant in the morning paper is “to wake up and read your own obituary.”

We are living in an era where consumers, not marketers, have the power.

And where readers, not the media, are increasingly communicating the voice of public opinion.

But not totally.

Not yet, anyway.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, August 16th, 2008 at 1:57 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

12 responses about “Where Professional Critics and Reviewers Still Matter”

  1. Aaron said:

    Bob,

    I’m coming at this as both a journalist and as a chef. Odd combination, perhaps, but there it is.

    I’ve found, personally, the level of criticism and public feedback is related to the degree the participants have immersed themselves in the game. There are restaurants which live and die by the critic’s pen. Then there are the restaurant chains, everything from Denny’s to Earl’s to White Spot. Will a bad review at a corporate store spell death for the entire chain?

    Certainly not.

    Will it kill the latest incarnation of Rocco Despirito’s ‘genius?’

    Quite likely.

    The restaurants – the businesses – which survives on the whim of public fancy goes by the wayside very quickly. At some point you have to decide if you are catering to fashion (always transient) or if you are doing this for yourself and your hardcore fans (in the case of restaurants, foodies who know good eats from the dilettantes who are there merely to see and be seen).

    Maybe I’m a bit of a snob, but there’s a time and a place for appealing to the lowest common denominator (aggregated services, core infrastructure, etc.) which by their very nature need to be ubiquitous, and then there’s the craft-type business, the artisans, who may not necessarily scale up, who have a limited appeal and for whom great buckets of money would be nice but aren’t the reason for being.

    You could say it’s all relative. There’s a time and a place for everything.

    As a journalist, I know how much information I have to process and filter every single day. I can only imagine how much a civilian has to sift and sort.

    As a personal chef, my business is selling people time – I give them back time they would otherwise spend in the kitchen rather than doing something else.

    My guests are also getting a totally unique experience – no one has my chops, my move, my knowledge, my particular experience. In short, no one cooks like me and that in itself is a value proposition (unlike the corporate stores, where you WANT to duplicate the experience).

    Marketing, in sense of providing consumers with informed choices, is more important than ever, especially in the niche markets. If nothing else, you have something unique to sell, something that isn’t monochromatic, something that isn’t corporate and perhaps picked up on yet by the mainstream.

    For some things, like food, words, music – arts and entertainment, I guess, are easier to differentiate than say, certain services (accounting, dentistry, insurance, choice of telephone and television – infrastructure type services), which have a base level of sameness to them. I’d suggest in those cases it’s more a matter of who you know as much as what you know.

    In both cases, you need marketing to let people know you are there, what sets you apart and why they should give you money.

    A professional critic is valuable because he still separates the wheat from the chaff, helps consumers make choices and can actually serve as another conduit for your message.

    Professional critics, however, have their limitations, mainly, useful as either an academic exercise (insofar as they can articulate why something is good or bad according to an objective, agreed upon set of guidelines), and second, for mass appeal (“I don’t have time to decide between Bell and Telus, so I’ll read a review and go with Rogers because they have the iPhone contract in Canada.”)

    From a journalist’s point of view, I have to say I’m not a fan of ‘citizen journalism.’ Why? Because the layman simply doesn’t understand the rules of engagement. People don’t understand the subtle complexities of cultivating sources, of researching information, and especially of libel and slander. There are issues of privacy, community morality, trespass.

    There are legal and ethical limitations as to what any professional can and cannot do. When you invite amateurs to participate and treat them on the same level, then you are diminishing the profession and doing the public a disservice. It is s hort step from legitimate reportage becoming baseless gossip.

    Journalism is changing, but so too are medicine and engineering. We don’t invite amateurs who have their St. John’s badges to perform surgery now, do we? No, that’s foolish. So then why should everyone who has a blog be welcome to write ‘news?’

    Amateur blogging is one thing. Cooking for the family is another. But doing it on a professional level requires skill, dedication, commitment, sacrifice, talent and professional certification and recognition – and that’s just in plying your trade/profession. To run a successful business, you must be able to engage your clientele, and the only way that can happen is through effective marketing.

    At the end of the day, professional criticism plays as important a role as advertising or the skill/product being sold.

    – Cheers
    Aaron Taylor
    http://mychefsite.com/uberchefaaron

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