The food journalism world is rife with innovative storytelling

April 30, 2019
Category: Tech & Tools

This article originally appeared in Try This! — Tools for Journalism, our newsletter about digital tools. Want bite-sized news, tutorials and ideas about the best digital tools for journalism in your inbox every Monday? Sign up here.

Hello from somewhere above you on an Airbus A320. The flight is half empty but I’m flying home with a full belly after another successful James Beard Media Awards ceremony, a delicious annual volunteer gig for me.

If you don’t pay much attention to the food journalism world, there are a few things you should know. First, while food coverage has contracted at many local publications, a few have realized its potential as a revenue generator and community builder. Just look at what Hanna Raskin has done at The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina.

Second, and probably more relevant to this newsletter, food journalism is full of fertile ground for new ways to tell stories. The nominees for this year’s James Beard innovative storytelling award are an illuminating slice of what I’m talking about.

This year’s winner, “In Search of Water-Boiled Fish” from Eater, is a visual journey through an illustrator’s memories as she seeks a cherished dish from time spent with her dad. It could have been a straightforward written piece. But the vertical (read: phone scroll friendly) graphic novel treatment transforms it into an experience that understands something key about food: We eat with our eyes first.

Tablet Magazine’s “100 Most Jewish Foods” doesn’t tell a story. But it does do something miraculous. It makes navigating the internet fun. Rather than create another list, a tired format in the food world and everywhere else, Tablet puts the food where it belongs — on a table. Spin the table, click and learn.

Have you ever wondered “What’s in a Food Truck?” The Washington Post has an answer. And in typical WaPo fashion, that answer is delivered in text, video, graphics, photos, 360-degree explorations and more. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many different formats used so effectively in a single piece of journalism.

Many people know James Beard for its chef awards. But the James Beard Media Awards are pretty much the Pulitzers of food writing. It’s worth checking out the winners for more inspiration.

JOIN THE KIDS: I have a problem. I have spent upwards of 10 hours watching TikTok compilation videos on YouTube, mostly pondering two questions. First, how old am I and when did that happen? But also, how can publishers take advantage of this new network that is so popular with young audiences? If you don’t know, Tik Tok is an app (formerly called Musical.ly) that allows users to create, remix and share short videos. It’s somewhat like Vine. So far, it seems like publishers have mostly jumped in with memes and short self-promotion videos. That will undoubtedly change as TikTok opens up to media companies. If it’s too early for your organization to give it a go, know this: My gut tells me that TikTok is the first new social platform with staying potential since Snapchat.

MAKE YOUR OWN: On its face, this is a list of 11 recommendations for journalism entrepreneurs from Anya Schiffrin, director of the media and communications program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. But with advice like “expand your focus beyond pure editorial” and “make sure your core team has complementary skills and strengths” and “find a niche and own it,” this is required reading for anyone in journalism.

DIRTY UP THE GRAM: It was bound to happen sometime. The Instagram aesthetic — think perfectly curated photos in front of vivid backgrounds — is dead. The new “cool” is imperfection, reality and, obviously, memes. It makes sense that the polished look is fading. After all, if everything is stunning, nothing is stunning. To stand out, Instagrammers are tossing out the curation and, well, just tossing images out. That, or they’re working really hard to make it look like they’re unpolished. I can’t keep up anymore.

WOVEN THREADS: News organizations have collaborated before on massive investigative stories, deep dives into major issues and to push stories to as many platforms as possible. But this combined Twitter thread with immaculately planned tweets from ProPublica, The Sacramento Bee and The Fresno Bee is a micro master class in how much room we still have for experimentation.

FROM ME:

  • Gannett owns 109 local publications and the national beast that is USA Today. Combined, they create well over 1 million images every year. The company announced last week that it will combine those photos in one service and make them available to subscribers, a la Getty or AP Images.
  • The world has a few loud people with a lot to say and many more quiet people who choose to listen. Is it any surprise that Twitter is the same way? A new study by Pew found that 10 percent of Twitter users create 80 percent of all tweets. And that doesn’t even include Russian bots.

Try This! is supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.