A few weeks ago I attended the second Australian Food and Drink Bloggers Conference in Sydney with fellow Perth bloggers Kitchen Crusader and Gastromony. The conference provided a mix of seminars, workshops and panel sessions on everything that you ever wanted to learn and know about food blogging. The conference was the result of the success of Eat Drink Blog 2010 held in Melbourne. A team of Sydney bloggers - Simon (The Heart of Food), Jen (Jenius), Reemski (I Am Obsessed With Food) and Trina (The Gourmet Forager) came together at the beginning of this year to see if they could get the conference running for a second year. Judging by the success of Eat Drink Blog 2011, with the number of attendees doubling, more sponsors on board and it was a trending topic on twitter, it looks like Eat Drink Blog will become an annual event.
Here are my reflections on the conference.
The seminars in the morning looked at the nuts and bolts of blogging - the law surrounding it, optimizing search results and writing. Food blogging is generally managed by common law and just plain common sense. In a nutshell – bloggers have the right to take photos in restaurants and copyright over their photos, and the written form of recipes can be protected but not the dish itself.
Check out Dominic Villa’s blog for a summary of his talk on law for food bloggers.
What was really interesting for me under the legal matters covered was the issue of defamation and the fact that a restaurant review can be liable for defamation. All bloggers have a responsibility to be careful about what they say - this even extends to comments made by others on their blog, twitter and retweets. As raised by someone later on in the day during the ethics session, peoples’ livelihoods are at stake and a lot of hard work goes into the running of a restaurant, a bad review can potentially have a negative impact on business. Whilst it is fair game to provide an honest account of a dining experience, it can be expressed in a number of ways and any critiques should be articulated in a constructive way and with civility.
…so what about A. A. Gills someone tweeted?
Surely if defamation law exists, Gill’s next gig would be to tell us how unpalatable prison food is. Gill’s is known for his satirical and critical restaurant reviews. Earlier this year, a chef in Glasbury attacked (pushed down the stairs!) one of his cooks after receiving criticism from Gill.
Reviews of restaurants are generally a statement of opinion which are difficult to prove true or false in court. But this does not mean that if a case was brought to court, it would not be a success (see cases of Blue Angel and Coco, and Stephen Estcourt's blog). To be on the safe side, bloggers should put a disclaimer on their website that clearly states that everything is their own opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt. It is only matter a time when a blogger will be brought to court, the only thing stopping this is that no one really cares enough and like Metallica suing Napster, it’s just not a cool thing to do.
A cool thing to do is thinking about search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is all about improving the rank of a website in search results. There are many things that bloggers can do to increase hits to their site, such as using popular search keywords; editing content to make sure that headings, titles and images are correctly tagged; and changes to the html, although changes to the source code may be above the technical knowhow of a lot of bloggers.
But the good thing is that there are many ways to skin a cat and there are lots of simple things bloggers can do like link love, basically, you want people to link to your blog and you should link back to other peoples blogs (attribution is important). More links will push your blog up the search engine result pages.
Here’s a link to Michael Gall’s presentation on SEO and if you are a wine lover check out he’s site Terroir.me which provides an interactive winery map which you can learn about various wine regions in Australia and use it to plan wine tours.
Valerie Khoos’s talk on writing was a highlight. She provided seven really practical tips which you can access from the Eat Drink Blog website. When I look through my blog entries, I can see that they have really developed over time. I started blogging as a way to document my cooking endeavours, so a lot of my earlier entries are short and straightforward, sometimes with just a picture, ingredient list and method. I realized that the more I blogged and the more blogs I read, I found out why I enjoy reading blogs and that I wanted to be a better blogger, which meant that I needed to work on being a better writer. I think that with digital photography, anyone can take a decent photo nowadays, so there are many food blogs out there which are all image with no substance. What I enjoy about food blogs is a good story, some context, an entry that is thoughtful and well written. I find words much more engaging then pictures. Writing is one area of my blog that I want to work on and Valerie’s presentation was really helpful. I know that her tips will always be in the back of my mind whenever I write for my blog now.
I found the food photography and food styling workshops especially helpful as I just bought a DSLR camera with the intention of taking my food photography to the next level. As I will be putting more effort into my writing now, I also want some better photos to go with my posts. Often, you can never fully capture what you see with your eyes on camera. I think the worst is scenery photos. When you go traveling, your photos of the amazing mountains, forests, rivers etc are always a minuscule representation of the real thing. I also find photos of people misleading, I always think that people look better in real life. But food however, I think that it’s an area where it is possible to really capture the essence of the subject – why else do we call it food porn and I have all these cookbooks that I never cook from but I own because the photography is amazing and it makes me drool. Quentin Jones, photographer for Sydney Morning Herald was very open in providing all the secrets to his food photography. It was interesting to see how composition and the angle that the object is shot at can make a big difference to the resulting photo and I learnt about the importance of the post-processing, where there are little things that you can do to make it look like you are a better photographer than what you really are. Peter Georgakopoulos, blogger of Souvlaki for the Soul showed us that photography should be fun and we need to find our own style. Peter has a great write up of his workshop on his blog.
The conference winded down in the afternoon with some panel sessions that provided a lot of food for thought.
Simone Marnie (ABC Sydney) provided his thoughts on the evolution of food culture in relation to food bloggers. There is an ongoing battle between the old and new media, so it was refreshing to hear someone talk honestly about how food bloggers fit into the scheme of things, and show an appreciation for the work that bloggers do. Simon told us that he often uses blogs to find out about places to eat rather than the traditional forms of food review media like the Good Food Guide. Food blogs provide a different perspective on things and is generally more of a review in nature rather than a critique, in this sense, blogs provide a description of a dining experience that allows readers to draw their own conclusions on whether or not they want to go.
I think that most people start a blog as a hobby, to share an interest with a community of like-minded people and have no intention of it being anything more but Jennifer Lam (Jenius), Jules Clancy (The Stone Soup) and Michael Shafran (Gosstronomy) showed us how they managed to monetise and turn blogging into a profession. There was a lot of entrepreneurship with Jules setting up virtual cooking classes and Jennifer creating guided culinary tours. Blogging can also provide a platform to showcase your wares which can lead to other opportunities as Michael revealed to us that he has scored his dream of landing a book deal. It was interesting to see how varied the blogs were and how each has gained success in different ways with a lot of hard work.
The issue of ethics in food blogging is always a big sticking point, especially nowadays with the increase in the use of blogs by companies as a promotional tool. This calls into question the objectiveness of blogs. Is money and ethics mutually exclusive? That in order to maintain integrity as a blogger, you shouldn’t be making money otherwise your position is compromised? That once a blogger starts accepting incentives/freebies to write blog posts, they are selling out? The conclusion that I got from Tammi (Tammi Tasting Terroir) and Zoe’s (Progressive Dinner Party) session was that everyone has a different idea of how they want things to be, and what is acceptable behaviour for one blogger may be different for another blogger. The ethics of blogging can be summed up as follows – ‘the ethics of your blog are an extension of yourself – your values, image and brand’. So if you do choose to accept freebies, it should be in line with who you are and what you are about. If you are up front about whatever you do and declare any conflicts of interests, people will judge accordingly and decide whether or not to continue reading.
Would I personally accept a freebie? Well I would judge it on a case by case basis, and if I did, it would be something that would be in line with my ideals.
Throughout the discussions, the word ‘brand’ was tossed around a lot in reference to blogging - food bloggers should be developing their brand, promoting their brand and be consistent with their brand. The reality is that if you are serious about food blogging, you have to have an identity and something that makes you distinct from other bloggers to attract more readers. In a sense, you are trying to create a brand for yourself. A brand that readers trust, know what to expect and keep coming back to.
Eat Drink Blog 2011 was a fantastic experience, it has made me think a lot about blogging in general and reevaluate why I blog and where I want to go with it. Meeting a whole bunch of food nerds was also great :)
Please note that I didn’t take many photos while I was at the conference as I was too engrossed in all the discussions and I was also too busy tweeting. Please go to the Eat Drink Blog website for links to other blog write ups on the conference and photos from the conference.
Here are some pics that I tweeted.
(Lamb Master Class with Noni Dyer)
(Slow roasted beef tenderloin and wagyu flat iron steak - Dinner at Kingsleys)