Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Editors as Chefs

Last evening, I was dining at one of my favorite local restaurants when a thought occurred to me.

Often, people enjoy a particular restaurant because of that restaurant's specialties. Great steak, delicious key lime pie, unbelievable gnocchi, etc.

But I think one of the things that makes a great restaurant is a chef who really understands the best interplay among flavors and textures and then creates meals that provide interesting combinations I might not ever think to try on my own.

Sure, I know that I like beef more than chicken, asparagus more than carrots, etc. But what I don't necessarily know is that the taste of ginger-dashed carrots might bring out interesting flavors in the salmon I'm planning on ordering. When ordering a la carte, I'd probably go with a more pedestrian potato dish, since I know I like potatoes, and miss out on the experience. It's even possible I could really enjoy beets or yams with a particular entree, despite the fact I generally don't like either.

What occurred to me is that a great editor acts much like a great chef. Talented editors don't just serve up solid articles, but select a mix of stories that provides an excellent overall reading experience. An editor must simultaneously balance editorial variety and interplay and both invoke familiar ideas and introduce the audience to wholly new concepts.

Every day, daily newspaper editors select the day's editorial content, including third-party stories from wire services. The editors' decision process is much like the creation of a menu.

But looking at the recent evolution of media consumption, it seems that increasingly, today's readers don't truly appreciate the chef.

The demand for mainstream media has shifted toward "personalized" media, in which readers find their own news and features content from a variety of sources and aggregate it on their own. We're using RSS readers, MyYahoo pages and other such tools to essentially order our news a la carte and create our own front page section of our own newspaper.

It's not just that we don't have time to read the content out there. Reader's Digest is an example of an Old Media player that long ago attacked that problem while still providing a 'chef' to pick the best bites. Reader's Digest still has 10 million readers - but the readers' median age - 50.4.

So why is it that this generation is not as interested in the chef/editor's choice? Is it that we don't trust his or her judgment? That we think we're more expert on the subject area at hand? Is it just a natural extension of an increasingly self-service-oriented culture?

Sometimes we know what we want, and it's just a burger, and we don't need to read the whole menu to get satisfaction. And that's fine.

But I think we should be sure we still take time to listen to the daily special, or we could suddenly find that our media chefs have been replaced by a mere salad bar of RSS feeds.

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3 Comments:

  • I agree with the analogy. However, I always viewed a good editor's role as more of an orchestra conductor. A conductor chooses the various elements and chooses how much emphasis each is to have. The objective is to make a final "combined" product that is superb. The whole is better and more important than the sum of its parts. Keep up the good work on the best blog around.

    By Blogger Uncle Tanous, at 4:53 PM  

  • Great blog, keep up the good work. Glad to see sites like this.

    Here is another good site I said I would pass along.
    Free Dish Network
    Thanks

    By Blogger Admin, at 11:39 PM  

  • “We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”
    - Herman Melville

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:51 AM  

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