Someone finally said it. Maybe, we’re doing it wrong. But perhaps not in the way that we think…

Bloggers = mainstream media
At this year’s Eat. Drink. Blog. conference in Perth, one of the highlights for me was Thang Ngo’s presentation on mobile and the future of blogging. In it, he warned us that if we’re not careful, bloggers could be dethroned by a more tech, mobile and analytics-savvy crew. He pointed out that our success, whether measured by google rankings, page views or the less tangible ‘relevance’, is in many ways a happy accident, whereby traditional media dropped the ball – they got online too slowly and we were already there. But complacency and failure to move with the times could leave us straggling behind.

Every day, it seems we are becoming more and more like traditional media, and they are becoming more and more like us. Could punchy, short, media-rich content save us? Certainly it would drive traffic and increase unique views. And then?

There’s more to blogging than numbers
As bloggers, what’s the aim of the game? Is it to be seen by as many eyes as possible? Of course if we write, we want to be read, so it makes sense to know how to ‘be seen’, but as I write this, the top story on News.com.au is ‘Box Office Bombs: the 15 worst movies in film history’, so clearly numbers are not all there is to blogging.

Saying ‘no’ to PRs
Then something significant happened. For the first time since I first attended Eat. Drink. Blog in 2011, somebody got up and talked about working with PR companies and said something other than ‘just do what feels right to you’ or ‘full disclosure’.

Phil Lees, the blogger behind ‘last appetite’ and Social Media Manager for Tourism Victoria, said that in his opinion, food bloggers shouldn’t write sponsored posts, because sponsorship influences the kinds of things they write about, and that will influence their readers.

This was hardly revolutionary, but all hell broke loose in our little corner of the twitterverse. As Phil himself tweeted:

You are an expert
Let me put it this way. PRs contact you because you are an SME; a subject matter expert. You are an ‘influencer’, with a strong brand. But how did you become an SME, how did you build that ‘brand’? Probably through hard work and dedication. Probably through your unique voice. Probably because you were good at finding something or saying something or doing something in a way that others weren’t. In a nutshell, you knew something they didn’t, and you were willing to share it.

So you’re approached by a PR company, and they basically want to co-opt your brand, grab some reflected glow from you SME status. They offer you whatever they offer you to get you to say something about what they are trying to sell. There is nothing wrong with this, but there is also nothing right with it.

Your blog is your space
As Erika wisely said in her recent post, your blog is your blog much like your home is you home. If someone wants to provide you with a product or experience that you wouldn’t otherwise be interested in and you wouldn’t recommend, your rejection of their offer should be a forgone conclusion. And if you do write sponsored content, one thing that you can never say is “I write what I want, I don’t let anyone else influence my content.” That’s impossible. That’s impossible anyway, none of us are un-influance-able. But it’s certainly impossible if you’re writing sponsored content.

WTF does that mean?
I’m not saying that if you do PR posts, you are an idiot or your readers are idiots; that you say you enjoyed x brand of cocoa and suddenly your readership is rushing out to buy it, and your blog becomes an value-less platform for product spruikers nationwide.

What I’m saying is, brands are paying to take up space in our ‘neighbourhood’, to be part of our conversation, a conversation they may have no right to be a part of. On a micro level, sure, you can do ‘what feels right to you’. On a macro level, a broader trend develops with outcomes we may not yet have anticipated. Brands may have presence and prominence and power that, frankly, they may not deserve.

Check out another presentation that blew my mind back in 2011, Journalist Simon Marnie on why authenticity and diversity of opinion is so important in blogging (apologies for the picture quality of the video).

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I for one am rewriting my editorial policy this week.

If food blogging means you can fly the length of this great brown land to spend the weekend eating and drinking  yourself stupid with kindred foodie spirits you’ve met once, then I don’t see a downside.

I spent last weekend in Perth with two awesome food bloggers, hosts, tour guides and, dare I say it, friends Heather and Ai-Ling, who showed me all ‘the good Perth’  has to offer. We did cafes, small bars, markets, breakfast, the list goes on. They planned out every minute of my trip but somehow it was a laid back weekend. Seriously guys, get your foodie tours of Perth business going soon. You’d make an absolute mint.

At the Subiaco farmers’ markets, I picked up a swag of corn cobs and limes. I had no plans for them, other than perhaps to grill them on the BBQ. After a night stumbling through small bars and drinking out a of jam jars we found ourselves in a bookshop and I found myself thumbing through Lonely Planet’s ‘The World’s Best Street Food’, where a recipe for elote (corn cobs) caught my eye.

This Mexican/US recipe is the kind gracing the menus of many an up-to-the-minute dive bar or slider-serving eatery in urban Australia these days. Now you can start your own Americana/Mexicana shack right in your own living room with the surprising flavour combo of corn, lime, mayo and cheese.  Elote goes great with any virtually flavourless cerveza such as Mexico’s Corona or Korea’s Hite (but for God’s sake, not Quilmes, NEVER EVER drink that), just stuff a lime wedge down the bottle’s gullet for a bit of zing. We ate these on the beach in Perth at the end of a long hot day, watching the gorgeous sunset  over the sea.


Elote asado

Grilled corn cobs
(Adapted from Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Street Food)
Makes 12 mini cobs

You will need:
4 large corn cobs, husks on (each whole cob should make 3-4 mini cobs)
4 juicy limes, cut into quarters – ¼ of a juicy lime per ‘mini cob’
About 8 teaspoons of mayo – about ½ teaspoon per cob find out how many cups this is!
100g freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese – I used pecorino

Heat up your grill or BBQ until it is quite hot. Place the cobs, in their husks, on the grill, turning every few minutes or so. They will take a long time to cook, probably 30 or 40 minutes depending on the heat of your grill, but trust me, it is well worth the wait to have those gorgeous charred morsels popping in your mouth. You will know when they are ready when the husks are blackened and burnt to a crisp.

The cobs will be quite hot so you will may need to wear oven gloves to remove their husks. You could also wait a while and let them cool slightly, but the joy of eating the corn hot is kind of the point and anyway, after waiting so long for them to be ready, you’re probably starving. De-husk them ASAP and cut them into thirds or quarters.

The rest is simple – rub each mini cob well with a lime wedge, smear on some mayo and then roll it in grated cheese. Serve immediately and with beer.

As this is a street food  there are many variations. Most commonly lime, sour cream and chilli powder are used. You can also use salt instead of cheese. Go nuts!

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