Josh Ozersky gets on the Time website today to use the recent firing of Raymond Sokolov, the Wall Street Journal‘s longtime restaurant critic as a jumping-off point for a eulogy to Sokolov and his ilk.
“Real foodies,” Ozersky writes, “should be concerned that restaurant critics like Sokolov are an endangered species. Their habitat, big-ticket fine-dining restaurants, shrinks every year, encroached upon by gourmet hamburger joints, taco stands and various other chic, no-frills eateries… And their most invaluable asset, their towering authority, has been leached away by blogs and review websites, leaving them without a place in the new ecosystem.”
Our Man Sietsema more or less said as much in his recent, in-depth Columbia Journalism Review article about the history of restaurant criticism and reviewing, writing that “More than ever, diners could use a reliable critical guide. But where once there were a few dependable voices who reviewed restaurants based on a common set of professional standards and strategies, there is now a digital free-for-all.”
Which, Ozersky writes, has meant a lot of young, eager writers armed with digital cameras and lacking the seasoned perspective of old-school critics like Sokolov, Alan Richman, and Gael Greene. Those writers, of course, don’t have big magazine or newspaper budgets to fund multiple outings to restaurants both local and across the globe, and, unless they’re independently wealthy, can sometimes have their opinions shaped by the offer of free meals. And so, as we’ve heard before, the digital cacophony grows steadily louder and more disorienting, and anarchy threatens us all instead of staying where it really belongs, which is in the kitchen.