Getting a free lunch, singing praises for your supper, selling words by the pound of prime rib – however you dress it, it’s hard to justify scooping a free meal in return for a review. While the major publishers scrimp and save on their editorial budgets to continue paying their way and stay anonymous, there’s a multiplying army of blagger bloggers prepared to sell their readers up the river for a couple of cocktails.
Or that seems to be the percepton. I’m yet to read a blog based on a comped meal without also reading an earnest outpouring of disclaimers and Tiger Woods-sized apologies. It seems what you save in pounds you make up for in humble regrets. While the transparency is a great thing (and proves the bloggers’ honour and professionalism) I don’t think we need to be ashamed.
During my day (and night, and weekend) job I review bands. On CD and MP3 and live in arenas, bars, festivals and piss-stained sweatboxes. Do I line up diligently in the rain on a Tuesday night to buy a fifteen quid ticket to review Fuck Buttons at KOKO? Or do I get ushered in the stage door, escorted to a private balcony, plied with drinks tokens and taken to the dressing room to mop up the band’s Veuve Clicquot after the gig? And once I’ve toasted the band with fine champagne (it was the second answer if you hadn’t guessed) do I feel obliged to ratchet up the effusiveness? Or even refrain from an all-out mauling if needs be? Hell no.
Music journalism is littered with the casualties of reviewing conflicts. I was once good friends with a band called (bear with me) Does It Offend You, Yeah?. Wrote their first features, plugged their tracks in playlist meetings, harped on to anyone who’d listen. I was so into them I went on tour with them to Wrexham in a splitter van to cover their first tour. Then they brought out a mediocre debut album and I wrote what needed to be said. My name was mud to them for a year afterwards, or so their manager told me. In my sphere of critic friends there’s been Twitter attacks, on-stage bitching, broken fingers (not mine) and even lyrics written with journos in mind. Bands, artists, record labels, PRs and journalists all operate in an incestuous circle pit of compliments, insults, hype, persuasion, mud-slinging, bitching and backstabbing whipped up by Twitter, copy deadlines and the way the wind’s blowing.
Crucially, though, from this maelstrom of bullshit rise honest critiques. We know we might regret it, but we have to write the truth. And while the food industry is (in my experience so far) more genteel, there’s no reason why truthful writing shouldn’t and couldn’t prevail, even if the canapés are gratis.
Update: Kang from Londer Eater emailed me about this, and sent over a load of links to other blogs writing about the debate. Check out these posts for more: