Freelance Restaurant Critics Find More Opportunities in Newspaper Industry

Couple having dinnerAs newspapers encounter strained budgets and smaller audiences, many publications have been downsizing full-time positions and replacing permanent employees with freelancers. The Houston Press won the attention of many media critics when it recently ran an add for a freelance restaurant critic position, and it joins a handful of other news outlets who have blatantly replaced full-time restaurant critic writing positions with freelancing positions (which seemingly require the exact same responsibilities as the previous full-time positions). Many readers are now wondering whether this trend will stop, or whether more newspapers will begin cutting critic positions.

Although freelance positions have held less-than-ideal reputations in the past, many writers and designers are now turning to these positions as a way of making some extra cash, to gain experience, or simply because there are no other options for professional writers. An article published in January 2014, which profiled the Phoenix New Times’ decision to remove their full-time restaurant critic position, notes that news sources are making this change partly because of the increased expense of maintaining a critic’s dining budget, as well as the potential that readers simply don’t care to pay for another person’s opinion of a dinner entree. If a foodie wants to read about how the newest chef in town is using high-tech chemistry gadgets and secret seasonings to add a new dimension to dinner plates, it’s easier — and cheaper — to check out online food forums like Yelp. It’s no secret that paper news sources have struggled to adapt to the digital age, but it seems that some news sources are lagging so far behind that their only options are to make drastic staffing cuts, rather than spending time figuring out how to make a traditional critique more user-friendly and less costly.

It’s worth noting that the freelancing and news media industries haven’t yet reached an acceptable conclusion about whether these changes are good and should continue, or whether they will have disastrous consequences in the long run. Critics have claimed that the abolition of full-time columnists is just the beginning of “the mass murder of true critics,” but it certainly won’t benefit newspapers to keep costly positions on the payroll if readers are losing interest and becoming unwilling to pay. Perhaps a wave of freelancing positions will open up an unknown world of possibilities for the restaurant industry, as newspapers and magazines begin to hire freelancers across the globe, allowing different cultures to connect and grow together.

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