Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Just showing our work isn’t enough
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Nov. 16, 2018, 9:50 a.m.
Reporting & Production
LINK: www.thrillist.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   November 16, 2018

“I often think about our duty to warn. Mostly because, when we’ve neglected to, it’s ended up being a shitshow.”

Thrillist has a fascinating piece from James Beard Award-winning food writer Kevin Alexander about how his rating of a small Portland, Oregon restaurant, Stanich’s, as Thrillist’s best burger in America inadvertently contributed to the restaurant’s closure five months later, as Stanich’s was overrun by one-off “burger tourists.”

“Ever since we won this thing, people were going on the internet telling me how to cook a burger, telling me how screwed up we were, and frankly, that’s why I don’t go on the internet. It’s been the worst thing that’s ever happened to us. Tim McGraw came by and there was a five-hour wait and I couldn’t wait on him,” Steve Stanich told The Oregonian.

Alexander felt absolutely horrible about this. After the restaurant’s closure, wracked with guilt, he worked up the nerve to call Stanich and then went to find a time to visit him.

Have you ever had to make a phone call you’ve absolutely dreaded? Have you ever had acute stress dreams relating to that phone call for weeks, and found yourself visualizing scenarios in which it would go poorly while absentmindedly preparing your children’s dinner? Have you ever stared at an elderly woman with weepy eyes and arthritic hips walking her dog down your street and felt irrational pangs of jealousy because you knew she didn’t have to make a stressful phone call that day?

Alexander also talked to other restaurant critics who spoke to him about “what responsibility we have to preserve the places we write about and direct crowds of eager food tourists to experience.” Best-of lists can go viral, and high ratings from national sites can completely overwhelm small local restaurants — not so much new restaurants that court this kind of fame but “old joints, the analog restaurants operating in today’s digital world.”

If there was one main negative takeaway from the raging fires of food tourist culture and the lists fanning the flames, it was that the people crowding the restaurant were one time customers. They were there to check off a thing on a list, and put it on Instagram. They weren’t invested in the restaurant’s success, but instead in having a public facing opinion of a well known place. In other words, they had nothing to lose except money and the restaurant had nothing to gain except money, and that made the entire situation feel both precarious and a little gross.

Williamson is left wondering:

How do I do this better? Is there a way to celebrate a place without the possibility of destroying it? Or is this just what we are now — a horde with a checklist and a camera phone, intent on self-producing the destruction of anything left that feels real, one Instagram story at a time?

Panorama of Stanich’s — taken two days after the Thrillist list appeared — by drburtoni used under a Creative Commons license.

Show tags Show comments / Leave a comment
 
Join the 50,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Just showing our work isn’t enough
“There’s very little current demand for the majority of reproducible code from newsroom leadership or the general audience.”
Let’s talk about power (yours)
“If we don’t use it in ways that give people quality news, useful information and power, people will find a way around us.”
Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms
“Local news organizations should become a driving force for better online public discourse, because Facebook and Twitter aren’t cutting it.”