Writers Making Lemonade Out of Layoff Lemons


Is the media dying or is the media a-changing? With my feet rooted in word-smithing soil for nearly 16 years, I’d like to think it’s the latter. If it weren’t for this daggonit economic downturn, maybe the lightning-speed changes in the ways and means of how we report the news and tell a story wouldn’t feel like an earthquake, but alas, the volcanic developments in media are unfolding, um, erupting by the hour.

In my edible corner of the world, the work of four food writers whose work I had come to know has been snuffed out by the economic grim reaper in less than a month.

It would be understandable if any or all of these writers decided to curl up on the couch glued to the Soap Opera Network, but this plucky bunch -- all women -- refuses to sing the layoff blues. In fact, they’re already back on the job, all four of them cooking up unique independent ventures.

If you’re a Slashfood reader, then you’re familiar with the work of the very prolific Marisa McClellan, who’s been running a well-oiled blog ship since November 2007. Based in Philadelphia, McClellan moonlighted for Slashfood while holding a full-time job and finishing up a Masters degree in Writing. Although her byline went dark a few weeks ago, McClellan is lighting up another blog space called Food in Jars, dedicated to all things jarred, pickled and preserved.

Six years ago, Emily Nunn left New York, where she had been working as an editor and writer for The New Yorker (you may remember her Tables for Two columns) and packed up for Chicago, where she landed at the Chicago Tribune. Her most recent gig, as a reporter for the Trib’s Good Eating section, came to an end in February. Within a few weeks, she gave birth to Cook the Wolf, a blog named after “How to Cook a Wolf,” the renowned WWII-era classic by food writer M.F.K. Fisher.

Nunn told me by phone earlier this week that she’s using her newly found free time to teach others how to cook and to master the art of digital story telling.

Last week, Seattle, where I hang my hat, made journalism history, when the daily Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped its printing presses and opted for an online-only operation. As a result, the Web team is just a fraction of its print-based editorial forefather, which inevitably meant significant layoffs. The attrition directly impacted P-I’s Food section, which went from robust to bust overnight.

Rebekah Denn, who had been at the paper for 11 years covering features and food, wrote the lively Devouring Seattle; her article on Mangalitsa pigs earned her a James Beard journalism award nomination this week. Her lemonade plan is Eat All About It, a blog newborn that is already talking and walking.

Joining Rebekah in the layoff line is P-I restaurant critic Leslie Kelly, who’s been covering Seattle’s dining scene since 2006, but I’d hardly call her out of work. On April 1, Kelly, who has little formal culinary training, is bracing the heat of the kitchen and going to work for Seattle star chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas, as an unpaid apprentice. For six weeks, Kelly will spend time in all of Douglas’s five restaurants, both in the kitchen and in front of the house. She will be chronicling her experiences on a weekly basis at Serious Eats. I’ll let you know when her first entry is available. Meanwhile, Kelly manages to keep her Whining and Dining blog well fed.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 25, 2009; 11:00 AM ET Food on the Web
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Kim -- Emily's blog and reference to MFK Fischer is perfect timing for me. After hearing Fischer's name mentioned by you several times, and by several other respected journalists (at least by me), I decided to take the plunge and purchase The Art of Eating. I am currently on "How to Cook a Wolf" (I won't lie, as a vegetarian, I decided I could legitimately skip "Consider the Oyster").

Her writing and recipes reminds me a lot of those I have received from my grandmother, some with ingredients that are no longer available, or practical, but most with good starts and ideas. I think that in this day of job losses and cuts, and a deepening worry over money, Fischer's writing and creativity is something we can all aspire to. While we may not be on war rations, it doesn't hurt to think more simply and look to our past for ideas. We often forget that history repeats and those who came before us made it work, often with great humor.

Posted by: LaurenMcK | March 25, 2009 11:51 AM

This just makes me so sad. What is going to replace all of the newspapers and magazines that have gone under? Blogs and online stuff? I just don't know. It's certainly not going to be the same.

My undergraduate degree was in journalism but I gave up pretty quickly on ever making a living at it. I've worked in public education for nearly 20 years. And now we are looking at unpaid furlough days! When will all this madness stop?

Posted by: margaret6 | March 25, 2009 12:49 PM

Thanks for telling us where these writers can be found. I look forward to expanding my reading horizons.

Posted by: esleigh | March 25, 2009 1:25 PM

Thanks for this - always looking for new food bloggies and I'm glad to see these writers are finding online homes despite it all! -nicole

Posted by: nicspir | March 25, 2009 1:54 PM

Kim, I was thrilled to see mention in the "Free Range" WaPo chat today that you will be chatting via Culinate.com in a few weeks. True? Please do let us know via this forum (I don't do Facebook, and I don't wnat to lose out on the notice of your new chat home). All the best to you.

Posted by: Agathist | March 25, 2009 2:12 PM

Agathist, it is true indeed! "Table Talk" will launch Thurs Apr 9, 1ET on Culinate.com
Hope to see you there, and thanks for asking.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | March 25, 2009 2:20 PM

The problem with most, if not all, of these "lemonade" plans is that they don't pay the bills. Journalism of all kinds, from politics to arts, is going to suffer until writers find a way to make a living while also doing their duty of keeping the public informed.

I worked with former Post-Intelligencer reporter Leslie Kelly at the Spokane daily paper for a dozen years, and I can assure you that no one is a more fierce defender of consumer rights than she. Her loss of a daily job at the P.I. is almost as sad as the loss for Seattle readers.

I wish her all the best. I wish it for all of us, writers and readers.

Posted by: donnyw47 | March 25, 2009 4:54 PM

Fortunately, I was not laid off. I quit my food writer gig at the Tacoma News Tribune to launch my own food web site, SouthSoundEats.com.

Posted by: EdMurrieta | March 29, 2009 2:32 PM

Not sure if it's too late to comment, but I took a buyout from my newspaper features-writing gig in December 2007. And now, for something completely different, I'm going to culinary school to study bread making and pastry.

I've started a blog about my adventures at flourgrrl.blogspot.com.

Posted by: heatherlalley | March 31, 2009 9:08 PM

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