Food Writing Advice: 8 Tips from Philadelphia Inquirer Food Editor Maureen Fitzgerald

By Lauren CarrollCMM correspondent

During a session at the 2014 ACP/CMA National College Media Convention, Philadelphia Inquirer food editor and food blogger Maureen Fitzgerald shared a smidgen of her personal foodie journalism journey and offered tips to students eager to break into the food writing field.

As her session description asked, “Want to write about food for a living? Or improve the food writing you’re doing now? Learn about opportunities from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s food editor. One day you might write a profile on a celebrity chef, on other days you might write about ethnic food or molecular gastronomy plus review a restaurant or cookbook.”

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Philadelphia Inquirer food editor Maureen Fitzgerald started and maintains the food blog My Daughter’s Kitchen.

Below is a brief sampling of the advice and perspectives she shared.

1“Stuffed, Full and Sick.” According to Fitzgerald, being a restaurant reviewer is not endless fine dining, high spirits and a satisfied stomach. In her words, “It can be painful to eat out five nights a week. You need to try every single dish, appetizer and dessert — 52 weeks a year. It is not fun. You are constantly stuffed, full and sick.”

Enough with the Delicious Already. It is possible to use words and phrases other than “delicious” and “so good” when writing about food. Fitzgerald’s tip: Seek out and even circle the adjectives favored by other food writers in their news reports and reviews. Also, eat more — and more diverse — food. As you do, your palate will become more developed, and your food vocabulary will expand and deepen as well.

“All the Journalistic Tools.” To distinguish yourself from other food writers — and crowdsourced reviewing services like Yelp — do the hard reporting. Don’t just review a restaurant and snap some food photos. Instead, according to Fitzgerald, “Tell me what it is that [the restaurants] are doing. Talk to the chef about his experience. Use all the journalistic tools to distinguish your blog entry from everyone out there.”

1Food in Jars. From Fitzgerald’s perspective, starting your own food blog is an evermore popular pathway to media success. One example: Food in Jars, a blog launched by Marisa McClellan to “share her interest in canning and general obsession with canning jars of all shapes and sizes.” The single-concept specificity and passion behind it has resonated with readers, sparked media attention and led to two spin-off books.

Reputation and Ethics. Fitzgerald stressed that your reputation and ethics as a food writer are constantly being evaluated and must be upheld. For example, do you constantly ask for free food or bother restaurants to get a table? Everything — even the little things — matter.

Young Foodie Alert. In general, Fitzgerald shared, “Newspaper staffs are older, so there is a whole young people scene that is not often getting covered.” Her advice to students and other young aspiring food writers: Discover, review and report on the restaurants and other foodie spots in your neighborhood that might not be on the radars of those middle-aged and older.

“Deliver What You Pitch.” Fitzgerald offered two especially helpful tips for successfully pitching news outlets on food and non-food stories: 1) Read the publication you are pitching. Avoid pitching something they have already posted about. And get a feel for the kinds of stories they are interested in. 2) “Deliver what you pitch, meet the deadline and come in at your word count.” The most frustrating thing for editors is to have a story submitted that is completely different from what was originally pitched. If something is not working out, suck it up and make the call or write an email to ask for help.

“If Fifth Graders Can Do It…” Fitzgerald’s passion for homemade cooking has been encapsulated on her blog, My Daughter’s Kitchen. At the start, the blog recounted Fitzgerald’s attempts to teach her daughter to cook the meals she enjoyed while growing up and to motivate them both to eat healthier and avoid fast foods and processed foods. She now provides cooking lessons and teaches about homemade foods to students in schools throughout the Philadelphia area. To that end, she said she once received a letter from a woman stating, “If the 5th graders can do it, so can I.” Bottom line, never doubt that your passion for food and the food writing you produce can make a difference.

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