AFJ, the Association of Food Journalists, announced this week that it was dissolving the organization. AFJ was founded in 1974 when its members consisted mostly of newspaper food page editors and writers. It expanded to include restaurant critics – I was a proud member for decades – and, in more recent years, it embraced freelancers and bloggers.
The organization was a tremendous resource for collaboration among journalists covering food, setting ethical standards for writers and critics and encouraging standardization. I still refer to my crude stapled paper copy of Foodspell, published by the group before such things were available online (actually before there was a line to be on) for preferred spellings and food terms. (Food writers will generally go with the recommended Szechuan even though the Associated Press prefers Sichuan. And muffuletta instead of muffaletta.)
AFJ also hosted an annual convention with educations forums and ceremonies honoring best food sections, writing and reviews. In the salad days of newspapers, employers routinely paid the annual dues, contest entrance fees and even travel costs to attend the conventions. Those days are gone, and with fewer food journalists willing or able to foot the bill themselves – also, fewer food journalists overall – the revenues to continue as a viable organization are not there.
A letter signed by members of AFJ’s board said it had paid off its debts. But, “(W)e firmly believe it is ethically incumbent upon the organization to cease operations at this point rather than take on new debts without any assurance we can do right by our creditors.”
AFJ plans to serve current members through the rest of the year with educational webinars. Another sad marker of the diminution of traditional journalism.
- Speaking of contests (it’s up there somewhere), a New Orleans chef will not win a James Beard Foundation Award next year. Or this year, for that matter. The New York based organization has announced that it will not announce the remaining winners of the 2020 contest, which includes most of the restaurant and chef categories, as it had planned to do during a virtual ceremony on Sept. 25. Instead, that program, to be broadcast live on Twitter, will honor the previously announced winners, including lifetime achievement and humanitarian of the year.
Even more notable, JBF is cancelling the competition for 2021 completely, saying in a statement on its website that it would instead conduct a yearlong initiative to overhaul the awards processes “with intent to remove any systemic bias.” What biases, you ask? I detailed some of them for you in my article Dissassociation: Breaking with Beard.