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Gilt Taste: New Cocktail Mixes Journalism + Commerce

When Gourmet Magazine unexpectedly shut down in 2009, some saw it as the death knell for quality food writing and journalism.  They said it was the sign that it was time to stop fighting forces beyond our control such as the loss of print advertising revenue and growing trend toward short bursts of information delivered via web.

Gourmet’s editor Ruth Reichl fought back, saying people still craved excellently written, superbly researched, engaging and creative writings about food.  Now, she’s proving her point with a new venture: Gilt Taste.  The website offers articles on a range of topics, including history, culture, recipes, profiles and food trends.  Plus, it’s delving into a variety of foods, such as red velvet cake, almond pear crisp, brandy cocktail, honey roasted duck, panna cotta, Thai-American food…and more.  It appears to meet Gourmet’s standards of superior quality writing.

But there’s a twist.It’s not just a site for fine food journalism.  In addition, it’s a food shopping site.  Every article is accompanied by a sidebar listing related products that are up for sale.  I know what you’re thinking.  Huh?!  How can a site dedicated to quality journalism hawk wares next to each byline?!

Betty Hallock of the LA Times put that question to Reichl (a little more delicately) in a recent interview:

Reichl expanded on her idea of breaking down the firewall in a recent interview with Amy Scattergood of the LA Weekly:

Oh.  That was simple.  And obvious.  It’s true that the line between journalism and advertising – particularly in magazines with their big glossy spreads – has always been shaky.  Doesn’t it make sense to open up to the inevitable?  And find a way for writers and advertisers to collaborate without compromises?  I am hopeful that this idea will work – under the guidance of meticulous and ethical editors, of course.

The examples that I’ve read – such as a recipe for Red Velvet cake – do not mention specific brands.  They only focus on the given topic.  At right, the screen shows related ingredients and products for purchase.  Smart advertising, right?  Helpful for both readers and advertisers, and not terribly obtrusive.  Moreover, Gilt says it’s “committed to offering quality products that are fresh, honest and inspiring.”

Another aspect of the site that I like is its gorgeous visual design.  The look is sleek, simple and sophisticated, with large, appealing photos.  There is an emphasis on image, not text.  And oh, what images.  Can you believe these tomatoes?   Apparently, talking recipes are in the works.  

The site also encourages participation.  A “Comments” section follows each article, where users log-in via their Facebook accounts.  The “Comments” section under each product page is titled “How did this inspire you?”  I never thought I cared about pumpkin macaroons, but all of a sudden I am hitting the “like” button, tweeting out the link, and adding a comment.  (Admittedly, something spontaneous and idiotic like “OMG I LOVE PUMPKIN MACARONS AND AM GOING TO BUY NOT ONE BUT TEN BOXES!”)

But really, I am more excited by the site concept than by the sight of the orange cookies.  I see creativity, energy and innovation, and that’s likely what journalism will need to thrive in the Digital Age.

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