Questions by Rico Neely
Q: With other journalists like you, how were you able to find a way to differentiate yourself from everyone else in the business?
A: I actually wouldn’t consider myself a journalist, just a writer. While I occasionally write about news, I generally focus on more evergreen content like recipes, how-to articles, and reviews.
As a writer, there are two main things I’ve done to differentiate myself. The first was to focus on my biggest strength, which is to take complicated subjects and break them down so people can easily understand them. The second was to focus on a small niche that I didn’t have much competition in. The modernist cooking niche also has the benefit of looking very complicated to people, so it allows me to really take advantage of my ability to explain complex subjects.
Q: I aspire to be a prosperous journalist some day in the very near future. What advice would you give me towards being a successful journalist? What are the things that you feel you could’ve done while you were younger to reach where you are today faster?
A: I guess my biggest piece of advice would be to start writing now, and write as much as possible, in as many places as possible. Put out a blog (or several blogs), answer questions on Quora, write on and actively consume various social media channels, try to pitch and write guest posts for other blogs or larger media organizations. The more writing you do, the better it will become, and the more versatile it will be. Also, the more you can get your writing in front of people, the better chance you have of the right people seeing it.
Q: How are you able to remain knowledgeable of the culinary trends, and what do you use as inspiration in writing your pieces?
A: I follow a few blogs in the modernist space but I mainly talk to my readers through my blog and on social media. I try to get a handle on the issues they are facing and the questions they have. Then I do my best to research those questions and come up with the answers my readers are looking for.
I think being fully immersed in the industry you are writing about is the best way to stay up-to-date.
Q: What lead you to start this aspect of culinary journalism (molecular gastronomy)?
A: I was writing several blogs and the modernist cooking site started to get more readers and was one of the subjects I was more passionate about. It ended up spiraling from there into a full-time job. I can’t say it was a direction I was focused on going, it just happened organically.
Q: What strategies have you used to achieve a certain level of success in your life as a journalist?
A: My biggest strategies are to focus on my strengths, put out a lot of good content, and to keep at it. It amazes me how many people have come and gone in the modernist cooking space since I got started 7 years ago. Having the ability to stick with it over the years makes you stand out and gives you credibility more than anything else can.
Q: In culinary journalism writing skill must be immaculate. What writing and analyzing skills should I focus more on to ensure an engaging and enjoyable journalism piece?
A: I think a lot of it comes down to what you are trying to accomplish. I mainly focus on breaking down complicated ideas, so the quality of my writing doesn’t have to be nearly as good as someone who is read for their prose alone.
My readers judge me first on whether they understand what I’m saying, whether it answers their questions, how my photographs look, and probably finally on my writing skills. This doesn’t mean I don’t have to have good writing, it’s just not as important to my readers as it is to many people. I can also write much more conversationally for my audience than many writers.
You need to figure out what your writing is trying to accomplish (i.e. convey information, evoke emotion, read beautifully, sound objective, be personal, tell a story, be concise, etc.) and focus on developing a writing style that will best accomplish that.
I also highly recommend finding people that are willing to read your work and edit, proofread, or help improve it. I have several people I rely on and they always catch a lot of stuff I’ve missed.
Rico Neely is a first year culinary student here at Monroe College. His piece, “Excellent Customer Service” was featured on The Monroe Art Collaborative website earlier this month.