It’s a bad, weird time to be a journalist. Despite the huge public thirst for original journalism, news outlets across the country have either been gobbled up and run into the ground by hedge funds, purchased and consolidated by larger news corporations, or have simply bled dry by being unable to figure out how to make digital news distribution profitable. And now, thanks to the collapse of the American newsroom, the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ) has announced it’s completely dissolving.
While we were alerted to the news by Grubstreet, it’s the AFJ itself that has provided the single best summary of why it’s decided to shutter. While it’s worth reading the entire statement, here’s a snippet:
“To make a sad story short, AFJ’s financial model was long based on print newspapers footing the cost of members’ dues, contest entries and conference attendance. Unfortunately, it didn’t shift course until it was too late, leaving the organization financially dependent on the magnanimity of laid-off staffers and underpaid freelancers. To say it was run on a shoestring is a stretch: We earlier this year laid off our part-time executive director because we could no longer afford the expense.”
The closure of the AFJ represents a sad moment for food writing in general. One of the organization’s most unique accomplishments was its code of ethics, which governed everything from providing attribution and avoiding plagiarizing, to discouraging romantic relationships between journalists and industry liaisons. And, what was perhaps more well-known than their ethical guidelines, for the past 34 years the AFJ also held awards ceremonies for a wide variety of journalistic categories.
While the dissolution of the organization is something of a shock—particularly given that the James Beard Foundation just announced it’s temporarily canceling/modifying its own awards ceremonies—it’s also not entirely surprising. As the AFJ is clearly aware, joining professional organizations and attending conferences is, for all intents and purposes, impossible for unsubsidized journalists. Plus, now more than ever, writers are connecting with each other through social media, events sponsored by corporations and bars/restaurants, and through online groups like Study Hall, and not through conferences. Viewed from that lens, the AFJ’s end may be a sign of what’s to come, and not just the sad consequence of an industry that appears to be in its twilight hours.