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James Beard conference opens up on new media and food

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The James Beard Foundation Food Conference, “How Money and Media Influence the Way America Eats,” is live-streaming the second-annual event. I caught some of today’s conversation with the Ad Council‘s Heidi Arthur, Food Network‘s Bruce Seidel, Edible Communities‘ Brian Halweil and GRACE Communications Foundation‘s Leslie Hatfield. The moderator on this panel was Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

New media are not only influencing how we find food — think Yelp and other databases — but also how food is represented. New media are making it possible for businesses and organizations to speak directly to individuals.

Two new-media campaigns that allowed positive dialogue about food:

  • Meatless Monday was brilliant in the simplicity of the message and easily adaptable. It was picked up by all kinds of people — moms, environmentalists and Oprah — with lots of media coverage that introduced the concept of meat reduction into everyday conversation.
  • Bon Appetit Management Co. hired Bonnie Powell, founder of food-politics blog The Ethicurean, as director of communications. Bringing on board an opinion leader with like values helped gain readers’ trust.

Broadband access and food access go hand in hand and will determine the nature of conversations. But, in time, we’ll become more savvy and improve our listening skills to have a more rich and more productive conversation. One panelist suggested considering who is not at the table and finding ways to include that person.

When asked about the cost of a new-media campaign, panelists shared estimated costs and emphasized that there must be a clear goal, tangible outcomes, resources and long-term commitment.

  • Producing a TV show in the studio could cost $30,000 to $50,000 an episode, or even as much as $500,000 per episode, Seidel said.
  • Edible magazines cost about $125,000 to start and have a low operating cost. Many people start them as a second career, and the magazine becomes profitable within a couple of years, Halweil said.
  • Blogs seem to be inexpensive to maintain, but the time it takes to contribute information costs something, Hatfield said.

A question from the audience: Would a farming TV channel be possible? Seidel said it’s not a topic that Food Network fears, but it’s a matter of finding the right personality.

The conference goes through Thursday. Check out the agenda and tune in.