Picking and Choosing

I had an interesting conversation the other night with two different people involved with small independent bookstores. The conversation touched on how customers come into their respective stores and get upset when they don’t have something in stock. But as a small indie shop, they don’t have the space or budget to carry every single title in the genres in which they specialize. So they have to make a decision as to what makes the cut. And their customers mostly have to trust that judgment.

The art of curating (or editing) – it takes place all the time, in every industry, on every level. It’s somebody’s job to decide what products make it onto shelves and racks in various stores, what artwork is included in a show, what stories make it to the pages of magazines and book anthologies.

There’s a certain unfairness to it, of course – depending on the topic or product there might be 5 or 20 or 100 things that don’t make the cut for every 1 that does. This also comes with a lot of responsibility – woe be to the fashion buyer who chooses incorrectly and sticks her store with something that doesn’t sell – especially if it was ordered in the hundred – or thousands.

The general public, for the most part, is unaware of the machinations and decisions that go into stocking a shop. They expect the things they want to be there, and usually they are. But ultimately, the person charged with curating anything mostly has to go with their gut and please themselves.

I thought of this because I too am charged with curating content for posts on both TasteTO and Save Your Fork. Round-up posts that aggregate other content always mean having to choose what will be included each day. And there’s not time or space or desire to include everything. Mostly I go with my gut and choose things that interest or amuse me, or where the writing is outstanding and/or inspiring.

I never know if these choices jive with the people who read these posts – you can’t please all the people all the time – but I figure if I’m at least true to myself in my choices, that will be good enough.

This is poignant now because this past weekend we chose to discontinue the Blog-A-Log column we run on TasteTO. Since we started the site in early 2007, we’ve always been about supporting local food bloggers. But blogging has changed a lot in that time – there are more people doing it for one thing, and there is less real writing than the clichéd picture and recipe of what someone ate for dinner.

Leaving people out became less of an option as time went by, however; even though there were more people blogging, and more prolific bloggers writing almost every day, I would occasionally get emails from people cranky that they hadn’t been included often enough. Usually there was a reason for this – poor writing, crappy photos, a blog so littered with sidebar junk that it hurt my eyes…

As the person who curated this column, I always had to make the choice about what would be included. Some weeks the signal to noise ratio of my RSS feed left me in tears – yes, there was good stuff, but also so much drek.

The mainstream news posts we ran through the week were no better, though. A lot of local group blog or food specific sites also feature a fair amount of drek and these too became a chore to slog through as well as an obligation to include certain people or sites, even if we didn’t necessarily like what they were doing.

In discontinuing the blog column, we’re not shutting out Toronto food bloggers. But we are putting them on par with mainstream publications. There are local amateur food bloggers who write better than some professional writers, and some “professional” sites that are so badly written and edited that I’ve often been embarrassed to include them on our site. Putting them all together evens the field, and to litter this post with even more clichés – separates the wheat from the chaff – hopefully with a larger quantity of wheat for me to work with.

When the not-so-great sites and writers realize that they’re not going to get props and links from us anymore, I’m probably going to get some flak. But I very much believe that the goal of these round-up posts is to give TasteTO readers a look at the best of what’s out there. To act as a curator and compile a collection of work each day that speaks to the message of our site, gives readers information they can use or enjoy, but also that celebrates great writing.

I can’t include it all. I don’t want to include it all. And in the same way that we trust a gallery curator or a niche bookshop owner, or any kind of shop with a specific mandate, people are going to have to trust me in terms of what I include on the site. There will always be someone unhappy with that… but if I’m happy with the content I’ve chosen, that’s all I can ask for.