Shrinking food sections need tighter focus

People might always love their food, but the once-robust food section in newspapers is not immune to the cutbacks impacting the industry as a whole.

People might always love their food, but the once-robust food section in newspapers is not immune to the cutbacks impacting the industry as a whole.

"We're losing space in food sections across the country," notes Jill Silva, food editor for the Kansas City Star and president of the Association of Food Journalists. "The concern is a lot of [newspaper food sections] are not going to be standalone sections moving forward."

To combat that trend, newspaper food editors are trying to migrate more readers online, as well as broadening their appeal to men, who are not considered the traditional target demographic for food sections, Silva adds.

"Traditionally, we've had more women readers. But as the roles in homes have changed and more men enjoy cooking, we're seeing that transition," she says.

Although newspaper food sections face plenty of competition from TV and national publications, they distinguish themselves with their local focus, says Samara Mormar, VP at Hunter PR.

"The newspaper food [section] remains an amazing resource for [its] readers in terms of having [its] finger on the pulse of the appetites and trends within that market," she says. "That means, when you're pitching, you have to make sure it is available in that market."

Established packaged food products aren't new to shelves. So food section editors and reporters keep an eye on dining trends, adding to evergreen themes like eating healthy or stretching a grocery budget in light of rising food prices, says Stacey Bender, president of The Bender-Hammerling Group, adding that professionals should look to pitch seasonal angles and convenient meals.

"One trend you're seeing more in newspapers is recipes using foods that are already in your pantry and can be quickly combined with fresh vegetables into a healthy 30-minute meal," she says.

But with decreasing space, food editors get more selective. "I see a lot of products with recipes and photography and think, 'That was a lot of effort, but we're never going to use that,'" Silva says. "We get most of our recipes from books or we develop them on our own or get them from a trusted source."

Sampling is another PR strategy for packaged foods, but Silva suggests that might not work with editors who have strict guidelines on what they can and can't receive for free.

Food sections can vary dramatically from market to market, but Mormar says it's a myth that top-tier newspapers gravitate toward high-end fare.

"I've seen The New York Times do full-page stories on the best hot dogs," she says. "For true foodies, there's a love for both the high and the low, and what these editors are most interested in is quality."

Pitching food
What distinguishes newspaper food sections from food-centric magazines, Web sites, and TV shows are local angles, so make sure your pitch is tailored for that market

Rather than look for a local celebrity chef, one tactic worth trying is getting area farmers involved in fresh- and healthy-eating stories

There's a growing nutritional focus within many newspaper food sections, so highlight the health benefits in your pitch, especially for products aimed at children

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