in journalism, Uncategorized

Food Blogger S. Irene Virbila Is Unmaksed, Photographed, Ejected from the Premises

The LATimes has the fascinating story of S. Irene Virbila, the restaurant critic for, well, the LA Times. Apparently, Virbila was at a restaurant called Red Machine when the managing partner of the restaurant, Noah Ellis, approached her, photographed her, refused to serve her and her friends, and then posted her photo on the internet. This was particularly destructive because Virbila had worked hard to maintain her anonymity for many years:

Times Food editor Russ Parsons said Virbila contacted [Ellis] after the incident and was upset by it. It was humiliating to be confronted in such a manner, Parsons said, and Virbila felt violated to have her picture taken without her permission. But mostly, he said, “She was upset because she has worked extremely hard for more than 15 years to maintain her anonymity in the L.A. restaurant scene.”

Parsons said that a truly anonymous restaurant critic is increasingly rare in a world that revolves around instant communication and a camera is as close as your cellphone. Some media outlets say true anonymity is impossible and, as a result, no longer try to go to great lengths to hide a critic’s identity.

To be fair, Ellis explained his motivation thusly: “Our purpose for posting this is so that all restaurants can have a picture of her and make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her. We find that some her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational…”

It’s interesting to see the parallels between food critics and film critics. Most film critics have never felt the need to hide their identity, primarily because historically movie studios couldn’t exactly “serve” film critics in the direct way that food establishments serve food critics. These days, all-expense paid junkets and set visits probably create just as many conflicts of interest for film critics, if not more, than catered parties for food critics. But food critics AND film critics from major newspapers are on the decline anyway, because it’s just hard to compete with the massive throng of unrelenting, unpaid, free workers that comprise the internetz.