Victoria Stewart, food editor at the London Evening Standard, on balancing print and online content, why PRs should summarise press releases and her favourite London eateries.
Being a food editor sounds like a dream job…tell us about your role.
My job is to keep abreast of what is happening in London’s ever-changing food world, from new products, businesses and chefs, to the latest restaurant openings, pop-ups, supper clubs and food trends. I write, edit and commission some of the content for the paper and our website Standard.co.uk.
What content do you cover and how much do you produce each day for the paper and online?
A lot of what we do day-to-day is driven by what happens in the news but we also have regular weekly columnists. In the paper, our leading restaurant review by Fay Maschler runs every Wednesday alongside the Bar Gazer column, while our second restaurant review and Richard Godwin’s The Spirits drinking column runs on Thursdays.
There are also key interviews, ongoing trends pieces, 5 Best Lists on food and drink, area guides and the Al Desko column shared by all of us.
Online, we run a Friday Going Out guide featuring foodie things to do, with more roundups throughout the week of where and when to eat around the city. Two weeks ago we launched a new Drink of the Week column by BarChick. I don’t have a fixed remit but I tend to write a couple of short trend-led pieces or perhaps a meatier piece and a 5 Best List each week and also help generate ideas and contribute to food-related pieces covered by some of the other feature writers.
In addition to that, because I am now working across print and Standard.co.uk, I have to try and combine what we do in the paper with something to complement it online. It’s an interesting process.
Do you have much contact with your readers and what they want?
Most of us have Twitter accounts where people can get in touch with ideas; readers also occasionally write letters or emails telling us whether they enjoyed a particular piece. It’s great when small business owners call to say how their sales have escalated following a story in the paper. Other than that we can tell a lot from our online hits.
The restaurant market is pretty saturated in London – what does a new eatery need to do to catch your eye?
For the Standard it’s about getting the news first and covering it in an enjoyable and intelligent way. I tend to look out for ideas whilst out and about, on Twitter, reading food publications, and talking to PRs and people in the industry. From a story point of view, we are interested in who is behind it, the concept and the menu, each something that could work as a standalone piece or as part of a wider feature. If a restaurant owner or a PR person is getting in touch with us, whether it’s a mad or a more serious business idea, it always helps to have a clear explanation of what it is and preferably good quality accompanying pictures.
How can PRs help with content?
The best thing they can do is to become familiar with our pages and get a feel for the types of stories we run; that way they won’t waste our time pitching things that we don’t have a slot for. For example, if they represent a restaurant with an ingredient on it that a new chef has begun experimenting with, it is worth telling us about in case there’s a trends piece in it. Equally, the chef might have an interesting story to tell so that’s worth flagging up. If it’s a new takeaway lunch product available in London, it would fit into our Al Desko column, for example.
How do you like to work with PRs?
I like to be sent information by email with a line summarising what the press release is all about; sometimes they can be very labour intensive and if we’re on a deadline we don’t always have time to go through them in detail. I don’t mind phone calls, but generally only if it’s with a new idea that is relevant to us with targeted content. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of something and being asked “just wondering what you’re working on at the moment?” from someone you don’t know.
When is the best time for PRs to feed in ideas?
Any time really. Phone calls are best not done first thing as we often have catch-up meetings, or might be finishing up for the edition.
What’s the most common thing you have to tell PRs you’re not interested in?
Baby food products come up a lot, as do trade fairs outside London, or books written by people with no connection to London, plus products that we might like but have absolutely nowhere to cover in the paper.
What do PRs need to think about when pitching?
As above, look at our pages and our online sections – we are always writing with those in mind, so it’s useful to have ideas that correspond.
Pics are obviously important to illustrate your pieces – what sort of pics can PRs help with?
For products, we need good quality cut-out-able food shots in or out of the packaging; for Going Out-related content, anything lively with people socialising is useful, but nothing too cheesy! With a new restaurant, it’s always useful to have a nice high res pic of the chef, preferably smiling. We also never print black and white photographs.
What days does food feature most prominently in the paper?
In the paper we tend to run something foodie most days.
Do you ever offer suggestions for places to visit outside London?
We don’t tend to, no.
Finally (we have to ask!) – where are your favourite places to eat in London?
We are lucky to have lots of brilliant places here, but everything depends on the mood, your budget, and where you are. Nuno Mendes’ Chiltern Firehouse is my current favourite for food and atmosphere, with the River Café a close second. Smaller and consistently good favourites include Brawn, Pitt Cue Co, Copita, Quo Vadis, Polpetto and Polpo. I also blog about street food; Pasta e Basta, the Jhal Muri Express, Yum Bun and Mike & Ollie are some of my top hits.
Victoria was talking to Gorkana’s Richard O’Donnell