In early May, Dark Rye, an online magazine from Whole Foods Market, was honored with the Best Group Food Blog award at the James Beard Foundation Book, Broadcast and Journalism Awards in New York City, defeating well-known fellow nominees Eater National and Grub Street. Just over a year old, Dark Rye is quickly becoming one of the most innovative food/lifestyle blogs on the Internet, incorporating the use of text, video, infographics and photography to tell an array of captivating stories.
CultureMap: Tell me about the James Beard Award experience.
Vadan Less: The James Beard Foundation has always been a part of our culture, but if you had asked me a year ago if I thought we would win a James Beard award, I'd say absolutely not. I'm thrilled and shocked to be part of it. It's a dream come true really. How it happened is actually interesting. We started looking through the opportunities we had to submit, and we submitted Dark Rye to a handful of journalism categories.
We were nominated for two of them and ended up winning for best group blog. We were up against Eater.com and Grub Street. The other one we were nominated for was Best On-Location Video Webcast, and one of our ongoing series, The Adventures of Kirk Lombard, was nominated.
CM: Did you go to the awards show in New York?
VL: Yeah. There were two separate events. There were the food awards, and then there were the books, journalism and publishing awards. We went to New York City for the awards, and it really was an amazing who's who in the food journalism world. It was great to see all our counterparts from other food blogs there as well. Seeing people come around a passion for food writing was amazing. We had a great time. Actually I think we were having maybe a little too much fun!
CM: What did you do this year in particular that you think stood out to the James Beard Foundation?
VL: Dark Rye is a very rich experience. We cover the world of food from a broad perspective. It's visually stunning, the written material is in depth and the videos tell the story further. We have created a full, well-rounded package of media surrounding food. I think the experience on Dark Rye is striking, and people are floored by its presence. The periodical is something new for the most part; you don't get this type of multimedia experience from any other online publication. I think people do it really well with photography, video and the written word, but Dark Rye really ties it together in a nice package.
CM: As a journalist, I've seen the media world change and evolve in not the most pleasant way. I feel like every day I see another newspaper laying off the staff, or worse, even completely going out of business. How does Dark Rye represent the future of journalism in that regard?
VL: Take your pick for any reason why newspapers are failing. Is it because they're on paper? Is it because that's not how people want their information delivered anymore? The truth is people are leaning more toward the Internet. The Internet offers that multimedia experience, whereas a magazine or newspaper leaves much more to be desired. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge magazine fan; I have tons of subscriptions, but as I flip through magazines, I feel like they're pushing me to be on the Internet or go to my phone.
We've taken that concept of "go online to see more" and changed it to "here's more" at Dark Rye. We are giving people a feature story and building into that experience. We tell that overarching story that delves deeper into those individual worlds. You can have a five- to 10-page article in a magazine with beautiful detail and storytelling, but all you do with that is read it. When you read something like Dark Rye, you have more opportunities to understand and interpret the story.
CM: I just read the Detroit issue and loved it. What are some of the upcoming issues we can look forward to? And how do you name each theme?
VL: How we name them is a complicated process. We get into a room and start talking about different perspectives on things like seasonality, for instance. We also find inspiration through people we want to talk about. Then we search around that topic, and from that, we figure out the theme. We have the Wander issue coming out soon; then we have an issue about home and one about meat.
We'll do things like focusing on meat through a vegetarian's perspective, or focusing on alternative meats. There has to be a variety of topics and perspectives going along with each issue. We don't like the idea of being too locked into one topic or theme. The titles are designed to guide the issue, but not confine it in any way whatsoever.
CM: What blogs or websites inspire you?
LL: I love Lucky Peach.
VL: Where we've found a lot of inspiration right now is in quarterlies. We're in love with the fact that quarterlies are making a comeback in the publishing world.