Food for thought: A chat with Grant Jones

By Ryan Gandiaga @ryangandiaga

Grant Jones is a self-employed content creator and manager. He has also been a journalist for the past 35 years and has a plethora of skills including copywriting, websites, media advice and marketing for a wide range of clients, from major property companies, clubs and hotels, to food suppliers and distributors, restaurants and cafes. Prior to that he was the Managing Editor of ClubLife for ClubsNSW, which followed a decade with NewsCorp as features chief-sub editor, then food editor and food writer for The Daily Telegraph from 2009 to 2016.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Jones and it was even more insightful than I hoped. His first piece of advice for someone fairly new to interviewing such as myself: “go with the flow.” What had been planned as an interview quickly turned into an hour-and-a-half long conversation between a veteran and a rookie, where wisdom and advice was shared as well as stories focused on food, a shared passion.

“I’ve seen the industry evolve and I’ve got to understand how it works to a certain extent. I’ve seen thousands of restaurants open and many thousands more close, but it’s knowing how they work and knowing the characters behind them,” says Jones.

Jones said he was lucky when he got one of his first newspaper jobs, as the person responsible for the restaurant reviews suddenly went on holiday for six weeks.

“The chief of staff approached me and said ‘you like food, don’t you?’ And I said yes. And he said ‘can you do a restaurant review?’ and I said I have never done one before. He said ‘it doesn’t matter. You can, you’re a decent writer and you can go and do a review. So I need it back this afternoon by four o’clock’ and I said okay, and it was about 10 am in the morning.

“So I went to a local restaurant in Little Collins Street called the Swiss Club and wrote my first restaurant review and turned it around that day, and the photos were taken and all these years later I still remember what I ate, and I thought, wow if this is a gig, if this is a job, I love it.”

For the past five years Jones has been running his own business called Chefs Garage.

“Before I took a redundancy in 2016, I’d have lots of hospitality industry people; chefs, restaurant owners and distributors; asking for my advice, ‘do you think this will work? What trends are happening?’ And that not only came from the individuals who would eventually open restaurants, but also came from corporate organisations, food providers and content providers.

“So I figured at that stage in my life, I wanted to change. I set up my own business called Chefs Garage which was pretty much an open book if you need anything done in regards to hospitality or advice, or menu engineering. I eventually found myself being asked by corporates to write digital newsletters about food trends and what was happening in the industry, and it was just a different way of delivering it from my roles as a food editor and transitioning that to writing digital newsletters for corporate organisations.”

The media industry is one that is currently going through a massive transition and change, as newspapers and magazines move from print to online content. Jones weighed in with what he thought were the biggest changes compared to when he started. 

“When I started in 1979, when I first walked into a newspaper office as a copy boy, to being able to run a newspaper from my laptop anywhere in the world, it’s been a massive turn around. So I think that the advances have made media more accessible. I suppose the freedoms that we have now being able to post stuff means there’s a lot more content out there to read and research is a lot easier but you can’t always trust the information you read online, of course.

“Unfortunately, it’s also made it less responsible because keyboard warriors, and people who can put up a post and think they’re a journalist by calling themselves a journalist have less responsibility, and less experience, and they don’t really own their content a lot of the time. They put it up there without thinking about the consequences.”

With so many years in the industry, Jones had plenty of advice to give for those seeking to break into the media.

“Submit your articles, as many as possible. If you think you’re good enough to write then it should be good enough to publish. If you think it’s worthwhile and it’s of interest then someone else is gonna find it worthwhile and of interest, so submit it to someone for publication.”

He also notes that a huge part of journalism is networking and keeping a contact book, whether they are of interest now or later, they have knowledge to share. It is also good to be keeping an archive of all your material as you never know when you may need it. 

He also addressed whether freelancing was the way to go for journalists nowadays and whether making a living as a food writer is still a viable option.

“While the full-time journalism gigs are in decline, freelancing is creating content across the spectrum, whether it’s online content, or for online magazines or print magazines, it’s the way to go I think.

“I think you can (make a living as a food writer). You’ve got to be one of the select few but I think it’s good to have another string to your bow. So if you’ve got a bread and butter job and you’re writing two days a week for ‘X’, that will keep you going and pay your bills, rent and whatever you need to pay for; and then get the freelance gigs.”

Did he have any further advice for freelancing?

“Pitch! If you don’t pitch, you’re never gonna get published. Stay who you are and stay interested in what you’re interested in.”

Featured image courtesy Grant Jones.

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