UPDATED: Citysearch Lays Off Editorial Staff, Aims for (Even More) Mediocrity

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Okay, so it's not like Citysearch was ever one of my favorite restaurant "review" sites out there. It's not like I ever put great stock in their pinpoint analysis of where I ought to go for a dozen cupcakes or a wicked girl's night out. And as far as their user-generated reviews went, I lumped them in with all the other user-generated reviews out there and took them with a high degree of suspicion or simply dismissed them entirely. I know that full-time, staff restaurant critics are growing rarer and rarer these days. And I know that some of you out there feel as though I never had any business getting this job in the first place, what with my potty mouth, my ego and my annoying tendency to write about restaurants more than five minutes away from your house.

But still, there's something to be said for having someone in the chair that does this for a living--that has spent decades cooking, eating and writing about it and has no connection to any of the places they write about. There's something to be said for an editorial structure that gives at least a passing glance to the words before they get fired off into the great, wide world. And there's something to be said for the ethics, rules and plain human morality that stops someone from just flat-out making shit up. For an editorial staffer, writing is their career. For a user posting a 500-word screed about some dumplings that pissed him off, it's just something he's doing during a commercial break on Hell's Kitchen.

At least that's how I look at these things. The folks at Citysearch, though? They have a rather different opinion.

According to Techcrunch, Citysearch (now apparently going by the name CityGrid Media) announced on Monday that it would be laying off somewhere between some and every-fucking-one of their editorial-side employees--the folks who write all the original content that used to appear on the Citysearch main page. Things like a list of the Best Restaurants in the U-District (apparently there are only three), Seattle's Best Teriyaki and where to go and get hammered in public without having to clean up your own messes.

Techcrunch reports that this these layoffs are actually not layoffs at all (at least according to Citysearch bosses), but rather "an outgrowth of the philosophical restructuring of the group's editorial component"--which has just got to be one of the best semantic gymnastics routines of the entire recession.

What this means is that Citysearch plans on dumping all of their actual content (the stuff written by people paid to do so by Citysearch), and replacing it with "a more automated experience," according to Kara Nortman, Senior VP of Publishing at Citysearch CityGrid Media. No, not robots (or at least not yet...), but freelance writers who'll get a nickel for copying restaurant information from the Yellow Pages, user-generated reviews and aggregated local content.

Prior to Monday, there were around 400 people working on the editorial side of the Citysearch operation. And while it isn't completely clear precisely how many of those are now collecting unemployment benefits and updating their resumes, it's safe to say that most of them are already gone--making working food writers (even fairly innocuous ones paid to write about restaurants open on Thanksgiving and where to find tacos for people who really don't like tacos) an even more endangered species than they were a week ago.

UPDATE: Just got word this morning from one of the PR people working for Citysearch (Jenny Davis from Dotted Line Communications), and she informed me of a couple things.

First, that figure of 400 people on the editorial side? That's wrong. Citysearch has around 400 staffers total, not just working in editorial. She (meaning Citysearch) wouldn't say how many people, exactly, there were on the editorial staff, only that the layoffs affected the edit side and that "less than 15 members of the editorial staff were let go."

At this point, that's all the info that Citysearch is releasing. And Davis had nothing at all to say about the possibility of Citysearch/CityGrid employing blog-writing robots to beef up their local content--which, to me, means it has to be true.

 
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