The breathless anticipation over who would succeed Frank Bruni as the New York Times restaurant critic seldom acknowledged the question that was really being asked: what role does a newspaper critic have in a wired world where anyone can get as much information about and as many user reviews of a restaurant as she or he could want?
To craggy veterans who have spent our lives trying to make a living as writers, the answer is obvious: of course a paid writer is more reliable! We've spent years learning perfect impartiality, fairness, and enough about the business of cooking and feeding people to give us extra-special knowledge that confers godlike power to pass judgment. Oh, and we've learned how to write, too.
Obviously, I'm being facetious. But also I'm not. The wired world is a part of life--I rely on it, every critic relies on it. I've just used the Internet to book four tables at two different reservations (yes, under four different names), and revel in the ability to look up menus rather than always surreptitiously stealing menus (I still steal them, to be sure I've got the right information).
What I don't do--perhaps quaintly, along with the antiquated print world in which I toil, as Boston Magazine's restaurant critic--is look on forums and various sites to see what people are saying about restaurants. And don't read the work of the other paid critics in Boston, who don't work for monthlies and by definition can get the jump on me, until after my review has gone to press (again, quaint).