Earlier this year, the Washington Post launched an entirely new concept: a standalone Food section section called Voraciously. They declared it, “your first stop for learning to cook with confidence”, and the place that “gives you cooking skills to match your appetite”. It sounded ambitious, so I wrote Food Editor Joe Yonan with some questions. He was kind enough to reply.
When and how did the idea for Voraciously first come up?
Last spring, when we started designing a strategy to increase our digital audience in Food, we quickly realized that while we have a long history of high-quality food journalism, our readers are fairly sophisticated in their cooking knowledge. To broaden our reach, we decided to differentiate ourselves by taking the same high standards we apply to all our work and dedicate them to building a destination that would help much less-experienced cooks build confidence and skills, while also entertaining them with trend pieces. Voraciously was born from that effort.
Why do you think there’s an audience for Voraciously now?
Food is at the top of the list of interests among young readers (and potential readers), but we also know that many of them, while they have been exposed to food from all over the world on their travels and on restaurant visits, lack some of the basic skills they need to pull off regular – and satisfying — cooking at home. Cooking at home doesn’t have to be about picture-perfect recipes and expensive dinner parties; it is also about sheer joy and fun. And for those on a budget, it’s the cheapest way to feed yourselves and your friends and loved ones.
What was the pitch process with WaPo leadership like? Any good cooks on the masthead?
They loved the idea from the outset and have supported us wholeheartedly. The masthead includes some good cooks, some great ones, and some wannabe greats – just like our readership, probably!
Level with me: Can Marty Baron cook?
All I can say is, he expressed serious personal interest in the dinner-party newsletter. So ask me again in about, oh, nine weeks. If I have an invitation to a certain dinner party, we may soon have our answer.
Presumably, a lot of Voraciously’s target audience exists outside traditional Food section readership. What are you doing to let new people know the site exists? Using any startup-y “growth hacks”?
Among other tactics, we’re making a big social media push on Instagram, because that’s one of the platforms where our target audience gets so much of its food inspiration. We have doubled our IG following in just a few months, so we know the push is working. On our own site, we have had homepage ad takeovers to make sure the general WaPo readership knows about it. And there are more plans in the works!
Should we be expecting Voraciously: The Podcast?
We have no plans for a podcast at this time, but you never know…
Trends in food video and photography have definitely affected the way chefs cook, and the way editors choose stories; do you see them influencing the way food writers write?
Yes. Our Voraciously pieces are voice-y, a little cheeky, and very friendly. And they’re shorter than some of the other work at WaPoFood, partly because we want to make room for all that great photography and video – and to make our content as smartphone-friendly as possible.
I know there’s a strict editorial vs. advertising line at the Post, but are there any interesting new opportunities for advertisers at Voraciously?
You’re right that the church/state divide is strict. We have a launch sponsor, Sub Zero, and there is absolutely room for more.
New opportunities for freelancers?
Always! We have a great main staff writer in Becky Krystal, but I’m always looking for good pitches. For Voraciously, we’re particularly interested in building a group of diverse contributors. Pitch away!
Speaking of pitches, you have been known to share some bad ones on Twitter from time to time. What’s your best tip to help writers avoid a public pitch-shaming?
Know my publication inside and out. Tell me why this story is appropriate for right now (timing and newsworthiness is crucial), and tell me why I should have you write it. Make it brief, and follow up if you don’t hear back because it’s easy for me to lose track. Don’t pitch a story we just did, don’t pitch a style of thing you’ve never seen in the Post, and don’t pitch a column or series as your first idea. That’s like asking me to marry you before I’ve agreed to a first date.
Last and not least: How did you decide on the name? Any good also-rans or misfires you can divulge?
Naming something is tough, especially given the legal constraints. We fell in love with this idea of voraciousness, though, since it connotes obsession and appetite and energy – just the types of feelings we hope to inspire with our content. I’m afraid I can’t divulge any also-rans, because if they’re also-rans that means we either decided they were stupid and it would be too embarrassing to share them, or they wouldn’t work because of legal reasons so I don’t want us to get sued!
You can visit Voraciously, and sign up for the newsletter that Marty Baron may or may not be learning to cook from each Wednesday, here.
P.S. – Congratulations to the WaPo Food team on their James Beard Awards nominations. If you could use your leverage to start a newsletter category, I would appreciate it. Thank you.