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Eatocracy editor Kat Kinsman on being compelling and kind online

Kat Kinsman joins the Mid-Atlantic Food Writers Symposium speaker lineup for a discussion on creating compelling social media content, which Kinsman believes is essential for writers at any stage in their career.

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When Kat Kinsman, managing editor of CNN’s Eatocracy, heard the line-up at the Mid-Atlantic Food Writers Symposium, she knew instantly she wanted in. She’ll be joining Esquire Food Blogger Josh Ozersky, Washingtonian Food Editor Todd Kliman, cookbook author Kendra Bailey Morris and others, sharing their expertise with fellow writers, bloggers, and food photographers. Says Kinsman, “It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be in the same room as them, so I didn’t even have to think about it.”

Kinsman will join Lisa Fain, Monica Bhide, and Josh Ozersky at the Library of Virginia for a discussion on creating compelling social media content, which Kinsman believes is essential for writers at any stage in their career. With over 50,000 Twitter followers of her own and 27,000 Tweets and counting, Kinsman has a keen insight on what flies and what flops on the weird and wonderful world wide web.

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What do you, as a writer, take away from writers’ symposiums like this, and what do you hope to share?

Writers are often strange, solitary, mole-like creatures who shy away from sunlight and human contact (except on Twitter). Being in the physical presence of smart people with stuff to say reminds you that you should do that more often. I come out of these conferences inspired and energized–and often with new friends. What I’m hoping to share is, well, hope. I took a really strange path to get to the job I have now (my master’s degree is in metalsmithing and I used to work in advertising), but I wrote wherever I could. I wrote wherever I could, with as much artfulness and voice as I could–whether it was banner ads, blog posts, or even internal e-mails–and eventually people took notice. I would like for other writers who may just be starting out to know that any writing you do, even if it’s just a tweet, can get you on the path to where you want to be.

How do you think food writing is unique from other media–do you think food writers have a responsibility to advance the food system or level of culinary understanding, or is the role simply that of reporters, critics, etc.

We live in a funny age where the thing we knew for many decades as “food writing” (newspaper food sections and glossy cooking/travel magazines) is now perhaps the most rarefied part of it. It’s in a state of rapid expansion, and we talk about that a LOT in our meetings for the James Beard Awards Journalism Committee. For goodness sake, a Twitter feed won the humor category a few years back! Barriers to publishing no longer exist, so I think there’s more freedom for food writers to self-define. There is room for both cake-pop blogging and investigations into cattle downing, for meticulous step-by-step galleries of malolactic sauerkraut fermentation and analysis of school lunch regulations. You don’t have to be all things to all people, so long as you throw yourself into what you do.

I know you’re discussing “the beast that is social media.” How important is social media for food writers who want to advance their careers? Can you give an idea of what you plan to discuss at the symposium? How can writers tap into engaging content on social media without sounding self-promoting or hackneyed? (That’s three questions in one!)

You can’t be a writer and not be on Twitter. OK, maybe you can if you’ve got a Pulitzer shortlist slot under your belt or a book franchise that’s been made into movie blockbusters (a la Suzanne Collins), but the rest of us mortals have gotta hustle. And it’s a delicate balance I’m constantly assessing. Yes, you want to promote what you’re doing, because ideally you’re really proud of it and want to share it. But social media is all about karma. For every item of yours that you promote, shine your light on a couple things that other people are doing–whether it’s sharing something they wrote, boosting a message they want to put out in the world, or just making them feel a little better about themselves that day. It costs nothing to post. It costs nothing to be supportive and kind. It pays back more richly than you could ever imagine.

BONUS QUESTION: What’s your favorite Smiths song?

This really depends on the context. The sentimental favorite is “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” because there’s that mordant, romantic intensity that hits you like a ten-ton truck and imprints itself on your 17-year-old heart forever. I have a special fondness for “Unhappy Birthday” because my best friend has sung it to me on every birthday since I turned 19. She’s the sweetest human on the planet, and it’s such an evil little song! But I may have to call it for “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” because we played the instrumental version while my husband took his place at the altar at our wedding. It filled my heart with such joy that day, and lord knows, it won’t be the last time.

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For all her poise and personality, Kinsman is upfront about her personal battle with anxiety. Her book, Hi, Anxiety, anticipated for release in early 2015, will lessen the stigma around anxiety and panic because, “stigma sucks, and stigma kills.”

The Mid-Atlantic Food Writers Symposium takes places June 20th – 22nd at the Library of Virginia. Tickets are on sale now.

Photo courtesy of Kat Kinsman

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