No, wait. This isn’t a joke. This is a 21st-century shakedown.
Here is how it works: An influencer walks into a restaurant to collect an evening’s worth of free food and drink, having promised to create social media content extolling the restaurant’s virtues. The influencer then orders far more than the agreed amount and walks away from the check for the balance or fails to tip or fails to post or all of the above. And the owners are left feeling conned.
The swap of food for eyeballs is nothing new in our digital age; businesses can fail from a lack of exposure. But the entitled disregard — with emboldened influencers making outsize demands but not always fulfilling their end of the bargain — is a more recent phenomenon. They have come to realize that they have all the power, as defined by the number of followers they have on TikTok or YouTube or Instagram. It’s an influence seller’s market, defined by whatever the traffic will bear.
In a business without boundaries, anything goes. Brian Bornemann, the chef and a co-owner of the restaurants Crudo e Nudo and Isla in Santa Monica, Calif., said that while there are reliable influencers, the “lower echelons” see a free meal as a way to build their personal brands. And the most entrepreneurial influencers, whether they have sophisticated skills or merely a prospector’s zeal, offer an ascending roster of fee-based services. Exposure packages can cost upwards of $1,000 for a prescribed number of Instagram stories, posts and a professionally made video, sometimes with performance bonuses tied to views.
Influencer content is lifestyle advertising, selling a quick, aspirational message that has more in common with a fashion ad than with reality. Visit this restaurant, a post implies, and your life will be as much fun as mine. Status is defined by popularity rather than by expertise or by character, and credible, food-savvy comments can get lost in the increasing din.
The opportunists — who give new meaning to the term “grab and go” — aren’t good for restaurants, which are trying to get back on their feet after the pandemic. They aren’t good for the rest of us, either, because they make the already dubious content flooding our feeds even more suspect. The more we rely on influencer posts, the more our critical faculties shrink, because often there’s no depth, no context, no reporting, nothing beyond the surface image of fun, and we can’t tell whom to trust.
Over time, this kind of fast-twitch media habit can make it harder for us to downshift into a more considered view of the landscape. We develop new processing habits; we skim and move on. The balance tips, and not for the better — unless you’re in the business of self-promotion, in which case these are boom times.
Traditional restaurant reporting comes in two basic flavors, celebratory and, more recently, investigative, but I think both approaches have in common a love of the subject — of the role restaurants play in our communities and of the people who work in them. When influencers take advantage of restaurants, there’s no love to be found. They’re in the business of exploitation.
Journalists and influencers are not the same species, but we intersect at one point on the graph — we provide information — making it easy to get us mixed up. Welcoming influencers into your dining room can seem easier, at first glance, because they’re looking for good news: All you have to do is feed and water them, and with luck, they go away to post nice photos along with a little copy.
That initial ease comes at a price. Fear and imagination are a potent mix, and wary restaurateurs worry about retaliation if food influencers don’t get what they want: criticism of food that they might have said tasted better if it had been free, complaints about nonexistent bad service or a bottle of wine that the group drained dry before judging it to be off.
Or they can stiff a restaurant. I hear first-tier influencers sharpening their cutlery to defend their honor, but numerous restaurateurs tell me that dealing with the second tier is a constant challenge.
I don’t know what the future holds for restaurants, because there are no rules to this game, and deciding not to play is less and less an option. Influencers add another cost to an already volatile and low-margin business, but they aren’t going away any time soon, and the serious ones drive traffic. With regulators largely sitting on the sidelines, victimized restaurateurs are left to look for ways to keep from being duped again.
Mr. Bornemann tells influencers he hasn’t worked with to come in on their own dime, once, before he’ll do business. “If they balk,” he said, “they’re bogus.”
Owners can take on the additional job of trying to verify influencer numbers because there are many ways to artificially boost follower counts. If influencers reach out to say they enjoyed a meal at a restaurant and would be happy to return and post in exchange for a freebie, owners can ask for the date of the initial visit to see if there’s a credit card charge on file or check the menu to see if the items the influencers loved were offered on the night in question.
Some restaurants reject all requests below a minimum follower threshold, and some simply refuse to engage. But it takes nerve to opt out.
That’s the underlying problem, whoever the influencer is. Restaurant customers can be fickle, and influencers tell them where to go next. Owners nod wearily when someone mentions the latest influencer scam even as they book a comped table for four, motivated by a pervasive fear of being eclipsed by the place down the block whose new cocktails are showing up everywhere.
But I see a bright future for influencers, even the ones who exploit their position of power in exchange for free goods. If they go to law school, they can aspire to a gig on the Supreme Court, where their actions would qualify, to some justices, as very small potatoes indeed.
Karen Stabiner is a journalist and author whose most recent book is “Generation Chef: Risking It All for a New American Dream.”
ROME, Sept 25 (Reuters) – Italian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who was arrested in January after spending 30 years on the run, has died, AFP reported on Monday, citing Italian media.
Messina Denaro, 61, was suffering from cancer at the time of his arrest. As his condition worsened in recent weeks he was transferred to a hospital from the maximum-security prison in central Italy where he was initially held.
He was convicted of numerous crimes, including for his role in planning the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino – crimes that shocked Italy and sparked a crackdown on the Sicilian mob.
He was also held responsible for bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993 that killed 10 people, as well as helping organise the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, 12, to try to dissuade the boy’s father from giving evidence against the mafia. The boy was held for two years, then murdered.
Dubbed by the Italian press as “the last Godfather”, Messina Denaro is not believed to have given any information to the police after he was seized outside a private health clinic in the Sicilian capital, Palermo, on Jan. 16.
According to medical records leaked to the Italian media, he underwent surgery for colon cancer in 2020 and 2022 under a false name. A doctor at the Palermo clinic told La Repubblica newspaper that Messina Denaro’s health had worsened significantly in the months leading up to his capture.
Reporting by Crispian Balmer and Kanjyik Ghosh; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle
United States President Joe Biden has informed his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that Washington will provide Kyiv with ATACMS long-range missiles, US broadcaster NBC News has reported.
Ukraine has repeatedly asked the Biden administration for the long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to help hit supply lines, airbases and rail networks deep behind Russia’s front lines in occupied regions of Ukraine.
But the White House has not announced a decision to provide Ukraine with the ATACMS system and the missiles were not publicly discussed when Zelenskyy visited Washington, DC on Thursday for talks with Biden, even as the US announced a new $325m military aid package for Kyiv.
The White House and the Pentagon declined to comment on the NBC report on Friday.
The Pentagon also declined to say whether any promise of ATACMS was given to Zelenskyy during his meetings on Thursday at the Department of Defense, saying: “In regards to ATACMS, we have nothing to announce.”
A date for delivery of the ATACMS was not revealed, according to NBC.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned earlier this month that the supply of longer-range missiles to Kyiv would cross a “red line” and the US would be viewed as “a party to the conflict” in Ukraine if it did provide such weapons.
Zelenskyy did not answer directly when asked about the NBC reports on ATACMS, but he noted that the US was the biggest single supplier of weaponry to Ukraine.
“We are discussing all the different types of weapons – long-range weapons and artillery, artillery shells with the calibre of 155mm, then air defence systems,” Zelenskyy said, speaking through an interpreter.
“We have a comprehensive discussion and [we] work with the United States at different levels,” he said.
The Washington Post also reported that the US plans to provide Ukraine with a version of the ATACMS that will be armed with cluster bomblets rather than a single warhead, citing several unnamed sources familiar with the deliberations, and that can fly up to 306km (190 miles).
ATACMS is designed for “deep attack of enemy second-echelon forces”, a US Army website states, and could be used to attack command and control centres, air defences and logistics sites well behind the front line.
For Lachlan Murdoch, this moment has been a long time coming. Assuming, of course, that his moment has actually arrived.
On Thursday, his father Rupert Murdoch announced that in November he’ll step down as the head of his two media companies: News Corp. and Fox Corp. Lachlan will become the chair of News Corp. while remaining chief executive and chair at Fox Corp., the parent of Fox News Channel.
The changes make Rupert’s eldest son the undisputed leader of the media empire his father built over decades. There’s no real sign that his siblings and former rivals James and Elisabeth contested him for the top job; James in particular has distanced himself from the company and his father’s politics for several years. But Rupert, now 92, has long had a penchant for building up his oldest children only to later undermine them — and sometimes to set them against one another — often flipping the table without notice.
Given Rupert Murdoch’s advanced age, this might be his last power move. But there’s a reason the HBO drama “Succession” was often interpreted as a thinly disguised and dark satire of his family business. In Murdoch World, as in the fictional world of the Roy family, seemingly sure things can go sideways in an instant, particularly when unexpected opportunities arise.
Lachlan Murdoch has lived that first hand. Born in London, he grew up in New York City and attended Princeton, where he focused not on business, but philosophy. His bachelor’s thesis, titled “A Study of Freedom and Morality in Kant’s Practical Philosophy,” addressed those weighty topics alongside passages of Hindu scripture. The thesis closed on a line from the Bhagavad Gita referencing “the infinite spirit” and “the pure calm of infinity,” according to a 2019 article in The Intercept.
Béatrice Longuenesse, Lachlan’s thesis advisor at Princeton, confirmed the accuracy of that report via email.
After graduation, though, Lachlan plunged headlong into his father’s business, moving to Australia to work for the Murdoch newspapers that were once the core of News Corp.’s business. Many assumed he was being groomed for higher things at News Corp., and they were not wrong. Within just a few years, Lachlan was deputy CEO of the News Corp. holding company for its Australian properties; shortly thereafter, he took an executive position at News Corp. itself and was soon running the company’s television stations and print publishing operations.
Lachlan’s ascent came to an abrupt halt in 2005, when he resigned from News Corp. with no public explanation. According to Paddy Manning, an Australian journalist who last year published a biography of Lachlan Murdoch, the core problem involved two relatively minor issues on which Lachlan disagreed with Roger Ailes, who then ran Fox News.
“The real point was that Lachlan felt Rupert had backed his executives over his son,” Manning said in an interview. “So Lachlan felt, ‘If I’m not going to be supported, then what’s the point?’” Manning did not have direct access to Lachlan for his book “The Successor,” but said he spoke in depth with the people closest to his subject.
Lachlan returned to Australia, where he has often described feeling most at home, and founded an investment group that purchased a string of local radio stations among other properties.
While he was away, News Corp. entered choppy waters. The U.K. phone-hacking scandal, in which tabloid journalists at the News of the World and other Murdoch-owned publications had found a way to listen to voicemails of the British royal family, journalistic competitors and even a missing schoolgirl, had seriously damaged the company. The fracas led to resignations of several News Corp. officials, criminal charges against some, and the closure of News of the World as its finances went south.
Manning said that the damage the scandal inflicted on News Corp. — and on both Lachlan Murdoch’s father and his brother James, chief executive of News’ British newspaper group at the time — helped pull Lachlan back to the company.
“He was watching the family tear itself apart over the phone-hacking scandal,” Manning said. Lachlan was “instrumental in trying to circle the wagons and turn the guns outwards, and stop Rupert from sacking James.”
While it took more convincing, Lachlan eventually returned to the company in 2014 as co-chairman of News Corp. alongside James.
Not long afterward, Ailes was forced out of his job at Fox News following numerous credible allegations of sexual harassment.
Lachlan Murdoch has drawn criticism from media watchdogs for what many called Fox News’ increasingly conspiratorial and misinformation-promoting broadcasts. The network hit a nadir following the 2020 election when voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for $1.6 billion, alleging that Fox knowingly promoted false conspiracy theories about the security of its voting machines.
In certain respects, though, Lachlan Murdoch’s behavior suggests some ambivalence about his role at News Corp. In 2021 he moved back to Sidney and has been mixing commuting and remote work from Australia ever since. “I think there’s a legitimate question about whether you can continue to do that and for how long” while running companies based in the U.S., Manning said.