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TFS seeks a few good bureau chiefs

Would you take business advice from this man?/ FPG via Getty Images
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In 1731, Benjamin Franklin cut a deal with Thomas Whitmarsh.

Franklin knew that members of South Carolina’s Commons House of Assembly were desperate for a printer to set up shop in their colony. With no way to record or circulate the laws they were making, they finally resorted to offering a ₤1000 signing bonus.

That sounded pretty good to Franklin. But he had no intention of moving to the Lowcountry. Instead, he arranged for his journeyman to relocate “at his own Risque to the said Town of Charlestown.”

As Franklin recounted in his autobiography, “I furnished him with a Press and Letters, on an Agreement of Partnership, by which I was to receive One Third of the Profits of the Business, paying One Third of the Expense,” including rent, paper, ink, wool, and oil.

Whitmarsh wasn’t the only printer hoping to claim the Assembly’s bounty. One of Franklin’s longtime rivals showed up in South Carolina, along with a Bostonian who Assembly members judged most impressive.

Soon, though, the rival vanished, and the Bostonian died of fever. Whitmarsh won the colonial contract and used his press to put out South Carolina’s first successful newspaper, the South-Carolina Gazette.

James N. Green, librarian emeritus of The Library Company of Philadelphia and a leading Franklin scholar, told me that academics have never reached consensus on why Franklin put together what’s sometimes described as the first American franchise. While Green suspects he hoped to make money and consolidate power, another Franklin scholar described the printing network as “a logical and ambitious extension of his call to serve God and humanity.”

Franchising looms large in American food history. Coca-Cola first sold bottling rights to its proprietary formula in 1889; this facility was photographed in 1955/ American Stock Archive via Getty Images

Look, I’m hardly a Franklin expert. I know him mostly as the guy who flew a kite, and preferred turkeys to eagles. But I feel eminently qualified to say that in this case, all the Franklin scholars are right. He wanted important reading material to reach more people, and he didn’t want to go broke in the process.

I know this because I independently hit on the same strategy as Franklin, albeit almost three centuries later (and minus the wool and oil.) No wonder so many historians study him.

Since its launch in September 2021, one of the most significant steps that The Food Section has taken is investing in freelance contributions. Thanks to the support of paying subscribers, this newsletter has published the work of more than a dozen different food journalists over the past year—and compensated them fairly for it. That effort is crucial because showcasing a broad spectrum of voices is essential to telling the culinary story of the whole South.1   

But another component of The Food Section’s mission involves reinvigorating rigorous food journalism across the region. To that end, it’s not enough just to bring more writers to The Food Section. Now, it’s time to bring The Food Section to more writers.

In other words, I intend to furnish latter-day Whitmarshes with what they need to start city-based food newsletters of their own.

Howard Johnson started franchising in 1935/ Charles P. Cushing via Getty Images

Faithful readers of The Food Section will remember this isn’t the first time that the newsletter has shared expansion plans. Earlier this year, I announced a joint venture with The Assembly that entailed opening two North Carolina bureaus.

But Assembly shifted course, and while our publications maintain a content-sharing partnership, those promised bureaus didn’t materialize. (For what it’s worth, plenty of Franklin’s schemes didn’t pan out either. The third thing I know about Franklin is he was forever making errata.)  

So, going forward, rather than working exclusively with other digital news outlets to produce food coverage at the local level, The Food Section will work directly with food journalists keen to cover their hometowns. Under the banner of, say, The Food Section: Memphis or The Food Section: Louisville, these correspondents will publish two newsletters each month.

To be clear, this is not a salaried full-time job with benefits. It’s an opportunity for prospective food newsletter publishers to get started with the backing of The Food Section’s editorial and administrative support, as well as the benefit of The Food Section’s reach and reputation.

Ray Kroc started franchising in 1955/ Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Obviously, this is a great deal for The Food Section’s readers, who crave more news and information about the dining scenes in the places where they live. But what’s in it for writers? The food journalists among you already know: It spares them the hassles and headaches associated with running a business and getting something new off the ground.

Recently, I got an email from a food writer on the other side of the Mississippi who had considered starting a newsletter. He decided against it after discovering he’d have to “learn the back end of Substack and get everything set up optimally; focus on monetizing while trying to balance that with time spent on content generation; and decide on how to operate free/paid models and [figure out] what incentives to provide.”

Whew. It takes time just to type out those challenges, let alone surmount them.

If you’re curious about bypassing that rigamarole and launching a city-based newsletter in keeping with The Food Section’s commitment to independent food journalism that puts its readers’ needs first, check out the posting on JournalismJobs.

The listing outlines the position requirements and profit split in detail, but if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at readthefoodsection@gmail.com.

By the way, if you’re wondering what became of Whitmarsh, he succumbed to fever too. But Franklin continued to enter franchise-like alliances with young printers, creating a system that Green credits with setting the stage for an American book trade.

Not bad.

Do you know someone who would make a great addition to The Food Section crew?



The Food Section is always on the hunt for Southern food stories that haven’t been fairly, accurately, or completely told. To learn more about pitching the publication, click here.




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