The New York Times has had enough of attempting to moderate a popular private Facebook group dedicated to cooking.
The private group, The New York Times Cooking Community, has swelled in the few years since it started on Facebook, now numbering some 77,000 people, up from roughly 60,000 toward the end of last year. But with so many members, it seems the group has become more than The Times can handle, or is willing to invest resources in. Apparently, the group is moderated by members of The Times’ relatively small Cooking staff.
Now The Times is abandoning the group entirely. It will remove its name and official relationship with the Cooking Community, editors said in a Tuesday note to the group. They are also soliciting interest from people within the existing group who might want to take over moderation of it going forward.
Once new moderators are in place, The Times’ editors “will be stepping back as moderators of the group, removing its official affiliation with The New York Times, changing the name and handing it over to members to make it about all things cooking and food.”
A Times representative reiterated the portion of the editors’ note to the group pointing out “the interest in the group is about much more than recipes or The New York Times.”
“As it continues to grow and change, we felt it should be run by people who are an engaged and informed part of the community,” he added.
NYT Cooking has been an area of focus for The Times in the last two years or so. The publisher has launched a separate subscription option for the section for $5 a month, and it’s been cited, along with the paper’s push into games, as a successful driver of subscription growth. But while the Facebook group undoubtedly drives interest in the section and its offering, it is in no way paid, so does not offer The Times a direct source of revenue.
Ben Smith, The Times’ media columnist, posted on Twitter comments about the decision from Sam Sifton, an assistant managing editor of The Times, that alluded to the group’s lack of crossover with revenue generation and subscriptions.
“It’s a lot of people who want to post pictures of their dogs next to their soufflé” and “not a place where we were going to March people toward NYT Cooking,” Smith quoted Sifton as saying.
Nevertheless, there have been some events leading up to The Times’ decision to abandon the group showing some tension within.
Before the November election of President Joe Biden, when the group numbered about 62,000 people, there was an issue of politics popping up in posts from the group. One man posted support for one candidate. There were other posts spelling “vote” in various food forms. The posts were removed as the group had clear rules on the prohibition of any political content, but this led to days of discussion and infighting. One user, cited in a Buzzfeed story at the time, said there was “a coup going on” and suggested group members “weren’t having it and made it clear that food is undoubtedly political.”
Since then it seems that other issues have cropped up on the forum, which started out as a place for people to share photos and tweaks to Times Cooking recipes. The group essentially became more trouble than its worth to The Times.
Erin Biba, a science journalist in the U.K., took to Twitter after the editors’ note about the new policy went to the group and said there “are some extremely toxic elements to the group” at the moment.
“It’s going to be extremely interesting to see what happens once The Times washes their hands of it,” she added.
Biba also posted some comments from within the private group reacting to The Times’ decision to remove itself. One member wrote the Cooking group “has been a slow motion train wreck for at least two years.”
“I doubt any sane person would take on the job of moderating it,” the member added, “even if they were being paid.”