We have been active online for a number of years, offering information on our website, blog, Twitter and Facebook page, especially with the newly diagnosed in mind. It’s not unusual for someone seeking information of any kind to do their initial searching on the Internet.
But we do think it’s a little premature to use the study to declare that those who follow the gluten-free diet rely only on online information. And when we read the study for ourselves, we did not find evidence to support one blogger’s declaration that “people are no longer subscribing to magazines because they can get pertinent information more quickly on Twitter.”
In fact our own growing circulation and distribution would refute that claim, which was based on only one comment in the study.
The study was done by Mitch McKenney, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at Kent State University-Stark, for the Civic and Civilian Journalism Interest Group. He interviewed 24 people who maintain gluten-free websites or blogs to find out about their “civilian journalism” activities. One blogger posted his questions on her site, which generated another four responses. McKenney says that “to round out the reporting,” the contents of sites mentioned by others in the reporting process were examined and included. Personally, I question the real value of a study that relies on a group with a vested interest in a particular outcome.
Online you have speed. You can ask a question and get an answer almost as fast as you can type it. (This is true about everything, not just the gluten-free diet.) But even the Internet writers in the study said they have some reservations about the accuracy of some information shared online. We know about this uncertainty because we regularly get letters and emails that start something like, “I just read on the Internet ….Can you tell me if this is true?”
In addition to speed, we love being in constant contact with our Twitter followers and Face book fans. We thoroughly enjoy being able to “talk” regularly on our blog and share ideas and experiences that might not make it into the magazine. And we hold all of our Internet sites to the same standard of accuracy as the magazine.
But in print, you have both accuracy and depth. In each issue, Gluten-Free Living provides well-researched information and advertisements completely about the gluten-free diet and lifestyle. We have nearly 20 years of experience looking into gluten-free topics and our reputation is well established. We have always advocated a commonsense approach to the diet based on fact and not unfounded fear.
Our readers tell us they save issues of the magazine and go back to refer to them again and again. And they pull them out when someone else has a question about ingredients, labeling, nutrition, dining out, going to school—well, you get the drift.
One part of the study in particular caught our attention and has some valuable lessons to teach, even if unwittingly. A support group blogger recalls how accurate information was hard to come by when she was first diagnosed 10 years ago, saying that there were rules that don’t apply today. “We were told to avoid all items that had vinegar,” she said, while it’s known today that most items with distilled vinegar are fine.
The study’s author, who did not include specialty gluten-free magazines in his research or any of his questions, probably did not realize that Gluten-Free Living is responsible for the information on vinegar.
But we looked into this question a number of years ago when all the dietetic, support, and medical groups said distilled vinegar was not safe. Slowly all of them came to accept our reporting and research on the fact that distilled vinegar is gluten free.
Without the kind of work a gluten-free magazine can do—and not simply “retweeting”—we would all still be worrying about distilled vinegar in salad dressing and marinades, not to mention distilled alcohol which is gluten free for the same reason as distilled vinegar.
And in the magazine we continue to use our expertise to follow other gluten-free developments. We have extensively covered labeling, from the very first mention of new laws governing it through work on a definition of “gluten free.” We were among the first to look into the controversy over McDonald’s french fries and gluten. The topics we cover are often complex and some answers might not come as quickly as a blog that just repeats what is found in a study. But we are hard at work looking for the facts that can have a big impact on your gluten-free life.
We see Gluten-Free Living and the world of blogs, Twitter and Facebook existing all at once. Each one can provide those in the gluten-free community with different kinds of important information.
Although we have recipes in each issue, we enjoy many of the cooking, baking, you-name-it sites that provide readers with information, instruction and inspiration in the kitchen.
We know that reading a personal story of diagnosis and return to good health can be comforting for someone who is newly struggling with the gluten-free diet. Many of these stories are available online. Although we advocate learning how to read a label yourself, when you are new to the gluten-free diet, you might want lists of specific brands of products that are safe and these can be found on the Internet. Other sites chronicle every study related to celiac disease or give details about gluten-free dining and shopping opportunities in individual cities. And some provide very specific advice for those who have other allergies or intolerances in addition to celiac disease. Many give their opinion on products sent to them by gluten-free companies.
We read numerous online sites as part of the process of keeping tabs on gluten-free concerns. We like many of them. And we count ourselves as part of the online community that can help anyone with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity live a happy, healthy gluten-free life.
But we know there is still a lot of room, and more important, a real need for Gluten-Free Living, the magazine.