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Food Blog Code of Ethics


jrichstar
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This raises the point: Is food blog/message board posting to be considered word of mouth or informed criticism? I think most people realize that there's a pretty good chance that the average anonymous internet poster is likely to pretty frickin' uninformed, so I lean toward considering it as I would gossiping with your neighbor over the backyard fence. Sure, there's a chance that your neighbor might turn out to be Ruth Reichl wearing a Mardi Gras mask, but I think you should presume that it's more likely going to be the average Joe (no, I DO NOT mean Joe H) who's just prattling on. If I were running the show, I like to think that I would take a Laisssez-Faire attitude about the whole thing: let people post pretty much whatever the hell they damn well please, write counter-posts to your heart's content, and take it all with varying numbers of grains of salt.

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This seemed especially timely given some of the recent activity on the boards. The Code is proposed by the bloggers on SpicySaltySweet.com and FoodWoolf.com (see About Us tab). Also, there is a Reviewer's Guidelines tab for the reviewing of restaurants. Thoughts?

http://foodethics.wordpress.com/the-code/

The more I read some of the local blogs, the more I disagree with #4: "We will disclose gifts, comps and samples".

This is not going to earn me friends, but if you're going to write regularly on DC restaurants, you should not be taking comp meals, even if disclosed. At all.

If you're a regular, and you get a comp, that's just good business. But these hosted events where the restaurants prostitute themselves in order to bring in a room full of bloggers? That's just icky.

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The more I read some of the local blogs, the more I disagree with #4: "We will disclose gifts, comps and samples".

If you're a regular, and you get a comp, that's just good business. But these hosted events where the restaurants prostitute themselves in order to bring in a room full of bloggers? That's just icky.

But aren't media dinners the same, but to press instead of bloggers? What's the line drawn? Why not icky for media/press, but for bloggers? Just curious about your reasoning, as I never thought about this until your post.

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But aren't media dinners the same, but to press instead of bloggers? What's the line drawn? Why not icky for media/press, but for bloggers? Just curious about your reasoning, as I never thought about this until your post.

What are media dinners?

Pro reviewers (mostly) attempt to dine anonymously, and everything is paid for. Sietsema doesn't walk into a restaurant and demand to be fed for free so he can review the place. Bloggers who review restaurants should be held to the same standard.

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The more I read some of the local blogs, the more I disagree with #4: "We will disclose gifts, comps and samples".

This is not going to earn me friends, but if you're going to write regularly on DC restaurants, you should not be taking comp meals, even if disclosed. At all.

If you're a regular, and you get a comp, that's just good business. But these hosted events where the restaurants prostitute themselves in order to bring in a room full of bloggers? That's just icky.

The same thing happens in the cocktail blogs. I've had problems figuring out whom I can trust because many people won't say anything remotely negative about a gift, and the distributors are very generous with their gifting. For a few bucks, they can guarantee internet-wide positive reviews. I have to hand it to them, it's brilliant marketing that capitalizes on our cultural norms about gifts.

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As characterized by J Public Relations (be prepared to be blinded by pink, though).

Wow - never seen someone so blatantly and publicly post a strategy for buying critics. Yeah, equally ugly.

Blogging to me is somewhat more insidious. The average public, in reaching out to the "new media", seems to give bloggers more credibility and more of a pass than the "old media." Most bloggers take advantage of this - there's less double-checking sources, less objectivity. And because of linking and other bloggers who just collect material, what you write gets spread to the wind.

Since this is a food board, I'm calling out the food bloggers in particular. If you review restaurants on your blog, don't take the comps, don't go to the open dinners for bloggers. You're selling your objectivity for a free dinner. Couldn't afford to go otherwise? Don't go.

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Since this is a food board, I'm calling out the food bloggers in particular. If you review restaurants on your blog, don't take the comps, don't go to the open dinners for bloggers. You're selling your objectivity for a free dinner. Couldn't afford to go otherwise? Don't go.

That's bull. I have gone to "open dinners," but I would never "review" a place based on an "open dinner." If someone wants to send an extra dessert my way, or pour me a glass of wine, or ask me to try a cocktail on the house, it in no way clouds my overall judgment of the experience, and it is always noted in anything I might write about that experience, be that on donrockwell, eGullet or my own blog.

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I have gone to "open dinners," but I would never "review" a place based on an "open dinner."

You are perhaps the only blogger that does this, in that case, and if the restaurants in question notice that you come for free dinners but DON'T review them, you'll probably be off the invite list soon, since that's what they want.

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"That's bull."

I don't normally ever get comps... but I am a small beans blogger, I do it more as a writing project for me and for my friends who really wanted me to do it. The only comps I have ever gotten were- a free salad at Liberty Tavern and a bottle of wine. The bottle of wine was after a birthday party which they were so great for that I wrote in during the Washington Post food chat, the next time they saw me they gave it to me with a happy birthday note. They deserved everything I said. The salad was another day. But I am not sure whether I got that because I am a regular (which I am) or because I say good things about them on my blog, on here and elsewhere, which I do because they generally tend to deserve it salad or not. But I had a meal I wasn't really fond of recently and I wrote about that too.

Mark also gave my husband and I a couple tartare deviled eggs at Ray's and small cups of crab bisque. Again is this because I write, I doubt it. Is it because we patronize the restaurants a good bit and really love Mark and his recommendations and conversations- probably. Does it effect my judgment on Ray's? No, I love that place, but for reasons entirely different.

Of course I don't go to big paid dinners- I am not on that list.

But I think you just have to take everything you read with a grain of salt. And trust people who tend to have taste similar to yours. I think some people are more professional than others, but that happens all over the place even with paid critics. Maybe not the Post, or Washingtonian for the most part, but with a lot of other publications. Go to an airline lounge and read the magazines and their food guides for different cities, even written by their critics and you quickly realize print is just as bad as digital.

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Actually, some of us can remain objective. Sorry if that hasn't been your experience.

But plenty of people can't, and as soon as you start taking comps, the line between those who are and are not objective becomes so blurred that it's pretty much impossible to tell who's what.

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Reciprocity was so important in human evolution that most scholars believe it to be hard-wired into our brains. If you do a simple search for "reciprocity hardwired," it's no mistake that many of the hits are marketing firms. If you receive free food or drinks from a restaurant or other source, a few million years of evolutionary history will be pressing you to return the favor whether or not you even realize it is happening. It's not so much a social failing on the part of the blogger, it's a smart strategy on the part of the vendor. Knowing about it is a smart strategy on the part of the consumer reading the blogs.

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But plenty of people can't, and as soon as you start taking comps, the line between those who are and are not objective becomes so blurred that it's pretty much impossible to tell who's what.

Perhaps, but if a free panna cotta causes one to write a gushing review of an otherwise awful place, that might be apparent in all the other dribblings of that particular blogger/poster/writer.

I signed the code of ethics on eGullet as soon as it was published (and which we had started discussing back in '07), and I think I've done a pretty good job of sticking to it. Interestingly enough, my invites to cocktail events have been dropping off, probably because I won't write about the product based on those observations and also because I've turned down any number of those invites. It's really not that much fun going to an event where every one is taking a cell phone or digital picture and breathlessly posting on FB about the awesome chocolate espresso martini they just drank.

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if a free panna cotta causes one to write a gushing review of an otherwise awful place, that might be apparent in all the other dribblings of that particular blogger/poster/writer.

Your example is perhaps extreme, but it's not unreasonable to expect that a completely free meal might warrant ignoring some faults, or lightening an otherwise scathing review, or even not publishing the review because it's not positive. As lperry pointed out, this might not even be a conscious reaction.

I don't "blog" other than here and other message boards. When I go to a place that I'm a regular at, and have a great experience, do I report it? Mostly. If I get a comp at one of my regular haunts, do I report that here? Generally not, because I don't want others to expect those comps or feel slighted if they don't get them. When I go, and something's not up to snuff, do I report that? Generally not - places that I go to regularly, in my mind, get a pass on the occasional slip-up, especially if it's recognized and addressed. But I recognize that this is self-censorship, and I'm not sure I could be so honest and report those slip-ups if I were writing a public blog. And I think ethics obligates me to tell the whole story if I were blogging reviews.

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Oh and as a note I generally report both good and bad at most places I go, even just little spots around our hood. However, I had a really awful experience at a place that is a somewhat recent open, but did not post as I think it would be very hurtful. I wrote them an email to which I haven't gotten a response, which is kind of dismaying as to their ability to respond to customer complaints and I didn't have time to talk to someone then as I had a dog on leash. I am giving them one pass as they are new, any other experiences at that place will be reported though as they have been warned about what happened in my situation.

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The more I read some of the local blogs, the more I disagree with #4: "We will disclose gifts, comps and samples".

To me, this #4 does not go far enough. It should also include superior service, which, admittedly, is hard to quantify. I am not a blogger (I guess some know that I will post on here, though), but I there are nights that I know I have received preferential service, even if I don't get a free drink. And I've been told by one of "my" bartenders that on some busy nights, she feels comfortable giving me WORSE service than usual because she knows that I understand that she gets insanely busy supplying a thirsty, three-deep bar.

My point is, your service mileage may vary. But apparently preferential service treatment need not be disclosed.

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Since this is a food board, I'm calling out the food bloggers in particular. If you review restaurants on your blog, don't take the comps, don't go to the open dinners for bloggers. You're selling your objectivity for a free dinner. Couldn't afford to go otherwise? Don't go.

That wasn't "dabs' of foie - that was a pretty thick-cut slice.

Even though the regular menu experience here will be different, Antonio and his staff are clearly firing on all cylinders right now, and you owe it to yourself to go check out what they're putting on the plate.

I feel that you should recuse yourself from writing about this meal. :(

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The same thing happens in the cocktail blogs. I've had problems figuring out whom I can trust because many people won't say anything remotely negative about a gift, and the distributors are very generous with their gifting. For a few bucks, they can guarantee internet-wide positive reviews. I have to hand it to them, it's brilliant marketing that capitalizes on our cultural norms about gifts.

It definitely happens with cocktail blogs. We should have a statement about it somewhere on our site, and if not, I gotta talk to Marshall and make sure one is there...

But I'll tell you how we handle it. If that means you trust us differently, well - fine.

1. We get free stuff. Heck, we just had a multi-hundred dollar ice maker sent to us. It's still getting a bad review. Most of the liquor that is sent to us never gets reviewed, simply because we don't have the bandwidth for it. I'm usually more likely to review it in combination with stuff I bought.

2. Do we get free drinks occasionally? Yes. We never ask for them. That being said...

I don't like to say specifically "She comped us X, he comped us Y." There are too many people out there - not the people who are posting here, as far as I know - who take that as a "I should get free stuff too" because someone else did, or get mad because they didn't get anything for free. In addition, I've had more than a few nights where I can't remember what all I had (even if I was Twittering it). Sometimes a bartender wants their friends to try something they are experimenting with - how do you count htat?

3. I've never claimed to be objective for bars/restaurants/bartenders. Taste is such a subjective thing, anyways, and your experience at any one time can vary greatly. I will fully admit that I'm a homer for most of my local DC peeps - but I also don't typically review restaurants, per se, or even bars/bartenders. Instead, I like to talk about the experience. I've had times at a bar when I've had a great time and the person next to me was miserable - how do you deal with that?

4. Again like #1, for products, I try to say "This is what I think of it". The biggest problem to my objectivity? The people behind it. It's hard to give a bad review to something that you don't like, but the people behind it are awesome. For products, I try to be as objective as I can, but I also try to make it clear where I'm coming from.

Does any of that make sense? I never got into blogging to be an objective reporter. I got into it because I love to write, and because I want to share the fun I'm having with cocktails with people out there.

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Does any of that make sense? I never got into blogging to be an objective reporter. I got into it because I love to write, and because I want to share the fun I'm having with cocktails with people out there.

That makes the most sense of all.

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Note: Normally I never introduce myself as someone who posts on DR even when a chef or owner asks that I say hi (I just don't feel comfortable about it for multiple obvious reasons), but this time I did b/c I thought Freddy's would be a good semi-regular happy hour option for us. Thank you Chris (and Jeff) for making us feel at home. But I can see how some readers may take my positive experience with a grain of salt b/c I did mention I'm a DR member.

This has me wondering what other dr members do? Maybe better for a different thread since not just Freddy's specific but I wasn't sure how to quote from an existing thread to set up a new thread. FWIW, I never ask for the chef/owner or introduce myself as a dr poster on the first couple of visits to a newer place. But then will do so at times once back for a 3rd or 4th visit or once it's past the honeymoon period of a month or two post open. After all, with now almost 4000 dr.com members, not sure how much this matters anyway? I guess it does at least some since the quality of the discourse is so much higher here than anywhere else online.

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After a couple of hundred posts (small ball I know), the very existence of this thread, which I'd never before seen, just proves that dr.com is somewhat like the famed Sagrada Familia in that it is:

i) a unique and beautiful creation that prompts different reactions and emotions in different people who experience it (i.e., one person's gaudy is another's Gaudi)

ii) an edifice of enough tunnels, turns, sections and side roads to make truly and totally knowing it virtually impossible (unless you're Rocks...or maybe Leleboo...or maybe a member since day one

iii) another point of proof that a "work in progress" can be a wonderful thing that doesn't need to ever be 'completed'

My post above about announcing dr membership at a new restaurant was just moved here (thanks Rocks B) ) else I probably wouldn't have discovered this "Code of Ethics" for at least another year. Really interesting topic. And, after reading the entire thread, I now feel badly about accepting what I think may have been my first ever accepted comp (of a $6.50 beer) at the new 'Salt and Pepper' place in Palisades. I'm in agreement with the more conservative posters (incl but not limited to DanielK) in this thread. I have been offered comps from spots about which I've written favorably on dr.com. I've turned them all down (except that damn beer) more because it seemed at odds with doing all I can to help spots I like be successful. Far be it for me to do anything that limits their profitability in any way different from any customer. As amusingly or unbelievably altruistic as that may seem, it hadn't really occurred to me that there could be an objectivity problem since I'm not a blogger but that makes sense too.

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I don't really blog much anymore. I don't think I have ever received a comp from that. I have received a few from people I know really well on here, or places I am a real regular at, which tend to be one in the same. My brother did get some nice treatment from a place when they thought it was me, but he and his wife go there all the time, so I think that one paid off for the restaurant B) And from connections I have made here I did get some very generous donations for a charity benefit I work on, but that went to support kids and was a very good cause, not me!! And I greatly thanked those people and continue to support their business. There are people I could say hi and introduce myself to, like when I went to Ray's the other night I could have said hi to Michael, but I generally tend to be on the quiet side about those things, I don't really like to be a braggard. (Now the secret handshake I would think is generally acceptable everywhere) I say hi and talk to the people I know really well. I generally use my connections to arrange dinners or get in on those nights where it seems every place I want to go is packed. I am not sorry about that.

I wouldn't feel too bad about the beer, I don't think one beer would sway your opinion of a place.

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There is absolutely nothing wrong with you all taking comps as long as 1) they don't cloud your judgment or 2) you disclose the comp. The only problem would be if you walked into a place and said "I'm going to post about this on the internet so it better be good!" before your meal (or some variation of that). Our dr.com events are, in essence, "comps" for our members (not really comps, but discounts), and of course the restaurants that participate hope for good media as a result - there's nothing wrong with this because it's all in the open. Please don't feel guilty about accepting a free beer if you're a good customer and an earnest diner. I have to answer to a higher calling; the rest of you do not.

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For our blog, I tend to disclose that we do get comped by a number of places. I do my best not to let that cloud my judgment, but I also do not disclose specifics.

Why?

Because it's happened before that people either a) complain "oh, but you comped him, why not me?" and/or B) ask me to get them comped.

I never ask for a comp.

As for DR.com, if there's someone there that I know is on the board, and I haven't met them before, I'll mention the board, just because it provides a commonality between us. Hell, I've done enough of the "nice to meet you, we're Facebook friends" in the past...

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For the first time in my 8 years writing about food on the internet, I had a restaurant owner specifically ask me to write something nice about his establishment on this board. Sorry, dude, my influence is pretty laughable, but even if it wasn't I don't whore myself out.

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For the first time in my 8 years writing about food on the internet, I had a restaurant owner specifically ask me to write something nice about his establishment on this board. Sorry, dude, my influence is pretty laughable, but even if it wasn't I don't whore myself out.

Unless they were asking you to report other than your honest opinion, or they were offering a food/drink bribe to make the report, I'm not sure what the problem is.

If I dine at a place where I know the owner, and at some point during the evening they come by, check that everything was fine, and ask politely that I say something here or on another website, I'm not offended in the least. This doesn't guarantee that I will post, and I will certainly report my honest opinion, but I don't have any ethical problems with the owner asking for the publicity.

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Friends of mine were just talking about this the other night. There are too many blogs in the DC area that might have once been talking about their own trips around town, but are now basically posting solely about their experiences at press events. And WAY too many that aren't disclosing. Maybe it's just the rise of food blog culture nationwide but it really seems more prevalent here than anywhere else I've lived.

And I don't want to name names, but the blogger with the post that started "my friend and I thought this would be a fun place to visit..." and then mid-post showed elaborate tasting plates with small bites and cards denoting what was being served? And then photos of the chef giving a talk to the assembled? Yeah, pretty sure that wasn't a random night out between buds.

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Please don't feel guilty about accepting a free beer if you're a good customer and an earnest diner. I have to answer to a higher calling; the rest of you do not.

This is awesome. Rocks has authorized us to wallow in the mud...er beer. Love it!

For the first time in my 8 years writing about food on the internet, I had a restaurant owner specifically ask me to write something nice about his establishment on this board. Sorry, dude, my influence is pretty laughable, but even if it wasn't I don't whore myself out.

I'm not totally sure why this made me laugh but it did.

Be careful not to damn half the high-end dining industry ...

(It's not a bribe so much as it is "payment.")

(Done in a prearranged fashion.)

(Distressingly common.)

(In DC too.)

The LA Times Article seems mind-numbingly obvious to me but that probably just evidences my own naivete. A professional food critic makes judgments seen by many and thus has power to influence others and the fortunes of assessed businesses. They must act as objectively as possible; certainly can't take compensation (whether money or a nice lasagna) from those they assess. No different from a head of admissions at a competitive university, a referee/umpire in pro sports, or a judge in district court. With power comes responsibility to act in a truly beyond-reproach manner. A professional critic can make or break a restaurant. Free stuff corrupts the process and the judgments they make in print.

Friends of mine were just talking about this the other night. There are too many blogs in the DC area that might have once been talking about their own trips around town, but are now basically posting solely about their experiences at press events. And WAY too many that aren't disclosing. Maybe it's just the rise of food blog culture nationwide but it really seems more prevalent here than anywhere else I've lived.

The blogger thing is grayer for me, probably because I'm not a blogger, get overwhelmed easily by the tsunami-like number of blogs out there and because bloggers generally aren't paid to do what they do. Then again, bloggers with a big readership can also impact restaurant perceptions and results. This would be a great question for the NYT Ethicist but it'd have to be submitted by a food blogger with a decently large readership (else it'd be submitted by a poser unethically). I'd love to see that question addressed by the paragon of all things ethical. Here are the instructions for any dr blogger or food writer so inclined.

Send your queries to ethicist@nytimes.com or The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10018, and include a daytime phone number.
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This is a good example of someone being "courted" at a blogger cattle call and getting special treatment. Been There, Eaten That

I do give her credit for disclosing how she met the owners.

Wow- really? I wasn't courted. I met two restaurant owners and our discussion was primarily about other restaurants in the area. I was intrigued to try their restaurant because I live nearby. At no time did they entice me to come to The Daily Dish based on an offer of free food. I fully disclosed the circumstances of my visit in my blog post and acknowledged in detail the special treatment I received. Interestingly, I thought about this thread as I was writing my post.- which is why I was so careful about full disclosure. I know some think it's unethical to accept anything at all from a restaurant- obviously I disagree. But I will never write something that isn't honest because I was bribed to do so.

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Wow- really? I wasn't courted. I met two restaurant owners and our discussion was primarily about other restaurants in the area. I was intrigued to try their restaurant because I live nearby. At no time did they entice me to come to The Daily Dish based on an offer of free food. I fully disclosed the circumstances of my visit in my blog post and acknowledged in detail the special treatment I received. Interestingly, I thought about this thread as I was writing my post.- which is why I was so careful about full disclosure. I know some think it's unethical to accept anything at all from a restaurant- obviously I disagree. But I will never write something that isn't honest because I was bribed to do so.

By courting, I meant the blogger gathering. I did not mean to insult your integrity, which is why I mentioned that you disclosed the circumstances.

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