Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bloggers, will you subscribe to the Food Blog Code of Ethics?

The bloggers behind SpicySaltySweet and Foodwoolf got together and wrote up the Food Blog Code of Ethics. I like the idea and I might sign up for the badge, but I'm not sure that many people care about some of the finer points of the Code. The ethics are loosely based on the Association of Food Journalists Critic's Guidelines, which are also good guidelines to keep in mind, if not to follow to the letter. I think bloggers should definitely disclose when they're getting freebies, but beyond that, the Code of Ethics seems a wee bit uptight on a few other points:
  • Sure, it's nice to use original photography when you can -- I've probably posted thousands of my own photos on this blog -- but most bloggers freely post photos from other blogs when linking to stories from those blogs. But yes, you should link back and credit the blog.
  • And good luck getting bloggers to visit restaurants more than twice before posting reviews. I would say that's an unrealistic expectation for all but a few bloggers with plenty of time and money.
  • The whole convention of waiting a month to do a "real review" and calling it "first impressions" otherwise is based on a print journalism paradigm. I don't think it's particularly relevant to the world of foodblogs. Just say whether the restaurant recently opened or not.
Do other bloggers feel a code of ethics is necessary for food bloggers? If you have a blog, would you be able to qualify based on the guidelines listed, and would you want to?


weezermonkey said...

These are good guidelines, but I cannot abide by the "no pseudonym" rule.

The Internet is a scary place. I don't want people knowing my full name.

Pat Saperstein said...

Interesting. Actually, I agree with the no pseudonym rule. I've always used my real name, and I'm not sure what's scary about it. The scary part is if you don't use your real name and someone finds out anyway and fires you or "outs" you when you don't want to be.

cybele said...

I think that any blogger, food or otherwise, should have a posted "code" and then follow it.

There is no set of rules to be a food blogger so making everyone follow the same set of rules is silly.

I do like to know if someone has ties to a restaurant or writer of a book or whatever.

I don't like anonymity, but a pseudonym is acceptable if it's just one person. (I don't like sites where everyone writes under the same name.)

I'm a stickler, I can't stand it when other bloggers take my photos to illustrate their reviews. That was what I ate, not them. I'm less sticky about the more generic things like the exterior of a building or signage. I resent some bloggers thinking that I'm a stock photo warehouse. It's not that hard to take a picture these days.

I agree that the journalist rules of visiting more than once is difficult and not always called for, as many food bloggers consider their posts their food adventures, not necessarily a review of the restaurant itself.

All that said, I've seen some really deplorable behavior by blogs in the past - smearing good reputations in a way that is difficult for small restaurants to counteract.

Okay, that's my first impression of opinions after reading over it today. (I'll have to check back at the site in a month before I can do a full review.)

Pat Saperstein said...

Cybele, I agree they shouldn't take your photos to illustrate their own reviews. I try to only do use other peoples' photos if the main point of the post is to link to that person's post.

santos. said...

i agree with everything cybele wrote; i especially agree with her point that "there is no set of rules to be a food blogger so making everyone follow the same silly". although this proposed code of ethics doesn't bug me anywhere near as much as the so-called food blog alliance which seems so exclusionary of those of us who want to remain as casual as possible.

weezermonkey said...

The scary part about using your real name is that people can find out where you work, where you live, etc. People are crazy. I don't want crazy people tracking me down.

I think it's different for you, Pat, because you are a journalist by profession. Your name is out there already.

sku said...

I fully support this effort to import the stodgy practices of print jouralism to blogging. After all, that's part of the reason why the print journalism world is thriving. Just ask you local unemployed food writer.

"First impressions" makes me gag. I'm not Irene Virbala and have no desire to be.

And funny me, I thought anonymity was the cornerstone of traditional reviewing. Nobody would be able to recognize the Brunis and Verbalas if they didn't even know their names, much less have photos posted in the kitchen.

Hmm, I feel my own code of ethics coming on...

We will not annoy our fellow diners by taking flash pictures of every course.

We will not pretend we are pulitzer prize contenders.

We will not write articles about the Kogi truck more than twice per week.

I'm sure my blogging colleagues have other suggestions.

Erin S. said...

Re: photos--I have definitely used other people's photos in the past via flickr, under the Creative Commons license. In other words, I only use photos by owners that have agreed to allow their photos to be used in certain ways. I think that's perfectly fine!

I also agree with sku--for many foodbloggers (myself included), the blog is a fun hobby absent, not a path to journalism, fame and forture.

Jonah said...

I think that cybele's comment nails it:

"I think that any blogger, food or otherwise, should have a posted "code" and then follow it."

If this Food Blog Code of Ethics meets your Ethics, then go for it.

I have some pretty rigid rules for myself (main one is no reviews of free meals), but I don't expect everyone to live by my them.

My first impression, to borrow a term, is that this Code of Ethics is well intentioned, but misguided. Who defines what "fair" is?

Also, my feeling is that blogs should be compared more to casual conversations than to journalistic endeavors. Am I allowed to tell my friend that I had a good/bad dinner somewhere I have only been once?

I'll reiterate, cybele said it best. Define your code of ethics, let them be known and live by them.

Brooke said...

Great to see that our Code of Ethics has started all this discussion!

To be clear, the blogger code of ethics are guidelines we wrote for ourselves (and others that also believed in certain standards in food blogging). The Code is not a law. It is not a set of rules.

Also, to avoid misinterpretation, there isn't actually a "no pseudonym" rule in The Code. We state that if you want to be anonymous that's fine. We believe that you shouldn't hide behind anonymity so that you can be uncivil or untruthful. We think that you shouldn't post to the public words you would be ashamed to say to someone's face.

Allen said...

I find the move to make bloggers follow journalism standards to be a point of contention for me.

Blogging and journalism are two different things. And, should be.

Elle said...

I'm with Allen on this one. I'm not a journalist, and never claimed to be. Journalists are held to higher standards, as it should be. They're paid to be unbiased, though many still are.

And you know what? I'm honest already. I don't bullshit my readers-what you see is what you get. I don't need a badge to prove that I am.

It worries me that with this Code of Ethics (that only two bloggers had a hand in writing), that eventually, new blog readers might look for this badge, like we do now for say Paypal safety. And if they don't see it, what will they do? Turn around and leave, because we're obviously not honest?

This needs more discussion, for sure. But how on Earth can every food blogger be sure their opinion is weighed in and accounted for?

Penelope said...

I think what the "This is just a hobby. I should not be held to journalistic standards." crowd is missing is two points.

1. If you don't like this Code of Ethics, don't subscribe to it. I think that this is what the people who do agree with The Code are hoping for -- to set themselves apart as having standards that they write by.

2. This may be just a hobby for you, but your words do matter to the restaurants that you praise or trash. And as Sku pointed out, people aren't exactly reading traditional media as much as they used to. More and more, people are looking to blogs like YOURS for information. I believe that every blog, hobby or not, matters. It's hard enough to successfully run a restaurant without people UNFAIRLY or INACCURATELY trashing you in public. Hey, if it's fair and accurate, by all means trash away!

Erin @ The Skinny Gourmet said...

I think many of the finer points are game for debate, and people here have raised excellent questions. I think for the majority of bloggers there is a spirit of how we treat the work of others (the work of other bloggers, the work of cookbook writers, the creations of restaurant chefs) that is really at the heart of any attempt to make a code. I work hard when I make original photos or recipes, and all I'm asking for is a clear indication for readers that they are my work when you borrow them. I dont so much mind HOW you accomplish the goal of being clear and honest about where you are coming from. Personally, I just care that you do. So various bloggers have come up with different ways to attempt honest disclosure.

IMHO, you want to be fair and honest, even if you are being funny and judgmental. You want your readers to be easily able to ascertain the basic facts: are these your recipes/photos/words/ideas or someone else's? Are you loving or bashing that restaurant based on a single visit (fine bash away, just tell me so) or do you dine there weekly because your brother owns the place (also fine, also let me know).

I wrote my 2 cents worth as well:

Elle said...

I almost think this would have gone better if they'd named it a Food Blog Etiquette Guide. Something that could always be referred to, and looked over by new bloggers.

But this code isn't going to change the people that steal our work and post it as their own. Do you guys really think it will suddenly make them see the light and realize how wrong they've been for doing this?

To quote Penelope in the comments:

"1. If you don't like this Code of Ethics, don't subscribe to it. I think that this is what the people who do agree with The Code are hoping for -- to set themselves apart as having standards that they write by."

Trying to "set themselves apart" is what bothers me so much. I'm already honest! I don't lie to my readers, I'm ethical. I don't need to subscribe to someone's idea of what my blog *should* be, good intentions or not. I pay for my blog, so that makes ME ruler and dictator over what appears on it, and how I go about doing it. But rest assured, I won't be BS'ing you along the way.

Why should two people get to make up this pompous "manifesto" as they call it, and not have openly asked food bloggers in the beginning, before it was posted, to weigh in on it's points? THAT would have been a good way to go about it, don't you think? Not *tell us if you have any issues and we'll see about changing them.*

Frodnesor said...

I'm still kicking around the "Code", but on the "no pseudonym" rule, I understood this to be a pretty "soft" rule as drafted anyway: "If complete anonymity is required for personal or professional safety, we will not post anything that we wouldn’t feel comfortable putting our name on and owning up to." I'm perfectly OK with that.

On the subject of anonymity, I have thought about it quite a bit and prefer to be anonymous for many reasons, some that are personal and some related to my writing. As for the latter, unlike some, I don't write in order to be recognized at restaurants. I'd rather it not be known that I blog, certainly at least before I've formed my thoughts on a place, and it's much easier to simply not use my name on my blog than it is to book reservations under pseudonyms or wear disguises (not that I think too many restaurateurs are paying attention).

Integrity and anonymity are not antithetical, even if anonymity may be prone to abuse.

Michelle said...

Today is the first time I read about this code of ethics for food bloggers. Pffft. It will probably be good to keep the "masses" of food bloggers in check, but I can't be bothered. Life has too many rules already, not to mention ethics schmethics to follow. Don't do this, don't do that, how could you. People escape to the internet to be free, how dare they try to take that away from us.