Sky Full of Bacon

Food Blogger Code of Ethics: A Brimstone Colloquy

A food blogger code of ethics has been proposed.  To examine both sides of the weighty issues it raises, I thought I’d invite two noncorporeal beings who live with me to discuss the text by annotating it.  Angelic comments are in blue.  Luciferian comments are in, what else, red.

1. We will be accountable

• We will write about the culinary world with the care of a professional. I thought we were gonna be interesting! Already with the snarky attitude. Well, this is getting off on the wrong hoof to me. If I wanted to be a professional, um, I’d save all this material and sucker some editor into letting me blow it up into a big expense account piece.  Blogging was supposed to be fun, casual, racy, snarky, assuming that the reader could catch up and didn’t need everything carefully and laboriously explained.  Already this is sounding like work. We will not use the power of our blog as a weapon. Aw, c’mon. Some things out there need a good skewering with the ol’ trident. And besides, isn’t “power of our blog” right up there with “Vatican Offensive Combat Capability”? We will stand behind our claims. If what we say or show could potentially affect someone’s reputation or livelihood, we will post with the utmost thought and due diligence. Unless I think of a good nasty one-liner, then I’m going with it.

• We will not hide behind total anonymity. Even if we choose to write anonymously for our own personal or professional safety, we will not post anything that we wouldn’t feel comfortable putting our name on and owning up to.  You can’t object to that.  Nobody wants to blog as a coward. You’re right.  Especially since the practical difference between “blogger’s real name” and “total anonymity” is what, four people?

• If we review a restaurant, product or culinary resource we will hold ourselves to a standard set of guidelines as offered by the Association of Food Journalists.  Hey, a code isn’t supposed to reference another code! Well, journalists have long wrestled with these issues. Yeah, and plumbers wrestle with the building code, doesn’t make their answers mine.  I followed the link and basically they’re saying I have to eat at a place twice before I write about it and all that other standard daily paper stuff. What’s wrong with that?  Any place can have an off night, is it fair to attack them for that? Helloooo, 1974, is that you?  There’s no recognition that blogging is not the same as publishing The Daily Grandiosity.  Again, the point of blogging is to be personal, catty, sarcastic, whatever you want to be.  Why do I have to eat at a place twice when a hundred bloggers will, between them, have a hundred meals there?  This is still stuck in the mindset of monopoly dailies that there is one final word to be passed on every restaurant and we have to pass it, like a kidney stone.  It’s a new world in which opinion is fluid, cumulative, comin’ at ya from every direction, like a host of flies.

2. We will be civil

• We whole-heartedly believe in freedom of speech, but we also acknowledge that our experiences with food are subjective. We promise to be mindful—regardless of how passionate we are—that we will forthright, but will refrain from personal attacks. I can’t see anything to object to in this. You wouldn’t.  Who made them Anti-Pope, to dictate to everyone what the tone of blogging should be?  The Heaven with that!

3. We will reveal bias

• If we are writing about something or someone we are emotionally connected to, we will be up front about it.  Wow, this is really a problem?  Bloggers are actually getting laid?  It’s beneath my dignity to answer.

4. We will disclose gifts, comps and samples

• When something is given to us or offered at a deep discount because of our blog, we will disclose that information.  As bloggers, most of us do not have the budgets of large publications, and we recognize the value of samples, review copies of books, donated giveaway items and culinary event, but it’s import to disclose freebies to avoid accusations of conflicts of interest.  This seems very responsible to me. It seems to me again like it’s drawing the line right where journalism decided it long ago belonged, for their convenience— here’s a profession where food has to be paid for, yet every book reviewer sells the free books he’s reviewed and keeps the money.  I see no reason bloggers can’t decide to draw it somewhere else… and readers, who are not idiots, can judge for themselves whether or not someone’s been bought.  Of course readers have long understood what those in my profession have always known— the real temptations are not in gold or jewels but in flattery, in access, in the illusion of collegiality.  I’ve bought many a journalist’s soul with a few words suggesting that he was the equal in importance of the subject he was covering.  (Thomas Friedman, he’s one of mine.)  A comped plate of scallops is angel kids’ stuff by comparison.  Mmm, those do look good, maybe I’ll just have— no, best not.

5. We will follow the rules of good journalism

We will not plagiarize or use images from others without attribution. Yeah, that would be like journalists gleaning ideas from bloggers without attribution, except we all know that that’s never happened in the history of mankind. We will research. We will attribute quotes and offer link backs to original sources whenever possible. We will do our best to make sure that the information we are posting about is accurate. We will factcheck. Very good principles. I trust you agree. In other words, we will practice good journalism.  Except when we feel like doing something else.  Even I may not object to most of this in practice, but I do object to the overall feel of this thing, which seeks to lay out the terms on which I write about food and force me into a format replicating journalism’s current state.  But shouldn’t there be certain principles we all live by? Well, last I checked I was paying for my web hosting, not the National Association of Inkstained Humbugs, and it seems awfully early in the history of blogging to be saying so many things so firmly about what can and can’t be done in a new medium.  Yeah, most of these are good guiding principles (some get a little schoolteacherish) but given a choice between a catechism and the freedom to experiment and evolve, I’ll take free will every time— and trust the readers to make their own choice.  I’m all about choice, it’s paid off very well in my line of work.  Go on, try a scallop.

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7 Responses to “Food Blogger Code of Ethics: A Brimstone Colloquy”

  1. Elle Says:

    I think I love your Luciferian side. This whole thing isn’t sitting well with me. And I’ve said it myself–it’s dumbing down our readers, and assuming they can’t tell BS from truth.

  2. E L Says:

    Yup, totally agree. Readers will separate the wheat from the chaff. That’s the beauty of the whole phenomenon, it’s forced readers to be discerning, rather than just accept as gospel the opinions put forth in newspapers.

  3. Erin @ The Skinny Gourmet Says:

    I think you have some incredibly valid points here, and I love the wit of the presentation. Your lucifer has a great tongue in cheek take on life and seems to be clearly overwhelming your heavenly half.

    Even so I support the spirit behind a Code of Ethics for bloggers. To me it is about stimulating dialogue among those engaged in the new media about how we will treat the ideas/words/recipes etc of others. I think any tone or snark that genuinely represents your take on a situation is part of what makes blogs fun and interesting. At the same time as a reader I do like to know enough of the situation to put your words into context. For me its not only about whats fair to the restaurant, but whats useful to a reader. If you do a review that just bashes a place in general terms, it really doesn’t help me make a better decision for myself. But if you tell me details, specifics, what you didnt like about the dish or the service, it is more meaningful to me as a reader. If you go the extra mile and then also tell me whether you’ve had shitty service the last three times, or if you just had one bad run in with one waiter, that also helps me better evaulate the information for my own life.

    I can appreciate the spirit of holding up the intelligence of our readers, but at the same time I dont wholly agree that we should abdicate all responsibility for what we write and do to the audience without taking some thought on ourselves. Love or hate the formalized code they’ve put forward, but I’d still like to see bloggers be at least thoughtful about having some guiding ethos, however personalized and informal it may be.

  4. Michael Gebert Says:

    The devil always gets all the good lines, just ask Johnny Milton.

    I don’t disagree with the underlying sympathies, toward transparency, honesty, not being bought, but I dislike the idea of blogging get caught up in the same kind of legalistic thinking that has helped suck the life out of newspapers in recent years. I want the freedom to make up stuff trusting that my readers will know when I am:

    or at least suspect as much:

    I want to be able to talk about places I know perfectly well I’m not objective about, such as Mado, feeling that my readers will not only be aware that I can’t be called objective (having made a podcast about them and knowing them fairly well), but also that sharing their outlook on food to some degree, I have some interesting perspective which it would be a shame to bury because of strict rules about what I can and can’t write about. This is personal media, it’s not objective and it doesn’t have to be because what it really isn’t, is definitive.

    So I believe in integrity and transparency, but I also believe that I have opinions and I’m not fair and balanced, necessarily, and don’t have to be. Given a choice between interesting perspective and pure objectivity, I’ll favor the former, with the appropriate warnings and transparency.

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