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.