Standards

2009.May.02 Saturday · 20 comments

in Books & Other Media, Life, Popular Posts

“I try to live up to my standards and not sink down to my principles.

- paraphrase of an old movie quote that I can’t quite remember, but it fits…

Buenos Aires – The blogosphere is abuzz, yes abuzz I tell you. First it was a week or two ago’s big kerfuffle over Dr. Vino calling out the Wine Advocate on writer Jay Miller accepting all sorts of freebies on his trips, things that Robert Parker specifically claims he doesn’t allow for himself or writers in his magazine. Initially there was denial from the WA camp, circling the wagons, and then there was silence. The momentum built as some (believe me, nowhere near all) of the stuff got publicly revealed, with evidence to back it. At that point, Parker had no choice but to respond, and he did, basically saying that neither he nor his guys would have anything to do with the organization down here that sponsored the trip anymore. And, lashing out at his critics, whom he lumped together as “blobbers”, as he chooses to call bloggers (he said it, I didn’t), and likening us to a cabal of jihadists out for blood. While I like and respect Parker, that was just crap, and unworthy of him. But the whole thing called attention to “ethics” of bloggers and journalists, and everyone and their mother started to weigh in on the subject, with some of the more prominent wine bloggers calling for “everyone who blogs about wine must state their code of ethics openly on their blog”.

This week, the buzz is food bloggers. Don’t know if there was a precipitating factor, but a couple of bloggers decided to create a website called Food Ethics, and, surprise, surprise, a Food Blog Code of Ethics to which they, upfront, state they’re simply doing to “draw attention to food bloggers who hold themselves to a higher standard”. Now, every food blogger out there is oohing and aahing over it. We have a code, oh joy, no one can criticize us anymore, see, there it is….

Hogwash, Balderdash, Bullshit…. if I may use those terms, and I apologize if I offended anyone with any of those words, but this is just nonsense. Here’s the thing. I’ve been a journalist, no wait, I still am, I write, openly, for magazines and newspapers in various spots around the world. And I often get paid for that. When I write for them, I am, as far as I am concerned, completely beholden to accepted journalistic standards, loose as those may often be. In those fora you can count on my journalistic integrity.

My blog, as I’ve stated often enough in posts, in response to comments, in e-mails, is nothing more than an online diary about my food, wine and travel adventures and whatever else I feel like posting about. No one, really, no one, gets to hold me to any standards. If I wanted it to be an online “journal” with journalistic standards, I’d charge you guys a subscription fee and get paid, probably not much, to do this. Last I checked, I pay for this site and can pretty much do what I want with it.

Now, some of what they state in their code is just fine – I mean, my blog is about as far from anonymous as it can be – I’ve got a picture, a bio, many of my readers have been to my home, they know where I live and work, so to speak. But no, I’m not going to promise to be civil, other than as civil as my mom and dad raised me to be, and sometimes I may step outside of that – not often because it’s not my style, but sometimes. Revealing bias? Gifts? Comps? Conflicts of interest? Maybe, depends, I usually do say something if I got something for free or if I’m friends with a chef or whatever it may be, but nope, don’t promise to do so. In terms of what they consider to be “the rules of good journalism” – yeah, fine – not because of the code of ethics, but just because I respect other writers and photographers out there and if they wrote something or took a photo, and I’m using it for some reason, I’m giving them their props. And I ask for and hope for the same. Common courtesy, not a professional code.

So, in sum, I’m not subscribing to the codes of ethics proposed by any of the bandwagon hopping, flag waving, cheerleading crowd on either the food or wine blogging side. All that speechifyin’ just reminds me of one of those high school or college organizations where someone in the corner starts whining about how we have to have rules, how we can’t just go do things, and in order to shut them up, everyone sighs and raises their hand to approve the charter or the code or the procedural manual, and pretty soon, kills the organization.

So, here’s what you get from me – I promise to post my opinons, speculations, researches, conjectures, etc. about whatever I feel like doing so, and, to do my best to keep it entertaining. Totally subjective, no pretense at objectivity. Anything else, any expectations, standards, ethics, rules, or the like – just be clear that they’re yours, not mine.

I imagine at least a few of you will manage to live with that.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

matt May 2, 2009 at 11:55 am

Loved your take on all this! But are you calling BS on the hype surrounding it or the actual effort? Seems to me that we can only benefit from people trying to aspire to higher standards. And you are always professional in everything you do, even when you do give us your opinions (which is why we read you). I think this is more for people who have been involved in some kinda sticky situations, all of which I’ll tell you about when I see you :)

Marc May 2, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Sigh, this doesn’t look good. I saw this happen, years ago, to another online industry I’m involved in. Code of ethics floated around with 2 or 3, cough, self-proclaimed leaders declaring that their own codes should be followed. What came next? The creation of a non-profit organization calling for all involved to become paying members if they expected themselves to be taken seriously. Greed and self-righteousness got the better of them. I hope that this is not the direction some will decide to take in the food blogging world.

dan May 2, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Matt – both. The hype, simply because it’s hype, much of it by people who don’t remotely live up to the code they’re claiming to support. The actual effort because I think it’s a dangerous, slippery slope – first, because who made them the declarers of what is ethical? Much like Marc mentions in his comment – I virtually guarantee that before the end of this month, someone, if not the original writers themselves (and, while I don’t know the two of them or their intentions, it wouldn’t surprise me if they already have this in mind), will propose an organization that’s designed to promote food (and wine?) blogger ethics, actually form it, get enough publicity for it that they can start to claim that they’re the arbiter of all that is ethical, and start demanding membership fees in order to give you some sort of cute little badge you can post on your blog that “proves” that you’re ethical. You heard it here first.

I truly don’t think bloggers should be held to higher standards, nor necessarily even be pushed to aspire to have them. Blogging, inherently, is the vox populi – anyone who wants to and has the gumption to start blogging ought to be able to, and to blog in any fashion that they want. It’s an online diary, not journalism, and any blogger who thinks that they are a journalist by virtue of posting on a blog is delusional – which is not to say there aren’t journalists with blogs and/or blogs of journalistic quality, obviously, there are. But the majority aren’t and probably never will nor should be.

Put it in a different light, get Frank Bruni, François Simon or Giles Coren or any other major food writer, restaurant critic, wine pro, etc., out there, and pose this: If you, yourself, had to pay for everything you write about, no expenses reimbursed, and, to top it off, had to pay in order to have what you write published rather than be paid, would you write the exact same piece and to the same standards, as you did on an expense account and salary? Would you do the same level of due diligence, fact checking, deep research? If you had no editor or publisher to be beholden to, only your readership, what would be different?

If they were to be honest, none of them would write the same columns that they do now. Why should bloggers, who are, for the most part, amateurs in the best sense of the word – passionate aficionados – be held to a standard that professionals would never accede to in the same situation? Blogging is the self-published “vanity press” of the criticism world, and ought to be. It’s also inherently market driven – those who don’t act responsibly, who don’t live up to higher standards of some sort – don’t keep readership, at least not a readership that matters. It all shakes out without having to be codified and regulated.

Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy May 2, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Amen to everything you said. I began blogging as a creative outlet. For me, it is a form of self-expression. The fact that thousands of people actually read my ramblings and enjoy my food and photography is still quite a thrill even after a year and a half!

I am not a professional journalist. If I wanted to be, I would go to journalism school to become one. Nor am I a professional chef. If I wanted to be, I would go to culinary school. No one pays me for what I write, what I cook or the restaurant meals I eat. In fact, this little blogging hobby of mine has turned out to be quite an expensive endeavor – paid for by me! Therefore, no one gets to tell me what I should or should not write about, and how I should or should not do it – especially after the fact.

I already hold myself up to the standards of the harshest critic I know – myself! Every day of my life, I strive to be responsible, ethical and honest, both on and off the page. My integrity is very important to me. From my experience, I believe that vast majority of food bloggers share my beliefs. There are always going to some bad apples in every bushel, but most I’ve come to know appear to be intelligent, passionate and honest people. It borders on insulting to now have two self-appointed arbiters of blogging ethics telling us that we should subscribe to their “code” in order to be considered “ethical”.

I’m sure that these ladies were very well-intentioned when coming up with their Code of Ethics. And, most of their points are well-taken. But, integrity, honesty and accountability are traits that come from within you. You don’t suddenly acquire them because you sign up on a web site and post a cute little badge on your blog. A responsible blogger will still be one with or without the badge. Likewise, so will a scoundrel still be one, with or without the badge.

I can see it now. Hundreds, if not thousands, will rush to sign on for fear of being stigmatized as a dishonest hack if they don’t. God forbid they don’t have that badge to display! What will people think?

Sorry for the rant. This just really rubbed me the wrong way. To conclude, I’ll reiterate your words (with attribution), because I couldn’t say it any better myself.

“Blogging is the self-published “vanity press” of the criticism world, and ought to be. It’s also inherently market driven – those who don’t act responsibly, who don’t live up to higher standards of some sort – don’t keep readership, at least not a readership that matters. It all shakes out without having to be codified and regulated.”

dan May 2, 2009 at 3:21 pm

I should point out, both of the women in question have also written posts on their own blogs about why they did this – that it’s about holding themselves to a higher standard… but that begs the question, and neither addresses it, as to why they felt the need to create an entirely separate website just for this code of ethics… oh, and if anyone thinks I was over-reacting in my assessment of what direction they’re headed… this has already, only a few hours later, appeared on one of their sites (and yes, I’ve lifted the graphic from them):

Food Blogger Ethics Badge

Where are Penn & Teller when I need them?

Matt May 2, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Such amazing points and really eye-opening to hear all sides. I’m still reading and listening but will definitely be back here to follow the growing discussion.

Marc May 2, 2009 at 7:40 pm

It is a dangerous, slippery slope and I’m feeling deja vu. The similarities are astounding. If down the road there is a call for an organization of sorts, that’s it. As you mentioned the promotion of ethics by organization Dan, the preface will be the need for an establishment to educate the media, industry, and public on how food bloggers can be trusted if they are kept in check by our standards. After that, Lord of the Flies. Whose side are you on?

And who should be impressed by this once it is enacted by various bloggers? The big media? They’re lying in bed with terminal illness. Public? 99.98% really won’t give a rat’s derriere. Food bloggers trusting other food bloggers? Perhaps.

Frances May 3, 2009 at 11:07 am

There are bloggers who become journalists and journalists who become bloggers. If you are writing as a journalist (getting paid) then a standard of ethics is fine. If you are blogging, it is your own world and anyone can take it or leave it. Readers of both have more sense than they are given credit for and can spot the gushers or panners quite easily.

The food blogs I read are written by people who have a similar attitude to food that I do and tend to like, and dislike, the same sort of places. That is why I read them and not other blogs.

A code of ethics on amateur, anonymous writing is a waste of time.

dan May 3, 2009 at 11:19 am

I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist Marc, but the big media aren’t just lying in bed with terminal illness (perhaps much of the newspaper world is, though many magazines are doing just fine, especially those who’ve gotten into digital editions), but, I think they’re lying in wait – for just something like this. After all, if food bloggers have “taken the pledge”, they can be held to those standards, and dare I suggest, sued if they violate them. How many restaurant critics over the years have been slapped with lawsuits for bad reviews, usually with the claim of violating some sort of professional standard. Which blogger touting their new professional ethical standard out there wants to be the first test case for a restaurant that decides to do the same? And how many bloggers have the deep pockets and lawyers to fight off a lawsuit?

Actually, maybe it should be left to come to that point. The first time one of these bandwagon folk gets their backside handed to them in court, every blog on the planet will suddenly drop the badge.

Marc May 6, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Quoting myself: “Code of ethics floated around with 2 or 3, cough, self-proclaimed leaders declaring that their own codes should be followed. ”

Phase two has begun:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?s=f4d268258ea0540c7936e365cdbd0928&showtopic=123865&mode=linearplus

dan May 6, 2009 at 5:10 pm

As we said, “you heard it here first”. Fascinating that after “The Fat Guy” proposed the idea of a blogging ethics code a year and a half ago that nothing more came of it until the controversy surrounding the site we’ve been discussing hit the ‘net less than a week ago. Suddenly he’s “remembered” his idea and brought it back up as a proposal again.

Ed Hawco May 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm

The only problem I have with the Code of Ethics is this idea that some people seem to have that is is a MUST FOLLOW or somehow *required.* Forget that! The code is there if you want to follow it, but it’s not a goddam law. Nobody says you HAVE to adopt it or follow it. If your blog is a personal thing or some kind of anti-establishment thing and you’re not interested in the code of ethics then just frakking ignore it!

This kind of thing always kills me. Somebody proposes an idea for a standard or some kind of code, and everybody thinks it’s an attempt to suppress everyone under some kind of biblical decree or something. (The 1990s were insane with that kind of stuff during the era of PC fascism.) Lighten up! It’s just a purely optional model of good behavior.

At least for now. No doubt some of its proponents will get bent out of shape and go too far with it. I hope not.

dan May 8, 2009 at 4:25 pm
“When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me.

- from the poem, First they came…

Ed, I think you’re misreading us. While I don’t know the two young ladies who proposed the first code, they make it very clear that their intentions are honorable. And Steven, or “Fat Guy” as the eGullet community calls him, has proposed a less strict code of his own and is likewise quite clear. Neither insist that everyone adopt it, and in fact all three state that that’s not their intent, but that it is to offer it up for those “who want to demonstrate that they hold themselves to a higher standard”. And that’s where the problem comes in – whatever their intentions, by simple virtue of how they propose the codes, by default they designate those who don’t adopt it as being of lesser standards.

Yes, I realize they don’t say that, it’s not a law, it’s not a requirement, and nobody’s going to force us to adopt it. But it’s a natural human reaction to read about a blogging code of ethics and see that many have adopted it and others not, and some are displaying a “code of ethics” badge and others not. The casual internet surfer isn’t going to take the time to read through all the commentary, back and forth, and dissenting opinions. They’re going to make the assumption that it IS the code for those with higher standards, and choose their sites accordingly. It’s what people do.

And on eGullet, there are already those talking about the use of media and peer pressure to get those who aren’t following the code to fall in line – and indeed the mainstream media will back them up – the NY Times has already had two Diners Journal posts in less than a week hailing the advent of these codes, the Village Voice picked up the story, the Guardian UK has a discussion going on it, and they’re not alone among the press. This is something that many professional food writers and restaurant critics have been fantasizing about – a chance to hold bloggers to the same standards that bloggers hold them to. And I don’t think it’s really ignorable. If we’re all lucky, in my opinion anyway, it’ll all simply fizzle out and go away. But I’m not holding my breath that it will.

Grumpy Glutton May 10, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Hear! Hear! I made some comments on the specifics of the FOODETHICS proposal at http://bit.ly/iyr2O. However, I oppose this entire effort for reasons explained at http://bit.ly/4YcNb. Bottom line: I think that food blogging should be like Outback Steakhouse — no rules, just right. (Not that I’m suggesting that anyone should actually EAT at Outback, tho, for some bizarre reason, I’ve recently become obsessed with their teriyaki steak. :-))

dan May 10, 2009 at 6:01 pm

GG – you make some great points in your posts, especially in the “open letter”. I hadn’t noted until looking back at the two individual sites by the two promoters of this code that they’re getting ready to publish a book about the food blogging world… gee, I wonder if it’s all just coincidence on the timing… what do you think?

;-)

Grumpy Glutton May 10, 2009 at 9:18 pm

dan, I’m willing to give the ladies the benefit of the doubt BUT, as Tim Hayward mentions in his Guardian post and I reiterate in mine, codes and standards have a (surprising?) tendency to work out in favor of those who propose them. And, as someone said (Gibbs on NCIS, maybe?), “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

Grumpy Glutton May 10, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Total aside but your blog makes me want to live, no, EAT, in Buenos Aires!!!

dan May 11, 2009 at 5:30 pm

A couple more discussions on the topic:

Opinionated About

Accidental Hedonist and here

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