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eG Ethics code


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#31 Holly Moore

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 06:10 PM

The places I write about don't accept reservations.

I was thinking about your question re HollyEats before you posed it. True I rarely visit a place twice before writing about it. That is hard to do when driving across a state. Alas, over the years my capacity has diminished so I no longer eat my way through the menu. And it is hard to be anonymous when I'm walking around a counter area snapping flash pictures.

My cop-out is that I see myself more as relating an experience rather than reviewing a place. Yet I do cast judgment with the awarding of my highly coveted grease stains. So maybe they are reviews, though good natured reviews intended more for enjoyment than contemplation. Though I am serious about the effort I put into HollyEats and I want people to try the places I recommend, I don't consider my write-ups to be serious reviews like the ones I did writing ny column for the City Paper.

eGullet-wise, I guess a post about a restaurant meal becomes a review when it offers a judgment. And you are correct that within the eGullet discussion format some of the principles of the Food Critic's code need not apply.

Perhaps the difficulty is attempting to compose a code of conduct that can apply both to eGullet posts and websites/blogs.

---

Edited to add that, as Steven posted, this code is not intended for individual posts. Ignore, at least, my last paragraph.

Edited by Holly Moore, 05 May 2009 - 06:22 PM.

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#32 slkinsey

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 06:20 PM

But doesn't the preponderance of food-focused web sites, blogs and forum posts that relate or discuss food and restaurant meals do so within the context of "relating an experience rather than reviewing" or, at the most, offer "good natured reviews intended more for enjoyment than contemplation"?

Edited by slkinsey, 05 May 2009 - 06:21 PM.

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#33 Holly Moore

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 06:23 PM

Some do, some don't. I have no sense of preponderance either way.
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#34 slkinsey

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 06:40 PM

I do agree, by the way, that if a blogger is presenting himself as a "serious reviewer," there are perhaps additional ethical concerns, or at least some practical concerns as to credibility that come along with that. But these are not and should not be relevant to most food-focused bloggers or forum participants. If a food-focused blogger would like to present himself as performing a kind of critical journalism, then I would think he would be well-served by overtly subscribing to the usual and well-established professional and ethical codes of journalism and there is little need for a special ethical or professional code to cover these people simply because they do their work over new media.

I would imagine, however, that most of these people would already be professionals or "semiprofessionals" of one kind or another. We're talking mostly, I would think, about the likes of Andrea Strong and pre-new-gig Restaurant Girl.

Edited by slkinsey, 05 May 2009 - 06:44 PM.

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#35 Fat Guy

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 06:49 PM

Is it necessary to link to a book, rather than just providing the title and author (properly spelled, of course?).  Technical journals don't require this, and it does seem like it will just be directing business to the major resellers, rather than letting people go looking for themselves, and hopefully supporting the local bookstores.

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The way that language developed is that we had language saying if you reference something you should link to it, then someone asked what if you can't link to it? So we came up with "Where the creator of content referenced on this website has made it possible to link to that content, a link is given here." And then someone said, what about books? And it seemed the easiest solution for books was to link to the Amazon page or similar. But of course you're right. A full citation would be sufficient to address any ethical concern. We'll tweak that language.

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#36 Fat Guy

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 06:55 PM

anyone can display the badge implying the code is being followed, and yet not follow the code at all.

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If this becomes a significant problem, we will of course re-evaluate. But our operating assumption is that people will not typically choose to become signatories to the code if they aren't going to follow it.

I suppose some random pornographic spam site might choose to display the badge, but I would consider that more entertaining than troublesome.

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#37 Chris Hennes

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 06:59 PM

Will the logo be trademarked or something along those lines, so that there is some legal recourse should it become necessary?

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#38 Fat Guy

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 06:59 PM

As I have stated elsewhere, I do not believe a code of ethics should permit a food writer to accept comps.

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But I assume you agree that, if a comp is accepted, it should be disclosed.

We're not writing a code of ethics for the New York Times dining section. We're writing a code of ethics for online writers, taking into account the realities of this medium. In this medium, comps are standard operating procedure. That train has left the station. Against that backdrop, we're saying the best thing to do is disclose the comps and take steps to ensure that there is no quid pro quo. The rest, the reader can decide.

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#39 Fat Guy

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 07:04 PM

Will the logo be trademarked or something along those lines, so that there is some legal recourse should it become necessary?

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We think the way we'll structure it, yes, we'll have various avenues of recourse should that sort of thing become necessary. We're hoping it doesn't.

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#40 Holly Moore

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 07:07 PM

Yes, I agree that comps should be declared. I also suggest that if there is a comp, the declaration should make it clear that the meal was comped rather than simply implied.

I would like to see the phrase further strengthened to say that a blogger or web site publisher that sees himself as an independent journalist offering what he intends to be a legitimate restaurant review should not accept comps. While some blogs and websites are hobbies, others are intended as "new journalism" and should act with journalistic ethics.
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#41 Fat Guy

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 07:13 PM

Yes, I agree that comps should be declared.  I also suggest that if there is a comp, the declaration should make it clear that the meal was comped rather than simply implied.


We made the decision not to require specific language in the code, or to do anything that would make the code top-heavy. However, part of the plan for supporting the code is to elaborate on subjects exactly like this one (this exact point is on the list) by discussing what language does and doesn't make clear to a reasonably informed reader that a meal was comped.

I would like to see the phrase further strengthened to say that a blogger or web site publisher that sees himself as an independent journalist offering what he intends to be a legitimate restaurant review should not accept comps.  While some blogs and websites are hobbies, others are intended as "new journalism" and should act with journalistic ethics.

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That issue has, as you know, been debated extensively in several eG Forums discussions. We will not be adopting the position you've outlined. Of course, anybody is welcome to self-declare a standard that is more restrictive than the code.

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#42 Holly Moore

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 07:34 PM

That the subject has been discussed elsewhere strikes me as irrelevant as it was not discussed within the context of a code of website ethics bearing the society's marque. All the same, I probably realized I was tilting at windmills.
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#43 judiu

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 07:36 PM

Is it necessary to link to a book, rather than just providing the title and author (properly spelled, of course?).  Technical journals don't require this, and it does seem like it will just be directing business to the major resellers, rather than letting people go looking for themselves, and hopefully supporting the local bookstores.

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I have noticed, frequently, that when you list a book and the author, it is turned automatically into an Amazon link for that item. Has this become a problem? I don't think so, specialy since Amazon tends to allow readers to 'search through a book' and look at preselected pages. I have researched many books on Amazon and gone ahead and purchased from other sources.
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#44 Peter Green

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Posted 05 May 2009 - 08:30 PM

Out of curiosity, would it be ethical for a restaurant to pay a reviewer $200 to review the restaurant?

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Would it be ethical for a restaurant or equipment supplier to pay for an ad on a reviewer's site? Should a reviewer touch a place that is doing advertising with anything he's associated with?

#45 Fat Guy

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 04:33 AM

Given that the New York Times dining section contains restaurant ads, including from restaurants the New York Times reviews, it seems even a relatively conservative view of ethics in journalism allows for that. Of course with a large organization like the Times, it's possible to have different employees handling advertising and editorial. That's not likely to be the case with a blog, though with a larger website it could be. In any event, the code is not comprehensive on every imaginable issue. It doesn't forbid murder, treason or insider trading. I suppose it doesn't forbid taking an envelope of cash from a restaurateur either. It does, however, require that it be disclosed.

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#46 Fat Guy

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 05:36 AM

Corrections. Where factual errors are discovered or reported, corrections will be made promptly by editing or in a subsequent declaration.

Faithfulness to the historical record. This site has an edit window of X minutes to permit correction of typographical, spelling, attribution and minor errors. Neither this window nor administrative powers will be used to remove or alter content in a way that distorts the historical development of any content, except when the terms of service have been violated. Even then, due care will be taken to restore the content so as to preserve the record.

I'm concerned about the interaction of these two (or perhaps its the lack of interaction I'm concerned about). The "faithfulness to the historical record" seems primarily geared at the comments sections, but I think the statement should include something about the original post being held to the same standard. That is, for example, if a factual error is discovered, the article will not simply be edited as though nothing happened (which screws up the record if there are comments pointing out the error), but an "edited to add: this statement is incorrect and should read blah blah blah"-sort of statement will be used instead.

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The one reason that might not work as an absolute declaration is that some things, like defamation and invasion of privacy, may call for full deletion. But your point is well taken and there could be some sharpening of that language.

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#47 gfweb

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 05:59 AM

The code is a good idea. It is thorough without "straining at gnats".

It will serve to remind people what ethical behavior is and keep the honest ones on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately it won't change the behavior of the dishonest ones who know that they are cheating and do it happily already.

Edited by gfweb, 06 May 2009 - 06:01 AM.


#48 GordonCooks

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 06:58 AM

There is a big difference between your anonymous blogger and self-declared dining guru. The point being anonymity. I get comps due to the fact I'm a frequent patron of places. I would never self proclaim like some of these Zagat-ites with their Hotels.com threats, I find it crass. If you're getting a comp because of how it may influence your opinion, it should be disclosed.

#49 Fat Guy

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 07:30 AM

It's often not truly possible to know the motive behind a comp. It's also not clear that motive matters. That's why the code focuses on disclosure and absence of quid pro quo.

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#50 Peter Green

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 07:30 AM

So far it seems a fair compromise between the overly rigid and the wild, wild west.

Comparing the proposed list with the Food Critics' Guidelines referenced earlier, it's a lot more practical for the casual writer. Most of the bloggers out there aren't going to invest in a Ruth Reichl set of disguises and false identities.

(Come to think of it, if I were to assume a false identity and start using credit cards under other people's names, I'd probably be inviting a visit from those friendly folk at Homeland Security.)

The basic soundness test for such things is "is there anything here I don't do anyways?" If everyone (or at least the majority of the ethical) are following this, then it defines what we consider as our "ethics".

#51 Fat Guy

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 07:38 AM

I know of no other organisation that has a code of ethics that does not, in some way, follow-up on whether the members remain true to that code or not.

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We know of many. Indeed, the primary inspiration for this approach came from the World Medical Association. As the WMA explains:

the World Medical Association has (and indeed seeks to have) no actual powers, yet the Declarations and Statements it has made over the years have carried great weight in national and international debates.


I should add that the Society does police the ethical conduct of its volunteers and does police some aspects of the ethical conduct of its larger membership. Volunteers (forum hosts, managers) have for years been subject to a version of the code we're now planning to publish for general use. Members are subject to the member agreement, which covers several aspects of the code such as intellectual property restrictions, rules against defamation, etc. Posts violating those rules are deleted. Repeated violations after warnings can lead to loss of posting privileges. But we aren't going to get into the business of policing the whole world. We are propagating a code in the hopes that it turns out to be a good thing for the world, but enforcement is not part of the plan.

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#52 Sneakeater

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 10:00 AM

Do you even adhere to these guidelines (full anonymity including reserving under a pseudonym, multiple visits, making sure you sample the full range of the restaurants menu offerings, waiting at least one month after opening before visiting for the purposes of later writing, etc.) when making posts about restaurants here and on your site?

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If people writing up restaurants on this site were required to follow those rules, there would be very few restaurant write-ups here.

#53 Sneakeater

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 10:02 AM

Perhaps the difficulty is attempting to compose a code of conduct that can apply both to eGullet posts and websites/blogs.

---

Edited to add that, as Steven posted, this code is not intended for individual posts.  Ignore, at least, my last paragraph.

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But as I read FG's initial post, the Code for individual posts was not expected to be very different from the Code for websites/blogs:

The proposed code for websites is as follows (the individual-user code will be substantively the same, with some minor language changes):

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Edited by Sneakeater, 06 May 2009 - 10:03 AM.


#54 Fat Guy

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 10:17 AM

That's correct, Mr. Sneakeater. The principles expressed in the code are meant to be the same for individual discussion-forum participants, bloggers or contributors to other sorts of websites. The only differences are linguistic. We still haven't decided whether we'll run off two versions or try to consolidate all the language with a bunch of and/or constructions. Probably two versions.

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#55 oakapple

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 12:21 PM

I have received five fully-comped meals in my capacity as a "food blogger," which is less than 1% of the reviews I've written. In each case, the post-meal blog entry disclosed the circumstances. As long as folks know that the meal was comped, they can decide for themselves whether the review is credible.

Of course, in a comped review, even if you ignore the opinions, there can be useful information—e.g., that the restaurant exists, that so-and-so is the chef, that such-and-such is on the menu, and so forth. (When they comp New York Journal, it usually means that not many folks have heard of the restaurant.)

As some of you may know, I normally rate restaurants on a "star scale" similar to that employed by the Times. I decided that for pre-arranged comps, rare as they are, I would not give out stars based on that meal. I don't think anyone gives a damn about my stars anyway, but it felt like the right way to handle it.

When there's a comped drink or a comped course, within an otherwise paid-for meal, it's harder to state firm rules. I never tell the restaurant that I'm a blogger, but because I take pictures, they may have guessed that. Or they could be sending out the comp for other reasons.

Edited by oakapple, 06 May 2009 - 12:21 PM.


#56 saltshaker

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 01:07 PM

It's fascinating that anyone thinks that by someone stating that they subscribe to a "code of ethics" (interesting timing, too, on this post, coming less than a week after the controversial "Food Blog Ethics Code" site hit the 'net) and displaying a badge either here or on their own blog or website, that that somehow makes them more credentialed, more ethical, or more worthy of reading. The problems with the idea are so obvious that it's ludicrous: 1) anyone who feels like it can make the claim and post the badge, and still be a completely dishonest, unqualified hack - and there's not anything anyone can do about it if the badge is simply a piece of graphic that they're posting (at least outside of eG), and 2) it will, despite any other intentions, leave anyone who doesn't subscribe to and post the badge, looking like a "lesser" writer - while longterm readers won't disappear from their sites, attracting new readers without jumping on the bandwagon will become less and less likely.

When it comes down to it, if a writer writes well and provides consistently good information, they earn their credentials, signatory to a code of ethics proposed by a random organization or no, and badge or no. If they don't write well or provide information that repeatedly shows up to be false or copied or what-have-you, people stop reading them - and those sites tend to disappear quickly. Blogging and forums are market driven, and should be, the very suggestion that a self-appointed arbitrary organization takes on some sort of oversight capacity is, for the internet, a chilling prospect.

Edited by saltshaker, 06 May 2009 - 01:08 PM.

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#57 oakapple

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 02:17 PM

It's fascinating that anyone thinks that by someone stating that they subscribe to a "code of ethics" (interesting timing, too, on this post, coming less than a week after the controversial "Food Blog Ethics Code" site hit the 'net) and displaying a badge either here or on their own blog or website, that that somehow makes them more credentialed, more ethical, or more worthy of reading.

I think you've perhaps misread the intent—or what I take to be the intent. Subscribing to the ethics code has nothing to do with credentials or being worthy of reading. It only has to do with ethics.

I do think that a blogger or board poster who follows these principles is more ethical than one who does not. That's obviously a broad-brush statement, as some of the principles are more important than others, and not all violations are alike. But in general, it's a pretty good statement of how the job ought to be done.

The problems with the idea are so obvious that it's ludicrous: 1) anyone who feels like it can make the claim and post the badge, and still be a completely dishonest, unqualified hack....

Qualifications and honesty have nothing to do with one another. The code doesn't prescribe qualifications for blogging at all.

It's true that someone could claim to be following the code while in fact violating it. There is no sure-fire way to prevent dishonesty. But once someone has made an affirmative statement that they're doing something, they're a lot less likely to violate it than if they had never addressed the matter. For those that claim dishonestly to be following it, there is always peer pressure and media attention—at least in the more flagrant cases.

Edited by oakapple, 06 May 2009 - 02:17 PM.


#58 tino27

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 04:36 PM

When there's a comped drink or a comped course, within an otherwise paid-for meal, it's harder to state firm rules. I never tell the restaurant that I'm a blogger, but because I take pictures, they may have guessed that. Or they could be sending out the comp for other reasons.

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I was in exactly this situation several weeks ago. Several friends and I went to the hottest new restaurant and only when the check was brought to the table did we learn that the desserts were comped (nothing else). Of course, I fully disclosed the comped desserts in my write-up, but since I ordered it and ate the course with the understanding that I would pay for the course, by the time the bill came, I had already formed an opinion. Does that in any way change my obligations to my readers?
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#59 Fat Guy

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 05:13 PM

The assumption behind the code is that there are two main issues when it comes to an accepted comp (setting aside the question whether accepting comps in the first place is okay): 1- the potential conflict of interest that arises when writing about comped products and services, and 2- the possibility that a comp, particularly a pre-arranged comp such as an invitation to a preview dinner, may represent a quid pro quo ("something for something") where the comp is traded for favorable coverage. The potential ethical problem arising out of a conflict of interest is addressed by disclosure. The quid pro quo should be addressed head on (we will supply sample language, though a variety of wordings would be okay) at the time the invitation is accepted. Where the comp occurs after the fact, a quid pro quo is a lot less of a concern and disclosure alone should be sufficient.

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#60 saltshaker

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 05:49 AM

I do think that a blogger or board poster who follows these principles is more ethical than one who does not. That's obviously a broad-brush statement, as some of the principles are more important than others, and not all violations are alike. But in general, it's a pretty good statement of how the job ought to be done.

....

It's true that someone could claim to be following the code while in fact violating it. There is no sure-fire way to prevent dishonesty. But once someone has made an affirmative statement that they're doing something, they're a lot less likely to violate it than if they had never addressed the matter. For those that claim dishonestly to be following it, there is always peer pressure and media attention—at least in the more flagrant cases.


Oakapple - I don't misunderstand the intent that our "Fat Guy" has - I think it's an honorable proposal for what goes on within eGullet itself, I distrust that it could ever possibly be implemented fairly and honestly on the basis he proposes outside of these "walls". First, your first statement - while it's true, that someone who follows a code of ethics, be it this one, or the one posed over on new Food Ethics Blog site (which came out a week ago now), or someone else's, has those ethics (again, assuming they're not just paying lip service, but actually doing so), it's 1) that set of ethics, not the only set possible (the proposed one here, for example, is different in several ways from the one proposed on the site I mentioned), and 2) how does that make them more ethical than someone who has a higher ethical standard but never happened to hear of eGullet, or one of the others, or chooses to simply not sign their name to a statement? My point isn't whether or not people should be ethical and subscribe to a code, but it should be their own code, and one which they've stated for their own readers, at least outside of eGullet. Here, within these forums, I have no problem with the idea of a code that people are asked to follow - though we still get back to the second part - which is, just because someone says it doesn't mean they follow it.

Outside of a moderated forum like this, there is no peer pressure or media attention on the average blog/amateur writer - so no, I don't think there's anything out there that would stop someone from claiming they follow some code of ethics, posting a badge, and simply not abiding by it. Regulating the blogging world (or other types of privately owned/written sites) by imposing rules on what people are allowed to write about and how they write it is what I find chilling - isn't that what we all had a big blow up about a couple of years ago when there were rumors going around that the FAA or someone like that was going to start being a watchdog to the internet and what people could post? Who says a private, non-proft, arbitrary organization will do any better at the job? And when it comes down to it, I (as many bloggers do) pay for my own site - why should I have to be penalized because I choose not to display a badge from an organization that has set itself up to be the arbiter of ethics? My own readers know what they can expect from me, I've stated it myself, and the lack of whatever lovely little piece of graphic work someone here comes up with shouldn't become something that new readers or the media (if they care) or anyone else can point to and say "he's not following the code, he's not a real food blogger" - and they will.
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