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Fat Guy

eG Ethics code

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Sam, from an earlier post by Steven:

For the next draft I'll rework the language to say "pre-arranged."

You are correct in that I was assuming a code of ethics to also be a code of conduct. I do not see the difference in terms of accepting value in return for writing. To me such conduct is unethical.

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


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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

That's an interesting question. I think that paying money and giving something for free are meaningfully distinguishable from one another to the extent that it seems reasonable to say that it wouldn't normally be ethical to pay a reviewer $200 to review a restaurant. On the other hand, a lot would depend on the specifics. If you had a high end restaurant somewhere in a spa in the middle of nowhere and there was no way to get a serious reviewer without compensating him for his time, and if you made clear to the reviewer that you wanted as unvarnished an opinion as he was able to give and were willing to take your lumps if he didn't like what you were doing, I can see that situation being ethical. Meanwhile, that's the ethics of the restaurant. If, on the other hand, the reviewer accepts the 200 bucks and writes the review and discloses his fee in the review, as far as I am concerned the reviewer has satisfied his ethical obligation.

Meanwhile, things not too different from this go on all the time in other fields. Even some pretty closely related ones. I was amused to see Daniel Rogov, who is dead set against restaurant comps, jump through hoops to justify why it was okay for him to accept all those free bottles for his wine reviews. And, in my business, it's certainly not unheard of for a B-cast performer who wants a review to send the local critic a pair of nice tickets to one of the B-cast performances (these tickets usually being paid for by the performer, not the company). It's always understood, however, that these are situations where you pays your money and you takes your chances.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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My concern here is with bloggers who write reviews and want their reviews to have credibility.

Beyond that I believe that one writing a serious review does have an ethical obligation not to accept a comp. If one does not present his writing as a review then I do not have a problem with accepting a comp.

What does that have to do with the larger universe of food bloggers and forum participants then? Wouldn't these considerations of yours be better addressed with a "Food Reviewer's Code of Ethics"? And doesn't something like that already exist? Here, in the Association of Food Journalists' Critic's Guidelines?

Meanwhile, who is to say what is and what is not a "review"? Is this a review? How about this? This?

It depends on the tone of the blog, but many blogs are being accepted as a form of journalism. I have also seen blogging described as entry-level journalism or everyman's journalism. Respected newspapers and news media accept and present blogs. The delineation between some blogging and journalism is blurred.

I would be happy if eGullet accepted the Food Critics' guidelines you linked to for anyone posting a review on eGullet.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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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.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I would be happy if eGullet accepted the Food Critics' guidelines you linked to for anyone posting a review on eGullet.

Again, you haven't said what would constitute a "review" on eGullet. You would seriously suggest that anyone who wants to write in these forums about a restaurant meal they had should/would have to conform to the Association of Food Journalists' Critic's Guidelines?! 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?


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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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 (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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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 (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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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 (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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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.

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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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

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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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

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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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

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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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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.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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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.

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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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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.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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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.

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.


"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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

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?

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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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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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.

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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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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 (log)

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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.

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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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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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".

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