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Fat Guy

eG Ethics code

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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.

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.


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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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?

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

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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.

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):


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

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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.


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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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 (log)

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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 (log)

SaltShaker - Casting a little flavor (and a few aspersions) on the world of food, drink, and life

Casa SaltShaker - Restaurant de Puertas Cerradas

Spanish-English-Spanish Food & Wine Dictionary - a must for any traveler!

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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 (log)

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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.

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?


Food Blog: Exploring Food My Way: Satisfying The Craving -- Exercising my epicurean muscles by eating my way through everything that is edible.

Flickr: Link To My Account

Twitter: @tnoe27

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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.


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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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.


SaltShaker - Casting a little flavor (and a few aspersions) on the world of food, drink, and life

Casa SaltShaker - Restaurant de Puertas Cerradas

Spanish-English-Spanish Food & Wine Dictionary - a must for any traveler!

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Nobody is forcing anybody to adopt the eG Ethics code and nobody is saying you're a bad person if you adopt some other code, write your own, or just behave ethically without saying anything about it. Go for it!

Outside of a moderated forum like this, there is no peer pressure or media attention on the average blog/amateur writer

This, I think, is pretty clearly not true.


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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I can imagine the following happening. Let's say that a cocktail blogger that has made a stated commitment to this code consistently pushes Joe Agave premium tequila as the best. This code would require that the blogger state his or her relationship to Joe Agave up front (I have none; I went to Aspen on their dime; I design recipes for them; I'm in ads for them), which would be a very big change from current practice on many websites. In addition, the code would require that s/he address any questions raised in their feedback section and make corrections to the record if things change.

If the person says nothing at all about Joe Agave, or if the person refuses to answer questions about Joe Agave, s/he is clearly violating the code. And, believe me, news about these sorts of things travels quickly, if quietly, around the cocktail world, and reputations would be stained.

Sure, some people wouldn't care, and some people wouldn't notice. But, at least in this instance, I'm sure that a lot of people would both notice and care. The code could become a guide to creating and maintaining the integrity that's important to many (though not all, for sure) in the profession.

ET fix grammar -- CA


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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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?
Obviously there is no set of ethical guidelines that everyone will accept, just as there is no religion or political party that everyone accepts. But I think that it's laudable to see both eGullet and the Food Ethics Blog site drawing attention to a matter that has, until now, skated along without much formal guidance.

If either one of these guidelines is succesful—that's a big IF—I doubt that there will be many major food bloggers who haven't heard of them. Bloggers will decide for themselves whether these guidelines are worth following—just as people decide whether to be Democrats, Republicans, or neither. Readers will then decide for themselves whether a blog's decision either to adopt or reject one of these codes actually makes any difference.

Outside of a moderated forum like this, there is no peer pressure or media attention on the average blog/amateur writer

Oh, sure there is. If you haven't noticed that blogs are getting a lot of media attention, then I have to wonder what you've been reading. At some point, I could imagine that unethical blogs would be called out for censure, just as the Times would be if it turned out that Frank Bruni were accepting free food in exchange for good reviews. Obviously these ethics codes are a damp squib at the moment, since they're brand new. But the idea that they could become influential at some point seems quite reasonable to me. (That doesn't mean it will happen, of course.)

For what it's worth, the eGullet guidelines seem a lot more reasonable to me than those the Food Ethics Blog is proposing, and if I formally adopt anything, it will likely be the former.

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I can imagine the following happening. Let's say that a cocktail blogger that has made a stated commitment to this code consistently pushes Joe Agave premium tequila as the best. This code would require that the blogger state his or her relationship to Joe Agave up front (I have none; I went to Aspen on their dime; I design recipes for them; I'm in ads for them), which would be a very big change from current practice on many websites. In addition, the code would require that s/he address any questions raised in their feedback section and make corrections to the record if things change.

If the person says nothing at all about Joe Agave, or if the person refuses to answer questions about Joe Agave, s/he is clearly violating the code. And, believe me, news about these sorts of things travels quickly, if quietly, around the cocktail world, and reputations would be stained.

Sure, some people wouldn't care, and some people wouldn't notice. But, at least in this instance, I'm sure that a lot of people would both notice and care. The code could become a guide to creating and maintaining the integrity that's important to many (though not all, for sure) in the profession.

ET fix grammar -- CA

Is the blogger expected to state "I have no relationship" as part of any favorable write-up? Whose questions does the code require the blogger to answer? Are you suggesting that these acts are required in the code or more a matter of good PR?


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Good point -- I read the code too quickly and assumed that. From a more careful rereading, I'd strike "I have none" and edit the post to read, "If the person has a relationship but says nothing at all about Joe Agave, or if the person refuses to answer questions about Joe Agave, s/he is clearly violating the code."

Prompt correction in a subsequent post. That was easy.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Nothing is easy with me :wink:

I don't get from the code that a blogger is required to answer any questions concerning specific claims or events.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Good point. I guess I could post something asking you about Joe Agave, and you could refuse to answer. If you did, I'd write, "Your refusal to answer suggests a conflict of interest that you haven't disclosed." Then I could post that photo I have of you waving from the back of your yacht, "Gracias, Joe Agave."


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Chris, I think you're thinking about it backwards: if you claim to be following this Code of Ethics, and you post about Joe Agave without disclosing a relationship, you are implicitly stating that no relationship exists: there is no requirement to explicitly state it. The rest of this discussion only pertains to the enforcement of the code. Which in your example is being taken care of by the blog's readers, who will soon decide that the blogger is full of crap and will cease to be readers.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Fair comment. This website allows registered users to comment on the content contained herein. Free and fair comment will be permitted so long as it is civil and conforms to this website's terms of service, including this document.

There are food and restaurant websites that are one-way - no option for reader comment except by email. In fact HollyEats gave up its struggling discussion forum as part of the founding of eGullet as eGullet initially was intended to serve as the discussion forum for several food and restaurant websites.

Does eGullet consider the requirement for reader comments essential to operating an ethical website?


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Does eGullet consider the requirement for reader comments essential to operating an ethical website?

This is definitely a tough one, because if you allow people to comment, you also need to invest the time to weed out spam and other inappropriate posts.

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Nobody is forcing anybody to adopt the eG Ethics code and nobody is saying you're a bad person if you adopt some other code, write your own, or just behave ethically without saying anything about it. Go for it!
Outside of a moderated forum like this, there is no peer pressure or media attention on the average blog/amateur writer

This, I think, is pretty clearly not true.

Steven, I fully understand that your intent, and that of most of those who support the idea, is completely honorable. And I do think that any good blogger ought to state to their readers, openly, what can be expected of them - though I wouldn't require them to do so. But there's reality to live with. If you, or someone else, especially with what will appear to the casual reader to be an "Organization", creates a "badge" or some other sort of way to denominate your blog or site as one that subscribes to the ethical standards of eGullet, it will, by virtue of the way that things happen, become a negative for anyone who doesn't have it. It's unavoidable. It's the nature of "badges" or "tokens" or anything of the sort - those who aren't privy to what went into the creation of it will make the assumption that it actually means something. The new reader of food blogs will see on some sites "I subscribe to the eGullet food bloggers ethical code" and have no idea that eGullet is simply a forum where a bunch of us get together and have a good time chatting about food. They'll not see it on 2 out of 3 or 4 or 5 sites and the natural, human reaction will be "oh, this guy doesn't subscribe to The Ethical Code". You have good intentions, but we've all heard about what road those lead down.

As someone who is a professional journalist, what I like about the blog format is that it is the opportunity to not have to hold myself to those same standards as in my paying work. It doesn't mean I won't be honest and upfront with my readers, but I like reserving the right to be snarky, catty, or downright rude if I feel like it (maybe it's that Amer. vs. Brit or other countries journalistic standards thing), and not have to apologize for it. It doesn't make the information I provide less valuable as long as I'm clear that that's what I'm doing, but my blog, far and away beyond any of my professional writing, is intended to be a completely subjective spot, with no pretense at objectivity - and I'd venture to bet that most food bloggers created their blogs for the same reason.

And I'd stand by my statement that there is no real peer pressure on the average blogger out there. Here on eGullet or similar forums, of course, there's the simple fact of moderation and commentary. But just exactly what effect do other food bloggers have on what I, or anyone else, writes on my blog? Or are we out to create a bunch of blogs that criticize other people's blogs for their standards? Will eGullet or someone else start publishing a list of "unacceptable blogs"? I would hope not. As to media attention - yes, there's a general attention to the blogging world, but in terms of any one blog in specific, no, I simply don't agree that there's any pressure to conform to standards - except self-inflicted by those who feel like they're not being taken as seriously as they want to be, because they think that their blog ought to be recognized for the sheer brilliance that they're quite sure it contains.


SaltShaker - Casting a little flavor (and a few aspersions) on the world of food, drink, and life

Casa SaltShaker - Restaurant de Puertas Cerradas

Spanish-English-Spanish Food & Wine Dictionary - a must for any traveler!

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Does eGullet consider the requirement for reader comments essential to operating an ethical website?

There are lots of ways to operate an ethical website. A website that doesn't allow for user comments, however, might have trouble satisfying the fair-comment provision of the eG Ethics 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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If you, or someone else, especially with what will appear to the casual reader to be an "Organization", creates a "badge" or some other sort of way to denominate your blog or site as one that subscribes to the ethical standards of eGullet, it will, by virtue of the way that things happen, become a negative for anyone who doesn't have it.

If this comes to pass, I'll be very impressed with us.


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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If you, or someone else, especially with what will appear to the casual reader to be an "Organization", creates a "badge" or some other sort of way to denominate your blog or site as one that subscribes to the ethical standards of eGullet, it will, by virtue of the way that things happen, become a negative for anyone who doesn't have it.

If this comes to pass, I'll be very impressed with us.

But the comment wasn't intended to be flattering, as I read it. It's saying by creating this "badge", you are also creating a two-tiered system whereby some blogs are judged "bad" just because they don't have the badge (not necessarily because they are bad).

This could, however, work the other way where eG developed a bad reputation (for whatever reason), and any blog displaying the eG badge were seen in a negative light.

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