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Discussion of the eG Ethics code


Fat Guy
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There are several problems with that absolutist position.

One is that, as people who frequently eat out, bloggers and foodboard posters frequently get comps for reasons that have nothing to do with their status as reviewers or posters. If I were forbidden to comment on any meal where the kitchen or bar sent me something extra, that would prevent my writing about most of the meals I eat out. And again, for reaons that have nothing to do with any attempt by the restaurant to influence my judgment. It just can't be the rule for unpaid, non-professional commentators.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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The moment a 'comp' occurs any vestige of objectivity goes out the window. No matter how hard the author tries to avoid it there has been an influence upon his or her opinion. Disclosing the comp does not really help. After all what is a comp other than a form of payment?

I almost feel like asking if you're a Chowhound moderator, as they take that absolutist position.

However, I disagree. Information never hurt anybody. As long as I am aware of the circumstances, I can judge for myself whether the review is credible. And as Sneakeater noted, there are a wide variety of circumstances, ranging from the true quid pro quo, down to a comped drink that could have been given out for any number of non-review-related reasons.

What's more, reviews of fully-compled meals sometimes contain useful, purely factual information—for instance, that the restaurant exists, that it is open at particular hours, that it serves certain items on its menu. Sometimes, a comped review has brought a restaurant to my attention that I was otherwise unaware of. I then start looking around for other (more objective) reviews to see if the place is worth considering.

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I support the idea of the code -- It is needed, and as I've been a journalist for most of my working life, these ethics are second nature to me. You've published my work before, and it's always been a pleasant experience.

My one concern with the ethics guidelines for writers is the disclosure clause: "Financial and employment relationships, including those of close friends, associates..."

I have no problem disclosing my personal financial & employment relationships and that of my family members and I understand why that is needed. But I think disclosing employment and financial relationships that close friends and associates have is a bit excessive -- I think it is an intrusion upon their privacy, and I don't think the reasons that justify disclosure of a relative's financial and employment relationships translate to friends and associates.

And there's just the mess of trying to do that... going by my Facebook relationships, I've got over 200 friends and associates there alone!

Can you explain why you extend disclosure to close friends and associates, where or how you derived that section of the code, how you define "associates" (again, that could be well over several hundred people, depending on how you look at it), and how you see this to be practical to do?

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I do, however, feel very uncomfortable with the several paragraphs dealing with 'comps'. My strong opinion is that one should not write about or express an opinion about any meal, event or product where one has been comp'd.

The moment a 'comp' occurs any vestige of objectivity goes out the window. No matter how hard the author tries to avoid it there has been an influence upon his or her opinion. Disclosing the comp does not really help. After all what is a comp other than a form of payment?

Consider this situation...

My wife and I recently went to a fairly new restaurant here in Chicago for the first time. We had a perfectly fine, but not spectacular meal. For whatever reason we were comped 2 glasses of dessert wine and 2 scoops of gelato. Maybe we were just engaging with our waiter, maybe they just wanted to finish the bottle of moscato. I'm certainly not "known" as a food board poster, blogger, or anything.

Under your standards am I now ethically forbidden to post about my meal on eGullet? How does that make any sense? Doesn't it seem a lot more sensible for me to post about my meal, disclose the comp, and let the reader judge how much stock they want to put in my opinion?

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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Even though the beaten horse is still dead...

As Rumpole of the Old Bailey used to urge juries, "Use your good old (insert nationality here) common sense."

Any writer with a bit of savvy can distinguish between a comp intended to encourage an article and a comp for other reasons such as a botched meal or a friendly gesture.

This is especially the case when the comp is offered to the writer to cover the cost of the reviewing meal or in the hopes that the writer will write about a restaurant.

Edited to add a trailing quotation mark.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

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And there's just the mess of trying to do that... going by my Facebook relationships, I've got over 200 friends and associates there alone!

I hope it is understood that a Facebook "friend" is not a friend in the conventional sense of the word.

Doesn't that depend on how you use Facebook?

Personally, most of my Facebook "friends" are my actual friends and colleagues; I'm not really interested in building a large number of Facebook casual acquaintances who are only people I've met online.

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I have no problem disclosing my personal financial & employment relationships and that of my family members and I understand why that is needed. But I think disclosing employment and financial relationships that close friends and associates have is a bit excessive -- I think it is an intrusion upon their privacy, and I don't think the reasons that justify disclosure of a relative's financial and employment relationships translate to friends and associates.

And there's just the mess of trying to do that... going by my Facebook relationships, I've got over 200 friends and associates there alone!

It's not necessary to name your friends. A disclosure such as "One of my closest friends is a manager at the restaurant" will suffice.

The code speaks of "close friends, associates and family members," so that wouldn't include everyone in your Facebook or LinkedIn network, unless everyone in those networks really is a close friend or associate. It wouldn't include your eleventh cousin Bill who you've never met. The idea is simply that, if you have a close relationship with someone who has a financial or employment relationship with a restaurant you're writing about or some other subject you're covering, you should say so. Again, you don't have to name the person. Just explain the potential conflict of interest and move on.

The distinction between family and everyone else is, especially in this day and age, not terribly useful. Many couples live together for years before marriage -- before becoming family -- and plenty of couples aren't even the type of couple that can get legally married. Business partnerships can often become extremely close relationships. The issue isn't genes, it's closeness.

This needn't be complex. As I mentioned on another topic, a reliable quick test for yes/no on disclosure is "If I don't disclose this and tomorrow the whole world learns about it will it look bad in the eyes of the average hypothetical moderately well informed reader?"

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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To me a comp is when one is provided a free meal, service or product. That is a whole meal, a kettle of fish, free tickets to XX or whatever.

Then there is what I might call a 'freebie'; something that is thrown in as an extra be it dessert, a glass of wine, a thirteenth egg or whatever. These are common as gestures of goodwill to a customer (particularly a regular customer) and a whole different kettle of fish to a comp.

What the code says is "Where a free or discounted product or service has been accepted, a corresponding disclosure is made." It would seem that what you're calling a freebie is a "free or discounted product," unless it's something customarily given as part of a package, e.g., the bread and butter that come with a meal at a restaurant, or the customary "buyback" at a bar.

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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My strong opinion is that one should not write about or express an opinion about any meal, event or product where one has been comp'd.

I think the place this reasoning is most obviously flawed is with repect to events. Are you really suggesting that press attendees at events like food and wine festivals -- who in my experience are nearly always comped -- should never write about those events? Do you really think it is never appropriate to write about a product sample provided by a manufacturer? I think if you review the general output of the mainstream food media and apply that standard, more than a few magazines would need to shut down.

The world of food writing, especially online but also in mainstream food media, is quite diverse. A minuscule percentage of food writers have traditional restaurant-reviewing or consumer-advocacy roles where it might make sense for them to keep entirely at arms length from the industry. But the overwhelming majority cover a variety of subjects that sometimes involve free stuff.

So, for example, I was just reading this in Food & Wine magazine's "Mouthing Off" blog. Kate Krader, the magazine's restaurant editor, penned a post titled "Just Another Monday at Joe Bastianich’s House." Restaurateur Joe Bastianich hosted an event at his home in Greenwich and invited some media. I believe he provided transportation too. Mario Batali grilled the steaks, etc. Kate Krader went and wrote about it. Presumably, she didn't pay to go. Big deal. The "Mouthing Off" blog is full of stuff like this, as are tons of other blogs, discussion-forum posts and other pieces of food writing both online and in print. It's the norm, easily demonstrable by citing a near-infinite number of examples.

The eG Ethics code simply looks at that norm and says the best way to deal with any potential appearance of ethical ambiguity that might be introduced by taking comps is to disclose them.

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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It's not necessary to name your friends. A disclosure such as "One of my closest friends is a manager at the restaurant" will suffice.

The code speaks of "close friends, associates and family members," so that wouldn't include everyone in your Facebook or LinkedIn network, unless everyone in those networks really is a close friend or associate. It wouldn't include your eleventh cousin Bill who you've never met. The idea is simply that, if you have a close relationship with someone who has a financial or employment relationship with a restaurant you're writing about or some other subject you're covering, you should say so. Again, you don't have to name the person. Just explain the potential conflict of interest and move on.

The distinction between family and everyone else is, especially in this day and age, not terribly useful. Many couples live together for years before marriage -- before becoming family -- and plenty of couples aren't even the type of couple that can get legally married. Business partnerships can often become extremely close relationships. The issue isn't genes, it's closeness.

This needn't be complex. As I mentioned on another topic, a  reliable quick test for yes/no on disclosure is "If I don't disclose this and tomorrow the whole world learns about it will it look bad in the eyes of the average hypothetical moderately well informed reader?"

Steven,

Thanks very much for this answer... this does help clarify some things.

I get disclosing a relationship if, for example, I wrote about the hotel bar where my live-in boyfriend works; or the food at the sports stadium where my "brother" (close family friend of 30+ years) runs the food service.

But I was looking at privacy from another angle - as in, do I go around asking all my close friends and the people I work with (my boss?) "Hey, do you own stock in Darden Restaurants? I'm about to write a piece about Olive Garden, and I'll need to mention your relationship in my piece (don't worry, you'll be anonymous)..." I think a number of my close friends would tell me what stock they own is none of my damned business. (I'd probably tell them the same.) Why should they be obligated to tell me what stock they own because of what I'm writing?

My thought about family relationships vs. friendships is where financial gain is likely to happen. It's been my understanding that the point of disclosure is for the writer to be transparent about where he or she might financially benefit from the piece they're writing (other than the payment for writing the article itself). I am more likely to benefit financially, directly or indirectly, if I write positively about a business my relatives are involved in than I am my friends. Adding to my wealth or my family's wealth is different than adding to my friend's wealth... how likely am I to have access to that money or inherit it?

In my case, I would say including my live-in boyfriend in the family category is reasonable. So, as for your point about relationships that aren't recognized legally, may I suggest a change in language to the code to include "domestic partners" or "household members"? I think "close friends and associates" is too broad. (Or, maybe make that last paragraph of yours, "will it look bad?" part of the code.)

I'd still like to know more about the genesis of that specific language, "close friends and associates," because I don't see it in the Codes of Ethics of SPJ, RTNDA, or NABJ. The NY Times Code of Ethics suggests discussing any potential conflicts stemming from friendships with newsroom management and making decisions on a case by case basis (Section B2, #102). I'm not in my office as I write this, so I don't have a copy of Foodspell handy, but I don't see this language in AFJ's Critics Guidelines online, either.

Thanks for your patience, Steven - I hope you know I do enthusiastically support the code and think it's needed. I'm glad to see this happening. I'm seeking clarification and perhaps refinement of the eG Code.

(Edited to add an 's' to the word Codes.)

Edited by shaunchavis (log)
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My strong opinion is that one should not write about or express an opinion about any meal, event or product where one has been comp'd.

I think the place this reasoning is most obviously flawed is with repect to events. Are you really suggesting that press attendees at events like food and wine festivals -- who in my experience are nearly always comped -- should never write about those events? Do you really think it is never appropriate to write about a product sample provided by a manufacturer? I think if you review the general output of the mainstream food media and apply that standard, more than a few magazines would need to shut down.

The world of food writing, especially online but also in mainstream food media, is quite diverse. A minuscule percentage of food writers have traditional restaurant-reviewing or consumer-advocacy roles where it might make sense for them to keep entirely at arms length from the industry. But the overwhelming majority cover a variety of subjects that sometimes involve free stuff.

So, for example, I was just reading this in Food & Wine magazine's "Mouthing Off" blog. Kate Krader, the magazine's restaurant editor, penned a post titled "Just Another Monday at Joe Bastianich’s House." Restaurateur Joe Bastianich hosted an event at his home in Greenwich and invited some media. I believe he provided transportation too. Mario Batali grilled the steaks, etc. Kate Krader went and wrote about it. Presumably, she didn't pay to go. Big deal. The "Mouthing Off" blog is full of stuff like this, as are tons of other blogs, discussion-forum posts and other pieces of food writing both online and in print. It's the norm, easily demonstrable by citing a near-infinite number of examples.

The eG Ethics code simply looks at that norm and says the best way to deal with any potential appearance of ethical ambiguity that might be introduced by taking comps is to disclose them.

Its perhaps your last sentence that highlights the difference in our opinions. It would seem that your'norm' is my exception.

If I understand correctly the norm as defined in your post above is the professional food writer.

My norm is by my definition are those interested in food, not as a profession, but as a subject of interest. We amateurs for lack of a better word.

My assumption is that the majority of eGulleteers are amateurs. As such it is a rare event for us to be comped. If we are it would be pretty difficult to be objective in writing about the experience. Thus, I take the hard line moral stance that one shouldn't write about it at all. At least that is on a forum such as eGullet. On one's own blog which is by its very nature personal opinion I think its up to the individual.

There are of course many food professionals who are member of eGullet. I have no idea what percentage, nor who they are. I would say, however, that when writing on eGullet I would hold to my opinion that they should not comment upon events, meals or products they have been comp'd. When on eGullet they are not in my opinion acting in their professional capacity, but as individuals. If on eGullet there was a forum where food (in the wide sense) professionals could express their opinions identifying themselves as such then I'd love to see their posts. Yes, know there are some forums, but I'm primarily thinking of restaurant, event or product reviews.

In your example above I see no conflict. She is a professional food writer writing in a for profit magazine. I'd have been surprised if she hadn't been comp'd. Likewise food writers attending events and such get comp'd as a matter of course. But, when writing in their professional capacity most readers will make the assumption that they have been. No problem, no big deal.

We, however, are talking about eGullet. Not to my knowledge a publication that uses paid professional writers to generate any of its content. My assumption is that participants on eGullet are amateurs in my definition or, if professional are writing and commenting as private individuals.

Perhaps being a retired amateur I can afford the luxury of a 'purist' stance. Or, perhaps its age which makes me impatient with politically correct stances that don't quite do the job.

As I said before it makes for an interesting discussion.

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To be clear, the code is not just for eG Forums participants. It's for anybody -- blogger, discussion-forum participant, online writers of all kinds -- who wants to become a signatory.

In addition, the code doesn't really acknowledge a professional-amateur distinction. That distinction probably doesn't even make sense in the world of new media, where so many people are hybrids of what used to be called professional and amateur. Were there such a distinction being made, though, it's hard to see why professionals and amateurs would be held to different ethical standards anyway.

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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My assumption is that the majority of eGulleteers are amateurs. As such it is a rare event for us to be comped.

This is not true.

It is precisely because I'm an amateur -- I eat out every night, I am very evidently interested and engaged in what I eat and drink -- that I get comped all the time.

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But I was looking at privacy from another angle - as in, do I go around asking all my close friends and the people I work with (my boss?) "Hey, do you own stock in Darden Restaurants? I'm about to write a piece about Olive Garden, and I'll need to mention your relationship in my piece (don't worry, you'll be anonymous)..."

If you know about a potential conflict of interest, you should disclose it. If you don't know about it, it's not likely to present a conflict of interest. There's no need to conduct FBI-style background checks on all your close friends.

Also, a domestic partner owning some stock in a restaurant company, as part of a diverse portfolio, doesn't seem to present a potential conflict of interest except maybe for Wall Street Journal reporters. Now if that person owns half of Darden, and you know about it, it may be a different story. I have some close friends, though, who are so rich they could very well own half of Darden and I wouldn't even know about it.

I'd still like to know more about the genesis of that specific language, "close friends and associates," because I don't see it in the Codes of Ethics of SPJ, RTNDA, or NABJ. The NY Times Code of Ethics suggests discussing any potential conflicts stemming from friendships with newsroom management and making decisions on a case by case basis (Section B2, #102). I'm not in my office as I write this, so I don't have a copy of Foodspell handy, but I don't see this language in AFJ's Critics Guidelines online, either.

We wrote the language because it made sense to us. Most of the code is original language, precisely because we found existing codes designed for print journalism to be not terribly useful.

I'm seeking clarification and perhaps refinement of the eG Code.

I hope we've been able to provide clarification. As for changes to the code, unless we uncover some bizarre error, we'll probably allow the code to bed down for several months before issuing a revision. At that point, if there seems to be widespread confusion on the friends-and-family disclosure language and it seems that changes will help then we'll of course refine it.

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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To be clear, the code is not just for eG Forums participants. It's for anybody -- blogger, discussion-forum participant, online writers of all kinds -- who wants to become a signatory.

In addition, the code doesn't really acknowledge a professional-amateur distinction. That distinction probably doesn't even make sense in the world of new media, where so many people are hybrids of what used to be called professional and amateur. Were there such a distinction being made, though, it's hard to see why professionals and amateurs would be held to different ethical standards anyway.

The distinction is easy. If you get paid for doing it you are a professional. If you do things for the enjoyment of them without thought of renumeration then you are an amateur. Whether or not you do it full time or not is irrelevant, its getting paid that influences the integrity of what one writes.

There is inference of a double standard in what I've written. You get paid or are comp'd you don't write about it on eGullet. Simple, no conflict of interest, no confusion. As a professional you can write for publication, on your blog or on any forum where you wish and get paid for it. On eGullet, however, I would contend that you should not post about those things or places that have comp'd you.

After all what are most comp's? They are a form of payment. The donor gives in the hope that a favorable write up or some form of publicity will ensue. This is why earlier I made the distinction between a comp and a freebie.

As a retired marketeer I'm very familiar with holding events, exhibitions, press conferences and the like. There were never any illusions on either side as to what was going on. I was in high tech where our average piece of goods was in the $100K region so, obviously, we didn't 'comp'our product. It would have been a pretty stupid journalist, however, who though I was buying that expensive meal just because I liked them.

Just because media has changed is no reason to alter the standards of professional behavior. In fact it a reason to reinforce them. I do applaud the effort on the part of eGullet to attempt to do that. I can't, however, agree on this particular issue.

Peace.

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The distinction is easy. If you get paid for doing it you are a professional.

How would you categorize a blogger who does it for pleasure but includes Google AdSense Ads and Amazon Associates purchasing links on his or her blog and makes money from that? Amateur or professional?

Would it change your view if you learned that 20% of the eGullet Society's members were full-time professional journalists? 5%? 50%? 95%?

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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My assumption is that the majority of eGulleteers are amateurs. As such it is a rare event for us to be comped.

This is not true.

It is precisely because I'm an amateur -- I eat out every night, I am very evidently interested and engaged in what I eat and drink -- that I get comped all the time.

I don't really know if I'm factually correct as I don't have the relevant statistics.

Do you get comp'd or do you get freebies? Regular customers will often get freebies.

Do you regularly write up your restaurant experiences? For publication? On a blog?

I find it difficult to fathom why if you eat at a different restaurant every night many restauranteers would give you free meals. New York establishments aren't exactly noted for the generosity.

Still, I'd like to learn to the secret of your success. Please share.

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Again, the comp/freebie distinction is not one the code acknowledges. The code says "Where a free or discounted product or service has been accepted, a corresponding disclosure is made." So while it's interesting to talk about that distinction as an intellectual matter (and I hasten to add I think the distinction is clearly nonsense), it's not relevant to the code.

And while some may be altogether opposed to comps, or writing about comps, I hope it's clear that the decision on that issue has already been made. The code, and the Society, are not banning comps or writing about comps. So, with that decision as a given, the question is: should comps be disclosed? Does anybody think the answer is no?

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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Replying To Dave Hatfield

It's what you'd call freebies. I don't accept a distinction between them and comps.

I don't know in what way New York restaurants aren't generally generous.

I do know that if you order fairly extravagantly and evidence interest in and knowledge about what you're being served, you will routinely be given extra dishes and drinks, and find things you ordered not being charged for. Mostly because you're so obviously a customer whose repeat business most restaurants would want. But also because you're simply more fun to serve than other customers might be.

Happens to me all the time.

If I couldn't post about meals that included comps, I'd have to exclude a substantial portion of my meals out.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Ultimately, I think that it is important for someone to be transparent about their experience and how they operate, whether it be posting on eGullet forums, a personal blog or a paid piece of journalism. I think that it is ultimately unimportant whether there has been disclosure on whether a specific dish or even a specific meal has been comped so long as it is readily apparent that the writer accepts comps (or freebies). This perhaps applies more to a personal blog than it does to a forum like eGullet's, since the forums contain a wider variety of people posting on specific topics resulting in less obvious transparency based upon a knowledge of who that poster is and how that poster operates. A blog is different because the blogger has an opportunity to state how that blogger operates and it is easier to discern patterns over smaller sample sizes.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

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There are certainly arguments for various levels of specificity. What we settled on when drafting the code was one disclosure per series, thread, topic, string, what have you.

The main reason for this is that a significant percentage of the readers of any blog post, discussion-forum post or online article have come to it through Google or an outside link, and many of those people are one-time visitors. Disclosures should be sufficient to put those people on notice We decided that it's reasonable to expect them to read an entire discussion topic or blog post plus comments. They may not do it, but it seems reasonable to say, look, if you don't even read the whole topic we can't ask authors to make repeated disclosures in the same series. At the same time, we don't put the burden on readers to become familiar with an entire blog, a member's entire collection of posts or any larger body of work. For example if a blogger has 1,000 blog posts, it's not reasonable under the code to say, well, I disclosed in post 235 that I take comps, so I don't have to disclose in post 982 that my meal was comped. It has to be disclosed.

As for the level of specificity required in the actual disclosure, it hardly seems necessary to list every free plate of food. A general disclosure -- "we received several comped extra plates of food from the restaurant" or the like -- is sufficient to put a reader on notice. It doesn't have to specify that the asparagus was free. It doesn't have to go on and on like the Saturday Night Live "Happy Fun Ball" parody. Just whatever is sufficient to put the reader on notice that you took free stuff from the restaurant, manufacturer, etc.

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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Again, the comp/freebie distinction is not one the code acknowledges. The code says "Where a free or discounted product or service has been accepted, a corresponding disclosure is made." So while it's interesting to talk about that distinction as an intellectual matter (and I hasten to add I think the distinction is clearly nonsense), it's not relevant to the code.

And while some may be altogether opposed to comps, or writing about comps, I hope it's clear that the decision on that issue has already been made. The code, and the Society, are not banning comps or writing about comps. So, with that decision as a given, the question is: should comps be disclosed? Does anybody think the answer is no?

Well, that's as good a way to to kill off the discussion as any I guess.

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Taking a slightly contrarian stance, I wonder if the eG Ethics code is a category error.

What I mean is this: A restaurant review (certainly in the North American style) sets itself up as an objective assessment (multiple visits, clear description, quantitative score). A weblog on the other hand sets out the blogger's point of view/experience. There is no explicit obligation to be correct and accountable in every detail (I guess this is analogous to the distinction between and infotainment ).

I would go further in fact; in some respects that fact one has received a comp is part of the blogger's experience. If someone offers you a free wine tasting and fifteen course foie gras degustation, you can't argue that doesn't makes you happy (unless, perhaps, you're a member of PETA :raz:). And the fact you are happy very much informs what you write on your weblog.

In this context I wonder if the problem is not that the blogger isn't disclosing correctly, or isn't signing up to some arbitrary ethics code. It's that the reader is confusing a blog with a restaurant review, hence what I mean by "category error" (perhaps this is simply an elegant restatement of "caveat emptor").

--------------------

On the other hand some blogs themselves have moved more to providing reviews or being seen as definitive authorities in their local area (often unintentionally), so in practice the distinction between the categories is more fluid that I outline above. Or to turn it around, having blogs sign up to an ethics code, pushes them more to becoming part of the category of restaurant reviews. Or to restate it another way, the current ethics code could be published as the eGullet Restaurant Reviewers Code with minimal changes. (i.e. the logical implication is Ethics Code = Restaurant Code -> Food Blog = Restaurant Review).

The problem is if you follow this logic to its ultimate conclusion then you lose the personal perspective (with all its biases - qv foie gras example above) which are part of making a blog what it is. If I am correct then I think the answer is not to have an ethics code, rather to have more education on what a blog is (and what it is not).

J

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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I don't really follow that argument, however one clarification: the code is emphatically not a code for restaurant reviews only. For example, comp disclosure is required not only for free restaurant meals and dishes, but also for free attendance at events like food-and-wine festivals, free product samples (wines, merchandise, etc.), free travel, etc. In forming the code, we read all sorts of blogs, message-board posts and other online media extensively over a period of years and found countless examples of probable comps that had nothing to do with restaurants. Indeed restaurant comps were the minority, probably because restaurant writing is such a small part of food writing. We also found scores of examples of relationships between bloggers and providers of goods and services, some disclosed, some rumored, some suspected. Without going through every provision of the code to demonstrate all the possibilities, I'll just say that the code is not a "restaurant code." For someone whose primary interest is restaurants, the code is of course primarily going to provide guidance in that area. For someone writing wine reviews, it's going to be about wine. It's not surprising that someone might see mostly what is relevant to his or her area or areas of focus. But the code is one of general applicability. It was conceived that way and written that way.

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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