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Should " a guy I know" write under an assumed name


Chris Cognac
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"A guy I know", who already writes a food column for a Los Angeles newspaper in which he is able to choose what/where he writes about. Its published every other week....anyway.."this guy I know" was contacted yesterday to write food reviews for 3 other publications (weekly) that his newspaper has purchased....The reviews are for places that buy large ad contracts and are supposed to be "good" reviews...the reviews are not passed of as being critical type reviews and it states that its an ad type thing..."this guy I know's" existing column would not be affected....the question I pose is this...should "this guy" publish under a false name...or his real name since it will be in multiple publications in some high end area's in order to gain exposure/experiance...not to mention that its some extra cash and the chance to eat at some great places "He" might not eat at otherwise!

What do you guys think?

Moo, Cluck, Oink.....they all taste good!

The Hungry Detective

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Otherwise he should use a nom de graft.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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If I were "some guy", I'd accept the job offer under the condition that I would not guarantee any sort of review outcome. If the food sucks, and he says it doesn't suck because the restaurant is a big advertiser, that's basically payola and I suspect it's illegal in the US -- if not, it's certainly unethical and will hurt his reputation.

EDIT: I wrote "immoral", I meant "unethical".

Edited by bleachboy (log)

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

Peace on Earth

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Concuring with Lady T and Fresc0o, alternately, do you know of any budding food writers who might benefit from such a gig? It may help another "find their voice" thereby alleviating you of unethical feelings.

Yeah, the other writer may have to deal with it, but it would give someone a chance they might not otherwise get.

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Its "advertorial" type...its actually a well done advertisment written by a food writer...it's complete with the border around it and the word "advertisment" next to the column so there is no fooling anyone into thinking its a critical review..Kind of like the travel ad/articles in the magazines

Moo, Cluck, Oink.....they all taste good!

The Hungry Detective

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no way his regular editor would--or should--approve such a freelancing contract on the side, and there are serious ethical--and employment--ramifications to his trying to slip it by them under a separate name.

He covers food and restaurants.

Therefore, ethics, press pass credentials (if he has such), and the paper's own policies prevent him from taking money from food and restaurants, even if it's filtered through an ad or PR agency, and doing so now could seriously jeopardize his future aspirations of having a higher profile.

edited because I'm a writer who can't spell. :blink:

Edited by babka (log)
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Its "advertorial" type...its actually a well done advertisment written by a food writer...it's complete with the border around it and the word "advertisment" next to the column so there is no fooling anyone into thinking its a critical review..Kind of like the travel ad/articles in the magazines

Now that you've said that, "some guy" should do the ads (guy's gotta eat!) but use a pseudonym.

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

Peace on Earth

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Now now, let's not go putting our noses in the air. I'm not a big fan of "advertorials," but I have written them, though never with a byline. I've been a PR/marketing/advertising weasel and freelance writer for 15 years. Sometimes the lines get a little blurry.

With something like restaurant reviews, y'all are absolutely right. You've got to trust the reviewer. You have to believe he's honest and above board. You have to trust his judgement. Writing advertorials will kill that immediately.

However, a writer's got to write. It's how we put food on the table. If somebody is offering Chris's "friend" good money to write, great!

My whore-like advice: write 'em, but don't put your name (or anyone else's) on them. They are advertorials, they're not supposed to have bylines.

Chad

Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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Okay, Chris - here's a question.

If this "guy you know" did this, what would he get out of it? Is it just a money thing? More meals out? More responsibility? A better opportunity to hone your writing skills?

I kinda agree with fresco, again. If "this guy" has developed his own, known "voice" than readers might begin to see similarities. Is "this guy" willing to go to the extent to develop a different tone in his writing to assure a qualified difference in the reviews?

I remember that community - it is small and I don't think it would take very long to figure out that "this guy's" writing style is awfully similar to someone else's.

(It reminds me when I was a bookseller - managing a Crown Books almost 20 years ago - both Stephen King's Thinner and Anne Rice's Exit to Eden came out under the pseudonyms Richard Bachman and Anne Rampling, respectively. Those of us "in the biz" read the books and SWORE they were written by those two but the publishers assured us we were wrong, waiting to see what sales would be. If only I had kept those first editions of those small releases - what a chunk-o-change I could get for them on eBay these days!)

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If it's a clearly marked advertorial, then there need not even be a byline. I've seen those in local papers in my area and I don't seem to recall a writer being given credit. I ghostwrite an ad column and I still show the clips. I would say take the gig. If this guy is good at writing that sort of stuff, it will be to his credit. Just because someone is good at one type of writing doesn't mean they can't branch out. And besides, it's still food related. Hope this helps. :smile:

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Well-respected screenwriters like John Sales, William Goldman and Quentin Tarrantino all do uncredited rewrites for really lame, commerical films all the time. (QT worked on the It's Pat movie.) It's a money gig. This is not like Bayless and Burger King.

Unless you're a big, big name, writers don't make all that much money. It's hard to turn down advertising/marketing money, which is usually a lot more than what you'd make writing for a paper. I don't think there's anything wrong with using a fake name for it, but uncredited would be the best way to go.

"If it's me and your granny on bongos, then it's a Fall gig'' -- Mark E. Smith

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I think its a matter of more exposure, more writing experience as well as some more extra cash and contacts in the culinary world etc which could help in some of the charity work this guy does.....This would on be the up and up....its going to be done for his newspapers existing and new weekly publications.....It would be a whole different byline...A whole new name for the column etc....Would not affect the current byline....which is a pretty positive column anyway with little negative stuff (by choice) as people dont want to read about what "He" does not like...but what he likes..

I knew this would be a good topic to discuss here on e gullet!

Moo, Cluck, Oink.....they all taste good!

The Hungry Detective

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He's already on staff at the paper on the editorial side and edit has approved his doing work at the request of the advertising/business side?

That's so wrong. and it's not an issue of getting one's nose up in the air--that's just fundamentally wrong. You're talking about the same media company. It makes no difference how large or small the company is, or that he covers restaurants instead of local business--ahem. There is, or should be, an iron curtain between the editorial side and the advertising side--that is the ethical basis for journalism, and it just isn't one of those things that's up for being chipped away.

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As someone who has occasionally dealt with this issue (almost exactly) I feel like this:

If it is clearly marked as an advertorial type review (better yet if it is in a section of the paper that only has this sort of thing) I don't see a problem with it. The column will provide good writing experience for "the guy" as well as a little extra income. Papers fill space and some papers choose to fill some of their back business pages with exactly this kind of work. The Picayune used to produce a pullout a couple of times a year that did this sort of thing (although they dropped the thing a few years ago).

On the other hand if any of the places covered in the advertorial end up in some sort of legitimate review under "the guy's" other (real I assume) name, than I would say that "the guy" should stay away from it in order to protect (I'm assuming here :wink: ) the otherwise good reputation that he has built up with his current readership.

In New Orleans there is a guy who is an excellent writer, incredibly knowledgable about Louisiana food, and just a generally nice guy. He crossed the line a number of years ago (by studied choice) after spending a number of years doing straight critical review. I still enjoy his work, but no longer consider him to be an authorative voice in the matter of restaurant criticism. One never knows if it is real or whether the review is a paid commercial (he goes back and forth so much that it really is impossible to tell). I enjoy his columns and cooking instructions, I like his radio show (in fact it is one of the longest running and most interesting food shows on the radio in the US) and know that many people enjoy the outings he occasionally sponsors and I am absolutely not being critical. He made the choice on his own after careful consideration and is very upfront about the whole thing. I am just using him as an example of what could happen to you if the two things are not clearly defined.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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As I understand it, the arguments in favor are these:

1) Money--always compelling.

2) Chances to eat places you might not otherwise--I'd say arguable: In the first place, really good places aren't going to be paying for advertorial reviews. Do you really want more chances to eat at mediocre restaurants?

3) "Contacts in the culinary world" which "this guy" could tap for charities he's involved in -- Very problematic: If you're really going to do this restaurant reviewing thing, you're going to have to get used to the idea that you can't owe favors to the people you're covering--whether those favors are done under your byline or not.

It's not pretty, but I think it was in the Godfather that they said: "This is the business we've chosen." Very wise.

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I think its a matter of more exposure, more writing experience as well as some more extra cash and contacts in the culinary world etc which could help in some of the charity work this guy does.....This would on be the up and up....its going to be done for his newspapers existing and new weekly publications.....It would be a whole different byline...A whole new name for the column etc....Would not affect the current byline....which is a pretty positive column anyway with little negative stuff (by choice) as people dont want to read about what "He" does not like...but what he likes..

I knew this would be a good topic to discuss here on e gullet!

If it has to be a review, I recommend you pass. Your reviewing opinions should not be for sale whether under your byline, an alias, or unattributed.

If it can be content - straight forward: this is who they are, this is what they sell, this is how they describe their food, this is how they describe their restaurant. Interview the restaurant, but don't draw conclusions or offer opinions.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

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the reviews are not passed of as being critical type reviews and it states that its an ad type thing

I'd ask why advertising is passed off as a "review" of any kind. It it's stated that it's an ad type thing, the blurb should not have a byline. If the "guy you know" (sort of like the copywriter who used to have a reputation as a critic) is signing his name to something that's neither factual reporting or honest person criticism, his future is in advertising not culinary journalism.

Its "advertorial" type...its actually a well done advertisment written by a food writer...it's complete with the border around it and the word "advertisment" next to the column so there is no fooling anyone into thinking its a critical review..Kind of like the travel ad/articles in the magazines

Bullshit. There are only two assumptions that can be made. They are exclusive of each other. The first is that a food writer wrote an honest review that was so favorable to the restaurant that they chose to pay to have it reprinted. The only other alternative is that the writer's opinion is always for sale at the right price.

My whore-like advice: write 'em, but don't put your name (or anyone else's) on them. They are advertorials, they're not supposed to have bylines.

There you go. That's the most pragmatic advice you can get.

Advice on eGullet - free;

Your talent as a writer - two bits a word;

Your byline - priceless

If it's a clearly marked advertorial, then there need not even be a byline.

The byline gives the advertisement the respectibility of the reputation of the person whose byuline it is, at the expense of the ultimate value of the byline.

I think its a matter of more exposure, more writing experience as well as some more extra cash and contacts in the culinary world etc which could help in some of the charity work this guy does.....This would on be the up and up....its going to be done for his newspapers existing and new weekly publications.....It would be a whole different byline...A whole new name for the column etc....Would not affect the current byline....which is a pretty positive column anyway with little negative stuff (by choice) as people dont want to read about what "He" does not like...but what he likes..

I'm not sure you understand the morality or ethics involved here at all. The writer has to make several choices. He can pur himself on a professional pedestal and and refuse to do the hack work. He can choose to do the commerical copy writing as a way of earning a few bucks and polishing his craft by keeping the two jobs as sepately as his conscience will allow or he can prostitute his good name in public. You just can't write advertising copy for restaurants and do restaurant reviews under the same name and maintain any credibility for that byline.

If you think you can sign both columns with one name and the public will understand that one is your opinion and the other is an ad, ask the editor and advertising manager if you can can clearly state "the following advertisement appearing under my name does not reflect my honest assessment of the restaurant" at the head of every advertising column.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I am tending to think that it would be best to use an assumed name/identity to write the advertorial reviews and that would also provide some much needed experience and opportunity. I think that maybe "that guy" might have to keep his byline apart from the other one.....

Moo, Cluck, Oink.....they all taste good!

The Hungry Detective

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