LA Times Says Citizen Reviewers are Food Bloggers Too

Jul 122009
 

imagesI might be in trouble. A friend warned me not to rant on this blog, and I agreed. Now I feel a rant coming on and I can’t stop myself. But just humor me. Wouldn’t this irritate you, if you were a food blogger?

According to the Los Angeles Times, the people who post restaurant reviews on Yelp and Chowhound are food bloggers. So they say in today’s story, about a nasty, unfounded, anonymous tip that appeared on the blog Eater LA, and how “food bloggers” must be held accountable.

The blog on which the offensive item appeared, LA Eater, covers the city’s restaurant, bar, and nightlife scene and relies on tips. There’s even a button on the right that says “Submit a tip.” So back on June 30, some tipster talked smack about the quality of food in a particular restaurant. The editor who reviewed the email should have pressed the Delete key. At the very least, she could have contacted the restaurant for a rebuttal. Instead, she just posted the tip. That’s not blogging, and it’s certainly not journalism. It’s just crap. An apology to the restaurant and readers now appears below the post.

Now, according to the Times, food bloggers need to smarten up. “…As the truism goes,” says the story, ” with great power comes great responsibility. If the Internet has helped democratize discussion and critique, requiring traditional print publications to be more transparent and responsive, then bloggers who comment on or work in opposition to the mainstream media have become its de facto watchmen. What, if any, standards should food bloggers be held to?”

Um, hello? Who are they talking about? First, most food bloggers don’t “work in opposition to the mainstream media.” They provide an alternative. Second, most food bloggers couldn’t care less about commenting on the mainstream media. And third, since when is an anonymous tipster a food blogger?

So food bloggers, I want to hear from you. Are you in the same category as citizen reviewers on websites like Yelp and Chowhound? If not, what is the difference?

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  7 Responses to “LA Times Says Citizen Reviewers are Food Bloggers Too”

  1. I put my name to anything I write. People can comment for the public (I do have to approve of them to weed out ads of the occasional “You suck”) but I don’t screen out those who disagree with me. Furthermore, I take time to write a complete and hopefully fair review. Lastly, I put my contact information on my blog – this has allowed me to develop a dialogue with some restaurants and foster relationships with their cooks or owners (always after the review has gone up, never before).

    In addition, I usually try to research the restaurant in question and its chefs and owners in order to give a full history and accurate appraisal.

    I’m rambling but, yes, there is a difference.

  2. Exactly.

    Meanwhile, a colleague sent me this post about corporate blogs devoted to restaurant reviewing and food. My favorite part: CBS bought Chowhound from CNet for $1.8 billion. Whoa.

    See

    http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2009/07/09/grub-street-goes-national-in-online-food-fight/

  3. Lots of discussion online lately about the ethics of food blogging, not all of it as a result of that recent Eater LA piece that’s gotten so much attention.

    http://foodethics.wordpress.com/the-code/
    http://skyfullofbacon.com/blog/?p=219

    My take? Review sites like Yelp and others allow anyone to quickly sign up with any user id they like and say anything they want. Readers can judge for themselves how credible the reviews are and most everything is taken with a huge grain of salt. There are folks on those sites that build up a good archive of reviews and manage to sock away a bit of credibility, but they are few and far between.

    There are so many different types of bloggers and I believe trying to apply one single code of ethics to all of them is unrealistic. Some blogs (such as, here in Chicago, TimeOut Chicago’s food blog, The Reader’s food blog, Menu Pages, and Chicagoist) are trying to establish themselves as credible news outlets, and, as such, they adhere to a code of ethics similar to reviewers from magazines or newspapers.

    Other blogs are more personal, silly, irreverent, or just plain crazy, and their readers understand this. A restaurant review from a blog like one of these isn’t trying to be an objective, serious review, and is often more about the blogger’s individual personal experience at the restaurant. In my opinion, these sort of bloggers aren’t obliged to adhere to any strict code of ethics.

    The internet has created a sort of “create your own reality” type of world with regard to online writing/journalism, and depending on the type of reality that’s created, different codes of ethics (up to and including a complete absence of ethics) will and should co-exist.

    This situation creates challenges for readers and restaurant owners. Readers will continually be reassessing the credibility and importance that they ascribe to the various reviews they read. Some will be read more for entertainment value than for the information they supply (example: http://www.chicagogluttons.com/). Others will be viewed as more reliable, well-researched, and better informed than the local newspaper restaurant critics. Readers intuitively know this and read accordingly.

    Restaurant Owners need to develop a thicker skin and remember the credo “as long as they’re getting the address and name right, it’s all good”. In this age of instant publishing for all with internet connections, word of mouth takes on a whole new meaning and there’s no way to control who says what regardless of whether it’s fair or not.

    As a chef and restaurateur, one thing I’ve found helpful is to have someone who’s less emotionally-involved (spouse or friend) read the online reviews and filter through them for constructive feedback (of which there is plenty). It’s easy to let a couple sourpusses get you really upset, as we work very hard in the restaurant business and people can be quite harsh from the anonymity of their keyboards, but committed restaurant people will want the information so that they can grow and get better.

    Sorry this got so long-winded. It’s a good subject and there’s a lot there to explore.

  4. As a food blogger…

    No, I don’t post restaurant reviews anywhere. If people contact me privately and ask about restaurants in areas I’m familiar with, I’ll recommend the restaurants I think are good to them but won’t bother mentioning the ones I didn’t like myself. I try to be as objective as possible and so far my acquaintances felt they got the best food when they went to the restaurants I recommended versus standard guides.

    But where did I get my list? Some of the restaurants came off standard guide books or websites with a whole mess of names. Thing is, because I’ve checked them out personally, my list has just gone through a finer sieve so to speak….and since I can recommend a specific list to specific people who I know – of course they’re going to be happier. Standard guides are always a great starting point. ;)

    That said there are restaurants out there that your friends and acquaintances surely don’t deserve to go to because they really are horrible – and there shouldn’t be any restrictions in freedom in being able to spread this kind of information. By horrible I mean – just plain bad overpriced food. Frankly, if the food is excellent, I would overlook the bad service. However I’d warn my friends about the bad service and tell them that this is the case and whether I think the food is good enough reward for enduring the attitude of the waiters….because depending on how much of a food lover your friend is, it can be worth it. But if your friend just likes good service and atmosphere – he’s not going to be happy with this place is he?

    That said, there are always people who have to say something bad about something in every single Internet community and these people enjoy…..saying bad things about anything. You need to learn to filter these people out when you read reviews, because they’re just out there to create controversy and aren’t interested in giving you honest or objective opinions about anything. All they want to do is to start some kind of flaming session about something and maybe sometimes it’s a particular restaurant which may or may not have done anything wrong at all.

    As for restaurants getting upset – why don’t they try and spread positive information via more objective food bloggers (assuming the culprits are really food bloggers) who live in their area, if they think they’ve been hit by some negative reviews instead of trying to curtail freedom of speech? If the criticisms were unwarranted, then this is surely an option. :)

  5. Mainstream media seems to be laboring under the misconception that food bloggers are a negative bunch, but couldn’t be further from the truth. I and many others put their heart and soul into our blogs and don’t just spout off about anything and everything without putting any real thought into the matter. There is a huge distinction between commenters and bloggers, to lump us into the same category is ridiculous. It’s not surprising as real bloggers are all too often considered a threat. Ridiculous.

  6. I agree that the original “tip” was not credible, probably submitted by a disgruntled ex employee. The editorial decision to print it without verification or rebuttal was irresponsible at best.

    I discount any comments submitted anonymously when I read them in other blogs and columns. I print my comments, my reviews, my praise and my rants with my name and contact/site info. I won’t stand behind what I write, why should anyone read me? Like one of the other commenters above, I want to encourage dialogue not the drive by, flaming that so often happens. Gives all of us a bad reputation but really one might be forgiven for expecting higher standards from a blog on the LATimes! If they only hire lazy bloggers that’s on them, plenty of us out here who would do responsible and entertaining work for them. Their readership will sink to that low common denominator.

    I take all the info I get with a grain or a bucket of salt, it gets filtered by the credibility of the source. When CNET refused to print my comment about bad product and worse service from Symantec – it told me all I needed to know about their editorial credibility. All readers and blog followers should do the same. Demand accountability and vote with your clicks!

  7. Hi,
    Interesting, I`ll quote it on my site later.

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