“Blogger Blackmail” Surfaces as a Trend

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Macarons
What is “blogger blackmail?” One blogger demanded about $150 worth of macarons, marshmallows, and other goodies in exchange for a blog post.

How ironic. Last week I wrote a post defending hobby bloggers. This week the subject is “blogger blackmail!”

By now you may have heard about the Twitter thread called #bloggerblackmail. It chronicles, among other things, when food bloggers demand payment in kind for blog posts, including free meals at nice restaurants.

One story that came to a head began when a hobby blogger who writes London restaurant write-ups emailed a bakery and suggested she be “invited to review” their products in exchange for a blog post.

Here’s how things went downhill for the food blogger:

When she got to the bakery, workers offered her tea and a box of eight macarons and marshmallows. The food blogger found this insufficient. Later she wrote on her blog:

“I have a sweet tooth, but I don’t do eight hours of work for an eight piece selection box of macarons and marshmallows. Writing is notoriously badly paid and photography suffers the same, but I value what I produce as worth more than that. On a few occasions, when I already know and like a brand, I’ll write something for very little or nothing at all, but I don’t as standard practice make a habit of spending my free time producing content and marketing a brand for peanuts. Or macarons. 

At this point I said, ‘thank you, but how about a few of the larger selection boxes, one each of macarons, marshmallows, and a third of the miscellaneous items you have’. In monetary terms, that came to about £100, which is about what I expect from a ‘come in to review’ blog post. I have a right to value what I produce at a certain level, and will politely negotiate that.”

Things went awry from there. The restaurant offered only “a couple of hot drinks” after she made her demand. Then the blogger posted a quick ‘n nasty review:

“I bought one macaron and one marshmallow, tasted them and also angry-instagrammed a couple of pictures, noting their flaws. That was a silly thing to do, but I saw red. Those pictures have since been deleted.”

Oh, and then the bakery owner wrote a nasty post calling out the blogger by name, which was almost as inappropriate as the blogger’s behavior.

So, let’s review. What did the blogger do wrong?

  1. She usually gets invited to elaborate meals with drinks in nice restaurants. Approaching a bakery is different, but she thought the same rules applied.
  2. The bakery didn’t understand that she expected £100 of product (more than $150) in exchange for a blog post.
  3. The blogger did not make this clear.
  4. The blogger based the amount on her time writing a post, but did not make that clear either.
  5. The blogger detailed what went wrong on her blog, which opened her up to social media ridicule.

I’m not identifying the blogger because the issue of blogger blackmail is bigger than just her. It’s about what food bloggers expect in exchange for a blog post. Bloggers can value their time however they like, but others may not agree. Moreover, bloggers can damage their reputations by complaining about “what they are entitled to” online.

How do you feel about this story? If you do sponsored posts, was the blogger was justified in assigning a dollar amount? How is what she does different from a sponsored post? Let’s discuss.

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Comments

  1. says

    I think it’s actually pretty simple – if you want to get paid, you need to get hired. You negotiate for pay during the hiring process and then you do your work if you come to a mutually agreeable dollar amount. Just because methods of communication (social media) have opened up doors for more people to publish and share doesn’t mean that basic business practice goes away. I know there is a whole lot of gray area in the bigger discussion of what to charge, when to accept samples, etc etc but in this case, I don’t see much grey. If the bakery didn’t hire the blogger, then no implied contract exists for them to pay said blogger.

    • diannejacob says

      Excellent point that no contract exists. However, there was an implied contract when the bakery said she could come in and sample food. But anyway, to your point about hiring, this blogger goes to restaurants as a hobby and writes advertorial about them on her blog in exchange for a free meal. I assume both parties know what they are doing. In this case they didn’t!

      Re pay, so few opportunities exist to write for pay about restaurants, and hobbyists don’t usually qualify. Hence bloggers who do so for “fun.”

    • Bill L says

      Re: Food Blogger Mehreen And Anges De Sucre’s Patisserie Owner Reshmi Bennett In Online War
      It’s London, and Kensington district where such quid-pro-quo is done in various shops around.
      Many of the lesser “nobility” get dressed that way. But Reshmi Bennett (University College, London (2006), former investment banker) was having none that.
      Good for her.
      This fulfills the ideal world where one pays for things honestly.

      The nonsense that the online, blogging world (Ashley Madison?) is honest and upright needs to be put down, and read with skepticism. Always be guarded and verify by oneself. Any food blog, travel blog etc. is only one person (or a team’s) writings and opinions and a second one is useful.
      See AM, TripAdvisor and so on.
      The world is not as open and honest as it would seem.

  2. says

    I didn’t even know that was a thing. I have to turn down offers for freebies all the time (I don’t do reviews anyway). She sounded like a grifter. Incredibly tacky.

    IMHO, that is.

    • diannejacob says

      Well, restaurants have invited her to dine for free — she has lots of evidence of that on her blog. If they always said no she’d have to find a different way to blog!

      Yes, it’s tacky and unprofessional, but she is not a professional. It’s complicated.

      • says

        I don’t think that it is complicated at all, Dianne. Professional or blogger (and bloggers that get paid for blog posts in money – as it sounds like she might – or goods believe they are professionals and thus should act like professional), this is appalling behavior and unethical. And in no way can one expect any of her “reviews” to be truly honest and objective.

        • diannejacob says

          I’d like to think that food bloggers act professionally in those circumstances, but I don’t think it’s professional to write advertorial on your own blog, 99 percent of the time.

          • says

            I am pretty sure that the person/business paying you in money or goods in exchange for bringing them in new business (via your review, social media shares, etc) considers you a professional. Even if only professional blogger.

        • says

          I agree with Jamie and Aunt Clara. This is appalling (and unethical) behavior. I don’t care if she considers herself a “hobby” blogger or a “professional” blogger. It’s this kind of blogger that gives food blogging a bad reputation.

  3. paula says

    Not being part of the food blog world I had no idea this sort of thing occured. I find it disheartening to think that a person would behave in this way.
    I had always thought that reviews critiques etc were planned ahead of time. All neatly and ethically above board.
    In the end that is pretty much what we are talking about…being ethical in our work and genteel in our manner.

    • diannejacob says

      First of all, this is not a review or a critique. Most bloggers will not ask for lots of free stuff and then write anything critical. I can almost guarantee that it will be a positive write-up. As the bakery owner said, bloggers who don’t like something just don’t say anything at all — which is the way it should be, from her perspective.

      I do spend a lot of time on ethics here on this blog, but as it turns out, not everyone agrees!

  4. says

    I am appalled that any blogger would have the chutzpah to impose themselves on a business and demand goods in exchange for what I assume would only be a positive review if she received what she demanded. It is simply not ethical nor is it honest either way (asking for goods for free in exchange for a so-called review, posting a positive review because she received food and gifts, writing a negative review because she didn’t). I have a difficult time accepting this kind of thing, bloggers who ask for food or trips in exchange for blog posts. We just had 2 lifestyle/travel bloggers staying at the hotel and never asked for a thing – in fact I only learned that they were bloggers as they were leaving as they wanted to ask me a few questions about the hotel for the blog post they would be writing. Class. I truly think – and I may be wrong – but bloggers asking and expecting free things in exchange for a write up on their blog is pretty typically anglo – Americans, British…. but then if businesses accept this kind of thing they must think the pay off is worth it.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing that anecdote, Jamie. I think there are communication errors for sure, as Dianne points out. It’s a classic example of the problems of what happens when people assume. (You know that adage!) But the larger issue, I think, is one of a rampant sense of entitlement. I don’t know for sure, but I am wondering if this blogger is of a certain generation that is afflicted with a sense of entitlement. At the risk of sounding like a “hey you kids, get off my lawn” kind of person, not all bloggers or millenials (my guess) behave this way. In an era when big media companies are cutting back on reviews (another lament of mine), technology has enabled people to fill in that gap. What is the value of, say, a blogger’s opinion versus a crowd-sourced application with reviews such as Yelp or TripAdvisor? Not sure what kind of readership this blogger has, but I wonder.

      • diannejacob says

        I wonder whether business ask for stats from bloggers – whether it even occurs to them? Maybe not the smaller ones. And as for reviews, I firmly believe bloggers are much more comfortable with all-positive advertorial. They’re easier to write than nuanced reviews, and certainly more profitable.

        • Lina says

          This particular blogger was asked for stats, and in the response from the business, the business owner admitted that she only agreed to the blogger’s initial proposition for SEO reasons. Backlinks are very valuable — even from bloggers with very little traffic — and that’s what they are paying for.

    • diannejacob says

      Many travel writers and have done this for years — where hotels, restaurants, etc. host them in exchange for a story — and it is accepted by the industry. They can’t afford the trip otherwise, especially based on what publications pay. There is a quid-pro-quo but hopefully without demands like this blogger made. And business have seen gushing advertorials by food bloggers as a result of this system, which they like. Perhaps businesses also fear saying no, because there might be reprisals.

      • says

        There seems to be a double standard-In the travel writing/blogging world, it’s the norm to get (and even ask for) free trips (and meals, and experiences) in exchange for blog posts and stories – even in large print publications. I know so many writers who justify free trips by selling stories to newspapers and magazines, and plenty of bloggers who make a habit of calling hotels/tourism boards and asking for freebies. And some who ask to be paid hundreds and even thousands just to attend FAM trips – which is sometimes disclosed, sometimes not. (I think it’s typical for print publications not to disclose free trips because it’s assumed the writer didn’t pay for them, no?)

        • diannejacob says

          Definitely, it’s an established thing. That doesn’t make it right, especially when the blogger says her opinions are her own, or when writers try to take advantage. Print publications aren’t required by law to disclose what’s going on, so they don’t.

  5. says

    I have to say that I admire the fact that she asked to be compensated at that level. Too often content is procured for far less, creating a vicious cycle. Businesses and PR agencies lose sight of the cost of promotion and offer a paltry sum—a marshmallow, macaron, promotional tchotchke, or complimentary event admission .

    For me the real problem is that she acted in a manner that seems like revenge. That will bruise her reputation. Clear communication would have settled this transaction professionally.

    That kind of communication should also include the reader. Disclosure of the arrangements between blogger and business is vital for building trust. Personally I balk at buying a review. (I can hear Jay Rayner ranting about this.)

    This piece was in the Globe & Mail recently – about fashion bloggers but the issues are identical:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/fashion-and-beauty/fashion/nathalie-atkinson-fashion-bloggers-arent-disclosing-their-relationships-with-brands-thats-a-problem/article25848031/

    Thanks for the opportunity to discuss Dianne.

    • diannejacob says

      I have to say that a small part of me liked the fact that she valued her work, Deborah, and I was kind of conflicted about it. But in the end it was her entitled approach and lack of transparency that did her in.

      This was in the UK, so I’m not sure what the rules are about disclosure. Even though there are rules about disclosure here in the US, not everyone follows them, of course.

      • says

        I also liked the fact that she recognized that her work had value but the way she went about it? That I did not like. If she had specific requirements, those should have been addressed when she initiated contact. To not be satisfied with what was offered when nothing had been established about an offer was , in a word, nuts.

        Her responsive behavior? Embarrassing and petty to say the least. She’s hurt herself far more than she hurt the establishment; have to wonder how many now have her on their short list of ‘never invite. to events?

  6. says

    This drives me crazy. It happens all the time and is why I rarely pay any attention to blogger reviews unless I personally know the blogger and how they work. Having said that, I know it’s a big struggle for bloggers and brands alike as to where the line between ethical and sketchy lies.

    In my opinion, if you’re going to call something on your blog a “review” then it should be what most people, especially your readers who may not be bloggers, consider a review: an unbiased, fair and useful critique that will help your readers make a decision of whether to buy a product or visit an establishment. You should not be censoring your writing because you were compensated. Once money, or an overabundance of product changes hands it’s not a review and bloggers shouldn’t call it that. If you want to do reviews, shell out the money from your own pocket and write an honest review.

    If you want to be compensated for your time, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But let’s call it what it is: a sponsored post, an advertorial, a recap of your “experience”. But not a review. Once you make the decision to be compensated for your time, you are essentially, becoming a professional. So it’s time to act like one. Don’t make assumptions about what you will get in return for a sponsored post. Outline the agreement clearly in writing with the business BEFORE you go in: you will do abc in exchange for xyz. And then tell your readers how you were compensated so they have that information before they make decisions on the product or service based on your content.

    And as far as hobby goes, I’m a hobby artist. I don’t demand things in exchange for my art. I do it because I love it and it makes me happy. When I wanted to be compensated for being creative, I became a graphic designer and sold my services that way – as a professional, with contracts and invoices. I still make art for myself and for others for no charge because it’s my hobby.

    Having said all of that, both sides in this story behaved pretty badly in how they publicly dealt with situation. Not a shining moment for either side.

    • diannejacob says

      Agreed. I’ve had so many talks with bloggers about true reviewing, and what comes up most often is that they don’t feel qualified to have opinions about food; and secondly, that it’s harder than just black and white — mostly white, as in “I loved it.”

      So what we are talking about here is advertorial, which should be marked as such because it is tied to payment of some kind.

      • says

        I feel advertorials are quite useless and often wonder if people ever read them at all (I surely don’t bother). What are they for? Of course I can’t expect anything short than praise from them, so what’s the use of actually go through all the babble?
        There’s no such thing as a paid (or “compensated”) review: it’s an oxymoron 😉 Even if you are writing for a magazine of some sort and you – apparently – get paid by them, if the reviewed businesses buy ads on the magazine, this is where your pay actually comes from.

  7. Miriam Kresh says

    The blogger needs to get some ethics. During the six years I ran a food blog, I sometimes accepted a free meal, on the understanding that I would give the business a little PR in exchange. That was fair, and everyone understood each other. Luckily, I never faced the dilemma of how to handle a bad food experience in print. Eventually, I stopped accepting those invitations because I felt uncomfortable, as if selling my writing (myself) for a meal. The last invitation of that sort came from an expensive Jerusalem restaurant hosting several bloggers and reporters for dinner. It was just when the news about the deaths of the three kidnapped Israeli boys came out. I couldn’t go and eat and drink of the best in a fine restaurant, while the nation’s heart was breaking. Later I saw photos of the dinner on FB, and all the writers had somber faces; everyone was hurting the same way. I’m glad I stayed home. that night. Now, as a reporter, I may approach a business in order to interview their chef or winemaker, but expect to pay my way if I’m to eat or take a bottle home. Since I’m between blogs, I can’t pay back on my own platform, so I only go if I’ve received the go-ahead from an interested editor and can assure the owner of a published article. If pressed to accept a meal, I order modestly and mention the dishes I ate in the write-up. And I tip according to the value of the meal; the servers aren’t going to profit from my article. This seems like the ethical way to behave. The bottom-feeding behavior of the blogger in question embarrasses me.

    • diannejacob says

      You were selling your writing for a meal, Miriam. Now it sounds like publications are arranging for you to get a free meal? Did I get that right? It’s nice that there’s an intermediary, if so, but it comes down to the same thing: a positive write-up.

      Re invitations to free meals, if I go, I don’t put photos or write about it on social media, because then I would have to disclose, and I don’t want to be that person. Mostly I just don’t go.

  8. denise Vivaldo says

    I can’t believe anyone is surprised by this?!
    Really? Ethics, contracts, professional attitude? Why would a hobbyist be held to that standard? I think some bloggers want to make a living and some bloggers want free stuff. Is that any different from 15 years ago when writers were paid to go on junkets? You didn’t get that free trip and then bash the company that provided it!

    • diannejacob says

      When she limited herself to free meals and drinks at nice restaurants, it’s not surprising. But applying that same amount to a bakery — hey, you don’t need to eat $150 worth of macarons and marshmallows to do a story. It’s just a lot more obvious as to what’s going on.

      And yes, it’s been going on forever, but pre-Internet, fewer people got outed. There was lots of whispering.

  9. Jill Lucas says

    I completely agree about tipping. I’m often invited to blogger events and I’m always surprised how few attendees tip. The serving staff is still working, even with a comp’d meal. I’m also surprised how many people order multiple free bar drinks, not only for themselves but also their guest. I’ve even seen people ask for doggie bags with extra portions. Not cool to take advantage of a generous invitation by squeezing your host for “all you can eat” service.

    • diannejacob says

      There is some assumption that attendees don’t have to pay for anything, I suppose. But these examples do sound greedy.

      On the other hand, there were few bloggers at an event I went to last weekend. The goodie bags were sitting around for a while so people went through them and extracted the only valuable item from each bag. Disgraceful!

  10. says

    I’ve heard of this happening here in Australia, too, where bloggers contact an establishment and ask for free meals/service in exchange for favourable reviews. In most of the cases I’ve heard of the request is refused – but then I guess I wouldn’t know of the ones that aren’t.
    I wonder if some of this attitude isn’t fostered by businesses and PR companies who arrange special blogger menu previews and events to create a buzz, thus courting them and encouraging their complicity – another growing trend here, as far as I can tell. There is an expectation that bloggers will give free advertorial for the price of a meal – very cheap marketing (sometimes on more than the obvious level) in many cases.

  11. says

    Is this news? It’s so common in the travel blogging world (many write about food) … it’s been going on for years. The food-focused travel blogger who contacted a friend who runs food tours in a SE Asian city and asked for free tours for her AND her partner in exchange for a mention in her City Guide post. (My friend said No.). Then she approached me and asked the same. (I said No.) Her City Guide post appears highlighting another food tour, a competitor, in my city, which is known to do freebies for journos and bloggers. The kicker is the disclaimer at the bottom of the post that though she was ‘hosted’ by this resto or that tour company or another hotel, all of her opinions are hers, arrived at independently and uninfluenced by her receipt of said freebies.
    It’s a joke, and infuriating to those of us who run businesses and believe we shouldn’t be asked to provide free services, or shouldn’t be disadvantaged competitively if we decline to provide them.
    I am tempted, in the future, to out anyone who approaches me for a free food tour. I think I will, in fact.

    • Jordan says

      Hi Robyn,

      I am curious as to why you find this so infuriating. I’d imagine when a blogger contacts you, they are looking to form a partnership. In this partnership, he/she would receive a free or discounted tour from you in exchange for writing about your business. If the blogger does their part, you would get a full post about the tour, mentions in city guides, and perhaps recommendations from them when they guest post for other publications or sites. Ideally, it would give you some decent PR online and perhaps bring in some business in the future. Of course, if the blogger is only providing a brief mention (and maybe does not have a lot of traffic) then I can see how it would not be worth it for the business.

      I’m only asking because, as a blogger, I have been on the other end of this. I have worked with food tour companies and they have provided me a tour in exchange for a post detailing the experience and mentions throughout my site. I never approached them with just hopes of getting free services. In my mind, it was a true partnership. They provided me with a tour (which I otherwise may not be able to do financially) and I provided them with some publicity and recommendations (and also back links and SEO credibility).

      I never expect to be offered free services and I would never write poorly or try to hurt a company that couldn’t offer anything. I usually pick a tour based on my interests and then reach out about a potential partnership. Sometimes they say no and I book the tour and write about it anyways. But, some companies are very successful and enjoy working with bloggers and in those cases it is a win-win situation. When I email a company, I often propose a partnership and ask if they would be interested and what would work for them — I’ve had companies offer me multiple free tours, offer to pay me to write for their blog, offer me a small discount, or offer me nothing. Sometimes it is in exchange for a post and sometimes it is no strings attached. I never ask for a specific offer or discount and let the company offer what they feel comfortable with.

      When I travel, I often research food tour options and sometimes find blog reviews to be helpful. These tours are usually quite expensive and blog posts help me make a decision in which tour I want to book. They are usually more extensive and detailed than just a Tripadvisor review.

      I never really found what I was doing to be wrong or unethical but this post and your comments are starting to make me question my practices. I have found my relationships to be true partnerships and I guess it depends on the marketing strategy of each company and tour operator. I would never expect freebies and I have always believed that the work I give in return has been worth the offer I received.

      Looking forward to hearing your feedback! Thanks!

      • diannejacob says

        I’m chiming in here, Jordan. You are saying that you are operating as a public relations person, that your goal is to promote companies. In that case, it’s a conflict of interest to claim that you are also a freelance writer.

        • Jordan says

          Thanks for your reply Dianne. As someone who was not trained in journalism, I find potentially I am uneducated on the proper protocol and ethics. I would never act in a way that I knew was unethical but some of these comments are making me question many of the common blogging practices that I have seen across both food and travel blogs.

          In this case, you are saying that if a blogger accepts a free tour and write a post about it, they are acting as a publicist. I understand that. But you said it would be a conflict of interest for a freelance writer and that’s where I start to get confused. What would the appropriate role and protocol be for a freelance writer?

          I jumped into the writing/blogging world after going to culinary and business school. I’ve tried to educate myself but I’m worried that maybe I don’t have a thorough enough understanding of all the different facets of writing/blogging/journalism and the conflicts of interest and ethics that go along with it. I’m guessing other bloggers are in the same position.

          • diannejacob says

            You’re certainly not alone in this Jordan and I thank you for not getting defensive. The role of a freelance writer is to write about something that interests readers. Readers are not interested in advertorial. See http://diannej.com/2014/its-official-readers-dont-like-sponsored-posts/ for evidence.

            I do have a entire chapter on freelance writing in my book, Will Write for Food. It’s a small investment and maybe it will help you. Perhaps the difference is a question of focus: I find that bloggers who write about free stuff are interested in getting free stuff or having free experiences. They’re interested in rewarding whoever supplied these things as a thank you. Those two interests (themselves and the provider) have little or nothing to do with readers.

            But for a professional writer like myself, readers are everything — the main reason I write. I want to communicate with you, impart valuable information, so I have to know how to convey it in a way that interests you. That means I have to know about you — who you are, what you want to know, how to bring out emotions in you, or questions, or new ways of thinking. To do that I try to be fair and balanced. My loyalty is to you. Without you I would not have an audience or a platform. I depend on you. I need you to trust me. Without your trust, I have nothing.

            Now, if you go back and reread the results of that study, you’ll see that readers don’t trust sponsored posts — posts written because payment or payment in kind has occurred. And why should they? And do you want to be that writer who is not trusted? I sure don’t.

        • Jordan says

          Hi Dianne,
          Thank you for your response. I actually have your book and read it when I became interested in writing last year. It looks like I need to go back and review the freelance writing chapter.

          I completely agree with what you say about trust and I understand how as a professional writer you would never want to do anything to jeopardize your credibility with your audience. True to the findings of your study, I often find myself passing over blogs or specific blog posts that I know are sponsored.

          However, this got me thinking and I will say that there are sponsored posts that I don’t mind and still trust even when I know they are sponsored. Just yesterday, David Lebovitz wrote a post about lunch at The Bristol in Paris. He disclosed both in the body of the post and at the end that he was a guest of The Bristol. I read the post, and since I have so much trust and respect for David, I completely trusted his write up. And yes, it did make me want to dine at The Bristol. Perhaps it’s a matter of balance — the blogger must be trustworthy and only do a limited amount of sponsored posts to maintain credibility.

          Anyways, thank you for answering all of my questions, helping me learn, and pushing me to keep considering the ethics and standards involved in this crazy world of blogging!

          • diannejacob says

            My pleasure Jordan. Yes, I didn’t mind David’s post for exactly the reason you say — I trust him. He’s giving readers a vicarious thrill and it’s still enjoyable to read his post to learn about a meal most of us will never taste, even though it’s paid for in kind.

      • says

        Hi Jordan — I am a tiny little business (I hesitate to even call it that). I run street food tours in Penang to supplement my income as a freelance journalist. I’ve been doing it for over 8 years (I was the first person to start offering culinary excursions in Malaysia) and in Penang, where I moved a little over 4 yrs ago, for about 5. My business is just me, and I offer a specialized product: customized tours backed up by 10 yrs’ worth of writing about Malaysian food and Asian street food for my blog and in international publications like NYT and WSJ.
        I share this info not to impress you but to impress upon you that my little business, which is *very* little indeed, cannot afford to accommodate freebies for bloggers and journalists. A couple yrs after I started others joined the fray here in Penang — relatively larger outfits that employ dozens of people as guides to take visitors around on fixed routes and stick food in their mouths. There is no expertise, no deep knowledge, no local familiarity backing up those tours, but they can afford to provide free tours to writers and bloggers.
        When a blogger or journo approaches me for a free tour (often with a partner) I say ‘no’. I can’t afford the 5+ hours of my time per tour (my tours are private) and the expense of feeding the writer/blogger and their partner (bec everyone wants a free one for their partner too). So they go to one of other companies, get their free tour, and include in story or blog post about Penang that is presented as an authoritative guide to the best of the island but is actually just a guide to what they were able to do and eat and experience, and where they were able to stay, for free.
        My feeling, as a journalist, is that the disclaimer ‘XYZ was provided to me free of charge but of course opinion expressed in this blog post/article is mine’ is verbal gymnastics. If an article or blog post is built ONLY on free experiences/meals/hotel stays you as the blogger or writer are not *really* offering an unbiased guide to ‘the best of’. The fact that only businesses that provided freebies are included biases the guide right off the bat.
        And it penalizes very small businesses like mine that just can’t afford to offer the freebies.
        Bloggers and writers who want me to provide a free tour are not seeking to form a ‘partnership’. They are offering an exchange pure and simple — a free tour for publicity (maybe — some of these posts never appear and sometimes the provider of the free service isn’t even mentioned in the published article!).
        I hate that this is what a lot of travel/food writing and blogging has come to but, c’est la vie.
        Please note that I am not accusing bloggers and writers who do build their careers around complimentary everything of being ‘unethical’. But not everyone does it that way. I am a blogger and a freelancer and I don’t.
        It’s a personal choice. I respect yours but since you asked, I wanted to explain how it affects me as a teeny tiny business.
        Best,
        Robyn

        • Jordan says

          Hi Robyn,

          Thanks so much for your response. I completely understand your position on this and I thank you for challenging me to think more about the ethics involved with blogging and how I work with companies myself.

          Being relatively new to blogging myself, I find it difficult to decipher some of the etiquette involved. Especially in travel blogging, sponsored stays and tours are the norm, and when you see all of the top bloggers doing it, it’s hard not to give it a try yourself. There are even online courses and countless articles out there that teach bloggers how to do it and ‘travel for free.’ I’ll admit I didn’t know it was so looked down upon until reading this post.

          I’ve only worked with a few companies and have done very few sponsored posts. With the food tour companies I mentioned above, I researched and found the best option in my destination. When I approached them, some said yes, some said no and some offered a different option such as a discount or the opportunity to meet for coffee and chat. For the companies that could not offer anything, I still booked with them and will write about them. I don’t think any less of them and will still include them on my blog if the tour is worthwhile. I understand that every business is different and has different strategies and budgets and would never try to harm a business because working with bloggers was not in their plan. I find the best companies and then book them and write about them whether they can offer me something or not.

          To be honest, when I first started approaching companies, I was very vague in my email. I expected companies to offer to promote my post on social media or to send me info to help with my post… or to just ignore me! Instead, many companies offered free tours without me even asking for them.

          I wasn’t aware of bloggers moving from company to company in order to get freebies (although I am not surprised). I personally do not do that but it is good to know about and explains much of the frustration.

          Again, thank you so much for having this conversation with me, Robyn. I learned so much and it was wonderful to get your perspective.

    • diannejacob says

      What’s news is that it got so public, with the bakery outing the blogger, and the blogger trying to justify her actions on her blog. Most of this has been going on under the radar.

      This is a sad story about your tour and the “review.” But your ethics are unassailable, and that’s why someone of your quality writes for the likes of the NY Times, and this other writer does not. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

  12. says

    Interesting. First of all, I believe that if a blogger asks for a freebie, there’s an implied expectation that the review will be good. On the other hand if a bakery (in this case) asks the blogger to review, then there’s an implied expectation of objectivity. I host an online video cooking series called Avi’s Kosher Kitchen. Part of my recipes feature products that are pertinent to the recipe. I don’t review them, I use them and give information about the products. Yes I get compensated. And the arrangements are all made and agrreed uponBEFORE I do anything.

    I also have a personal policy of only using products that I personally believe in and/or like. If I approach a company to use their product, it is because I know that it’s something that is good, that I can work with and that will have benefit to my viewers and fans, to the company, and to me.

    I have also been and continue to be approached by companies to use their products. I have turned down some for various reasons. Some were just bad, some were not tasty and on occasion I felt that the people behind the product were either sleazy or were going to be a pain in the rump roast to work with. That being said, I see no reason to post or say anything negative. I simply don’t use them.

    Bottom line: If you want to be a professional, act like one. Don’t whine and get into pissing matches, move on. If you think you’re worth a certain amount then make an agreement up front. When you go int a restaurant to order, they tell what you’re going to get and how much it will cost. If you’re a blogger chumming for clients, then you do the same. Here’s what I am willing to do, and this is what I need for compensation. Negotiate, agree to it and then do it. Under promise and over deliver. It’s your reputation on the line as well. After all, it the professional thing to do.

    • diannejacob says

      Avi, there are lots of reasons to post and say negative things. Otherwise you sound like a shill, if every single product you mention is fabulous.

      Re asking for a free meal in exchange for advertorial, nothing about that strikes me as professional.

  13. says

    There were chefs and restaurants that jumped onto this blogger blackmail to tell the world that bloggers should be paying thém instead of restaurants paying bloggers = free meals in exchange for coverage. But the ironic thing is that one of these chefs, actually works at a restaurant that is known for inviting bloggers and instagrammers to boost their social media profile. So although I agree that both the blogger and the bakery are in the wrong here, there is a bigger picture that is important to look at. There is an increasing amount of new bloggers out there who are just in it to get free stuff and free meals. This is becoming so obvious that it has become a standard to describe a blogger as someone who is after free stuff (in the UK anyway). Respect for bloggers is dropping. It looks like restaurants are starting to have a love/hate relationship with the whole blogging thing. On the one hand they need bloggers to boost their social media profile which is evermore important, on the other side the loath them for accepting the free meal. Well, we have stumbled upon a problem.
    I get offered watches, free meals, etc. in exchange for coverage on my instagram feed; I do not accept. Even though at times it is hard not to, because I do a creative job (writing + photography + design) and am self employed and this means that sometimes for weeks on end I have to wait for payments from clients coming in leaving me with not much (we have to pay tax on invoices here before we actually often see the money) – or none at all -spending money in my account. At times like that, it is hard not to take the freebie meal, because you can’t actually afford to pay for it. But I don’t. I still don’t.
    What I do accept is visits to producers, because that actually gives me something valuable = knowledge. I go there to learn. If they feed me there, I’m a happy bunny. The products I do feature on my instagram – usually pottery – are payed for by me. I feature them because they too are small businesses like me, and they too often don’t even have the spending money to go out for a nice dinner :-)

    • diannejacob says

      Regula! Thank you so much for alerting me to this story in the first place.

      You’re saying the formula is already established: restaurants host food bloggers, and then food bloggers write advertorial in exchange for a free meal. A new food blogger wants to get in on the action — who doesn’t love being treated like royalty in a nice restaurant, especially if you don’t have much money?

      But like you say, you choose not to participate, and I respect that. Once or twice I’ve been to blogger events at swank restaurants and I have refused to post etc on social media, because they I would have to disclose I’m having a free meal. I felt dirty. I suppose that comes from my journalism background, trained in newspaper ethics. Obviously, other bloggers don’t have this response. They feel something though, because most do not disclose except if they write a post.

  14. says

    The fundamental problem here is that there’s a difference between “hobby blogger” and “professional blogger,” and yet their both just called “blogger.”

    Hobby bloggers can be awesome, or they can be asshats that give all bloggers, both hobbyists and professionals, a bad reputation.

    We’re long overdue for some kind of “Professional Blogger Certification Program” in which bloggers are vetted and certified (licensed?) though some kind of neutral standards body.

    • diannejacob says

      Hah! I’m not sure there’s a difference, Andrew. Professional bloggers also write for payment in kind — or even better, cash — and are more likely to call it a “sponsored post.”

  15. says

    Really interesting post Dianne! And I’m loving reading all the comments.

    I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot lately, and am in the process of rewriting the part of my blog and apps that explains exactly how I stand on these issues. Coming from the world of magazine and book publishing, I’m more than comfortable with the idea of a press trip, especially when it has to do with travel, as long as that is made very clear.

    I do think that there is a bit of a double standard when it comes to accepting freebies from restaurants versus travel. But for me, at least, I think that there should be a different way of approaching this. In my case, I almost never accept a free meal, paying for 99.9% of the meals that I write about on my blog and in my apps. During the very few cases when I do accept a free meal, this is usually from an expensive restaurant that has extended the invitation. And I always disclose this both within the post and at the end. And, even then, if I don’t like the restaurant, I won’t write about it. And make this very clear to the restaurant up front.

    When it comes to travel, especially hotels, I do accept freebies. But since I am not in the business of reviewing hotels ( I just include them in my apps as a listing) I feel ok with this. And again, I’m always clear about it.

    Since I am in the business of reviewing restaurants I would never, ever feel comfortable approaching a restaurant and asking to be invited in exchange for a meal. I think that this is where the blogger you profiled above has it wrong.

    I also think that her posting a negative review after her experience was unforgivable.

    These days I’m finally in a position to consider writing sponsored posts. But not of restaurants, which I somehow would consider a conflict of interests. Instead I’m struggling with the idea of writing sponsored posts about ingredients that I use in my recipes. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go forward with this, but will be very upfront about it, with both the food producers, as well as my readers.

    In the end, though, all this criticism of bloggers is no different really from what goes on in mainstream publishing as well, and always has. There are ethical writers and publications, and then there are articles that are written that are driven by the advertisers interest.

    • diannejacob says

      Very true Elizabeth, that all this does go on in mainstream publishing. There are two main differences though: mainstream publishers are not obligated, at least in the US, to disclose their relationships, but online writers are. Second, in mainstream publishing, advertorial and marketing copy is not written by the editorial staff. There is a division between the departments. But bloggers are one-person operations and do it all.

      Each of us has to decide what is reasonable and ethical. I don’t agree that all mentions of products, services and places should be positive; or that writers who accept free products can be objective. In your case, since you are one of the few who writes an actual review, you definitely cannot approach a restaurant for a free meal. Others say they review but are really writing advertorial in exchange for a freebie. Still if you never say anything negative or in shades of gray, I’m not sure how it’s different from advertorial.

  16. says

    What a conversation! Thank you, Dianne, for opening up this “can of vermicelli” regarding the ethics of giving (to the reader) and taking (as a writer) in relation to any food writing – blog, or not.

    I think about the world of food writing when I joined as food editor at the San Diego Tribune. Previous to my hire in 1982, many newspaper food editors were trained journalists, but not necessarily aware of the ways and tastes of food. OR of recipe testing. Some food editors were chosen at that time because they (usually she) baked a great coffee cake and brought it to the newsroom once in a while…
    The early 80s brought some of us who had trained in France or other places and we could fill large food sections with stories to excite home newspaper readers. The food sections for LATimes and San Diego Tribune were the same huge size compared to today’s sections: chock-a-block with recipes, information and, yes, advertising. While a standard weekly food section could run 32-48 pages, I was actually filling space with stories pulled from the wire, as well as writing a column, a front-page story for the food section, testing recipes at home and familiarizing myself with the food scene in the area. We’re talking 60-hour weeks…at least and it was truly a joy! Did I know anything about the ads that would fill the section? Nope. But, the point is, I didn’t care. That was up to the folks on a totally other floor in the news building. I was writing EDITORIAL stories, not influenced by anything outside my busy food-writing mind. After 6 years of editorial writing about people, food, trends, harvests, new restaurants, I was only able to think in terms of editorial directions regarding my readers:
    I wished to give them:
    -clarity when it came to recipes
    -honesty about the food scene – good and rough
    -openness and an invitation for their ideas and suggestions
    -and the sense of trust – that they knew they could count on my words.

    What I wish to impart here, and what we have discussed openly over the 22 (and-more-to-come-in-2016)-years at the Symposium for Professional Food Writers , is the relationship between the Writer and the Reader. This does not include glowing info based on receiving food samples or trips or other perks. And, should a writer seek out or receive a meal or trip or whatever in exchange for a positive review, that is called ADVERTORIAL writing. To avoid being known as an advertorial writer who panders to companies for samples, etc, the best up-front way to be a CREDIBLE food writer is to at least run a line at the beginning or end of the piece that explains that the writer was the guest of such-and-such cruise line, or whatever the relationship is…

    Dianne, I agree with your statement above that, “…if you want to get paid, you need to get hired. You negotiate for pay during the hiring process and then you do your work if you come to a mutually agreeable dollar amount…”
    Writers I coach and novice writers worry that they will never get paid and they accept a zero amount for writing a story and even submitting a photo.
    There’ s no negotiation in that…We writers are artists, but we are also BUSINESS PERSONS. The more you honor your talent as a writer and learn to negotiate for a fair pay, the more editors will treat food writers as professionals instead of easy marks who merely want their bylines printed.

    The beauty of the writer’s mind, especially a food writer’s mind, is that we care for the reader and choose words to GIVE them worthwhile information for their lives and dreams. We are not takers who seek goodies for ourselves. Read the work of MFK Fisher, of Lynne Rossetto Kasper, of Russ Parsons, or Maureen Abood and of David Leite and the myriad other professionals who share their fascination with food through the written word…they enhance the lives and tables of their readers because their storytelling enhances this tribe of food writers and readers and cooks that we are. Keep writing with clarity, honesty, openness and trust – and your dynamite sense of taste and adventure and your readers will LOVE you.

    If you are a member of IACP, join the Sept. 9 teleforum at noon, EDT, on negotiation to help hone your skills in that arena.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Toni. Those of us who have been around for a while know that this kind of thing was going on before bloggers came on the scene. It just wasn’t discussed much, just whispered about. I look forward to your teleforum.

  17. says

    Thanks for this Dianne. I must have had my head under a rock on Twitter this week. Followed the hashtag and updated myself on the furore. The best in-depth discussion is to be had here on this page. I’ve now been thinking about it a lot and the whole thing makes me feel very uncomfortable as someone who is usually proud to call myself a food blogger.
    This new trend of being motivated to blog because of the free meals it brings you has started to catch on in the UAE. Within our group of food bloggers we have a rule that you must disclose – but outside the group many people don’t (there is not law to say that you must) and the bloggers don’t see this as an issue (some PR companies actually ask for non-disclosure). The whole debate about whether it should be called a review or not is interesting. I think it shouldn’t. As for what readers want – and I think it’s boring as hell to read a glowing post about someone going out for a nice meal – perhaps the authors don’t really care. The blogger involved in #bloggerblackmail has not missed a step in resuming their #delicious rave reviews about eating out (all invited).
    However, returning to the point you made in the comments about what readers want, many people have now built a career through aspirational posts which can only be achieved with food from professional kitchens. Your own readers expect considered, professional, intelligent writing – but if you look at the food media consuming audience as a whole, most seem to desire food porn (for want of a better description) to browse in quantity. A constant stream of invites to restaurants provides the subject matter for this. Look at symmetrybreakfast on instagram as an example.
    I go through phases of accepting invites – usually only if I think there is an interesting angle to write about. I always ask what is expected of me in advance. Thanks Dianne – great debate (would love the blogger involved to dip her toe in!)

    • diannejacob says

      It’s a complicated issue, isn’t it, Sally? You can only go with what feels right to you. It’s unrealistic of me to suggest that no one should ever write about a comped meal, because that’s not the world we live in. Every once in a while, some blogger does a good job of it in a post and I quite enjoy the read. But that is rare.

      Only a tiny fraction of bloggers read this site, so I’m probably preaching to the converted. We can all be appalled, but how to reach the new bloggers about how to behave? That’s a dilemma for you as well.

      Re the blogger herself responding, I don’t think she’s a reader of my blog, and I haven’t linked to her.

  18. says

    I’ve been thinking about this since you posted it, and went to read the two posts by the blogger and the bakery. When the blogger states: “I have a sweet tooth, but I don’t do eight hours of work for an eight piece selection box of macarons and marshmallows,” she’s stating that that’s her compensation for writing about the venue. This is a huge gray area for businesses, and bloggers, which don’t have the rules that magazines, newspaper and traditional media have about taking free items, including meals and trips, so there is no conflict of interest. (That’s not always the case, and even the big news outlets are loosening their rules for writers and journalists.) If you write for a newspaper or magazine, you’re getting paid. Bloggers are compensated for our writing/photography for other reasons; sometimes we get paid by ad impressions, and others want meals, trips, free items, etc. It’s a bit of a wild west and if you’re going to participate, the less-clear you are about your intentions, the more problems you’re going to have. As we all know, if you’re online, you need to stand behind what you write and do because if there is a chance that you will be called out about it, you will be.

    I turn down a good number of pitches to go places, or eat somewhere, because of the implied expectation that I will have to write something. I don’t want to put myself in that position. I will occasionally accept something but only if I think it’ll be interesting to readers, so if a reader asks why I went, I have a clear explanation. As a writer, or publisher, which we are, the end result of what we do is to please and engage readers. And anyone writing online will, invariably, find themselves being held responsible for how we behave in public forums, whether it’s publishing a recipe that someone might not think is authentic, or question our intentions for getting some free treats at a bakery.

    That said, it’s very difficult to write a story and take pictures “on the sly,” so things like press trips get you into places that you normally wouldn’t get into. I sometimes contact business owners to let them know that I’d like to write about them, because I like to take readers in behind-the-scenes. It’s something that I will do because, 1) I can get better pictures if I have access to those places – which benefits me (because I like taking nice photos), my readers, and the venue, and 2) I want to make sure that the bakery or restaurant is aware, and fine, that I am taking snapshots. (Not every place appreciates guests taking pictures. A number of bakeries and shops in Paris forbid it, and I’ve had restaurants tell me they don’t want me to take pictures, even if I explain that I love their place and would be like to feature it on my blog.)

    I’ve gone to places that I’ve made arrangements in advance, where I’ve been given nothing to taste, and have written about them glowingly because I like what they do. And other places, I’ve been given a meal or a pastry, and write about them exactly the same way. It’s nice to taste things as it gives you a better impression of the place, but in the cases where I’m not given anything, I buy a few things on the way out. I don’t write negative reviews because the purpose of my blog is to point out to people where I think they should go, and would enjoy. And I feel if you’re going to write negative things, you should visit multiple times before doing so because you have can severely impact a business by doing so and some places just have a bad day, and I like to give places the benefit of a doubt.

    The bottom line is that if you’re going to accept free things, unless you’re clear from the outset, you are in uncharted territory unless you have an agreement beforehand. Since the blogger didn’t get what was expected, and the bakery got called out by not providing enough samples, both should be more clear in the future if they continue to engage in these kinds of relationships. When visitings places, the blogger should let them know what they are expecting, and the venue should be clear when inviting people to come for a tasting, what will be provided.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks for this long and well-thought out response, David. I was hoping you would respond because you are one of the few who successfully walks the line of sponsored posts, in my opinion.

      I do realize that it is hard to get great photos when you are just another customer, and it often requires getting permission or at least acknowledgement from the restaurant or bakery when it comes to photos. I’m not saying that the only way to go is to be incognito. That’s great if you’re being paid to review, which doesn’t apply to bloggers.

      Let’s face it, though, what bloggers write in return for these free meals are not reviews but thank you puff pieces because they are grateful. No one says anything negative, which affects their credibility and reader interest — all puff pieces all the time are dull. I never suggest trashing a place, but degrees of gray make a read more interesting and realistic. The idea that write-ups are black or white and you can only write white is crazy. A write-up that’s 80 percent positive is not going to cause a restaurant to shutter or to blackball anyone. Even if you’ve only gone once, there must have been things that you didn’t care for.

      What I like about your comped pieces is that you tell a story. It’s about your own experience, filtered by your personality, current events, things that bug you and people in your life. It’s not just a gushing list. I do realize that press trips etc. give you a way to view a place or food that you couldn’t do otherwise (or perhaps are not willing to shell out for). But they roll out the red carpet, which is not what readers will experience if they go. It feels good to be treated like royalty, and readers are living vicariously through you. Still, you have a responsibility to not get carried away and feel entitled to it.

      Re your point that bloggers should let places know what they expect, the blogger did that when she returned. The problem is that it wasn’t a realistic expectation for a bakery. It came across as greedy and naive. Your thoughts on how both sides should be more clear and realistic are well considered.

      • says

        Thanks Dianne. I’ve not done any sponsored posts, in the traditional sense of the word (ie: Someone pays me to write something for, or about, them or their product), but I have been on a few press trips, and had a handful of comped meals. In France, the metric is a little different (and perhaps in other places in Europe) where restaurants and shops are quite reluctant to let you take pictures or even write about them. There are so many places that I would have loved to have written about in the past, to share with readers, but getting access to them was truly a Herculean feat.

        Some food critics for the newspapers in Paris – even the major ones – get their meals comped & one food critic has started off “reviews” of a restaurant with a picture of him with his arm around the chef. François Simon was one of the few critics that dined anonymously and Le Fooding, an organization that profiles and reviews restaurants in Paris, publishes a copy of the check alongside their write-ups, which are generally very positive nonetheless. (Simon no longer works for that newspaper.)

        I do like, and only accept something, if I think there’s a story in it. A very high-profile chef turned his 3-star Michelin place into a mostly vegetarian restaurant, serving well-sourced ingredients. It’s extremely expensive and we were invited to dine there, as were a number of other bloggers and critics. I liked most of it, and wrote about that, and the few things I didn’t love got included too. But I used much of the write-up to talk about how French cuisine is changing and going off in other directions, and chose to focus on that. And I wrote how they could use what their doing to change what’s happening in France in terms of French cuisine, sustainability, and sourcing fresh products , an issue that’s frequently discussed in France and in the int’l media. Someone from the organization who I saw a few months later said they very much appreciated my words and the article, and talked about it within their organization. In that case, they appreciated the good and not-so-good things that I pointed out and appreciated what was a thoughtful discourse on a subject related to my visit there.

        In Europe (or in France), things are a lot more “closed” and getting access to a place is often considered an honor, especially if the chef gives you her or his time. Hence it’s difficult to get access to them, unless you spend the time to build a relationship, which in many cases I do. In the states, I often just walk in or send them a message in advance if I want to feature a place and/or take pictures, and they usually are fine letting me. So I do take advantage (bad word choice, I know…) of invitations on occasion to see how something is being made, like Dijon mustard, French chocolate, or French-made cookware, but fend off about 98% of offers and email pitches I get because I sense there will be some expectation of a post and it’s not worth the hassle.

        I was recently offered a good sum of money to do a post, and since it was a wine company that I thought was important to French culture and cuisine, and something I could tell a story about, I took the “job” – but declined payment, saying I would do it for free because it didn’t feel right to me to get paid to write about the visit. Interestingly, I asked for a bottle of something rather curious that they make (which isn’t expensive, but is hard-to-come by in France as it’s made for an overseas market) because I thought it’d be something my readers would really be interested in, as was I. I didn’t want to say that it’d be great publicity for the product, but they declined to give one to me. Go figure. Perhaps I should have negotiated that! : )

  19. says

    Wow. I am so interested in this topic-I read through the comments twice! Much to learn and digest.

    To answer your question: “…was the blogger was justified in assigning a dollar amount?”

    Sure. Why not ask for pay? But she didn’t do that. She asked for an “invite to review.” And then got mad and ranted online. Poor taste and bad business practice.

    The bigger issue, addressed in your post and comment section, is one of ethics.

    And now I am questioning and conflicted about my own work and practice.

    I don’t monetize my blog (no ads or services), but I am not a hobby blogger either. My blog supports my writing for my forthcoming book(s). And I should mention, it’s not that I don’t want to monetize my blogs, I’m not sure how to do that ethically, and still have time to my writing.

    However, recently, I partnered with an organization in an blog partner advocate program. I am clear in the beginning of each post and at the end of the sponsor. While I believe in this product and campaign, I can see why readers would gloss over or not read.

    But here’s where my conflict comes from: I solicit product for recipe development for my sustainable seafood cookbooks in exchange for marketing the business/fishermen/association. (Only the seafood and not all for all the recipes). I buy all the other ingredients for the recipes. This information is clear in the book in two sections, the recipe itself and a resource section in the back. I sought the product for a specific purpose (it’s sustainability and it’s demographic).

    I’m curious, do other food writers/authors solicit donations for product their cookbooks? Is this considered unethical?

    • diannejacob says

      You have to decide, Maureen: Is the point of your blog and cookbook to promote businesses and fishermen? If so, you are doing p.r. for them for very little money — the cost of a piece of fish. You could make a lot more as a PR person working for them directly. When I was the vp of a pr firm in the 1980s, my billed fee was $175 per hour.

      We are all still struggling in how to make money from a blog directly and ethically. If you do not have big readership, chances are that the money will never add up. Where I make money from the blog is based on the opportunities that come from it. That way I don’t have to get into ethical dilemmas. I do have a few affiliate programs now, but I like that they are expressed as display ads on the side.

      Re asking for product in exchange for naming them in your cookbook, Ina Garten did it with Pottery Barn, probably for an enormous fee. I’m sure she phrased is as an opportunity to reach target customers in a new way. She didn’t exactly disclose it, but it was clear because there were pages and pages of color photos of Pottery Barn products.

  20. Jonathan Gold says

    I realize I sound like a broken record here, but I am, as always appalled. Food writers, whether hobbyists, pro bloggers, freelancers, contract writers, or staffers, should never take free anything, not even a bag of chips. The end result is always compromised.

    • diannejacob says

      I’m not sure they are always focused on the end result, Jonathan.

      For these people, it’s very exciting to get free stuff and be treated like royalty, and it doesn’t seem like too much to write a gushing post afterwards or promote on social media. I’m not sure they’re focused on readers other than attracting them to their blogs with gorgeous photos to boost their page views. They are more concerned with SEO than with how to write a fine piece. Otherwise I would sell lots more copies of Will Write for Food!

  21. says

    As a food blogger with a well known visibility in the Denver, CO area, I get asked to a lot of events along with other media, most notably print, when a restaurant is opening or they are offering a new menu or as was the case last night, a spirits company put on a tasting and sent out invitations. I’ve never felt conflicted about my role but I do make it a point to make sure we all know what that is.

    I am not a restaurant reviewer; I have been asked to attend in hopes of writing an article that highlights the establishment (it’s never required and I just hope I want to say nice things!). I’m not really critically reviewing the meal and I think there is a huge difference. I’m not paid beyond my meal and have never expected that I should be but I also realize that coming into a place with an invitation will give me the luxury of seeing everyone on their best behavior.

    I have a couple of criteria before accepting. First and foremost I have readers to please and my readers expect a recipe so I do ask that one be provided for me of a dish or cocktail that will be served at dinner. I’ll make the recipe, photograph it and provide the recipe in the post that highlights my visit. Secondly the writeup is my decision alone. If I can write a piece that is beneficial to the restaurant I’m good with that but only if I really feel the experience was worthy of mention. I have to admit I’m seldom disappointed so it’s never been hard to do but I don’t go with the eye of a critic which seems to more easily glom onto the negative. I want to provide my readers with a good experience and a good recipe so a detrimental review wouldn’t satisfy anyone.

    Third? I make my own visit; usually just for Happy Hour with friends but to see the place in action in real time; to see if I and my friends find the same level of attention to the food and service as I saw on my visit as their guest. This is not work, it’s simply something I would be doing anyhow with friends but it helps to give me a real perspective and feedback from friends is invaluable.

    The good news? While not renown like David, I have heard repeatedly from local readers how they tried a place that I had visited and loved and how much they enjoyed it too. I’m picky, I want my ‘highlights’ to be not just good for the restaurant but for locals who might dine there too so being bought off in exchange for a good review seems counterproductive to gaining readers trust. Because in the long run, the real beneficiaries should be my readers.

    This might not be something that others could fathom or they might see in a different light but I have to trust my own integrity and keep it in play at all times; I wouldn’t share my experience here if I didn’t feel I’ve answered those questions myself and I’m good with it.

    I have to tell you though, I was part of a local Colorado blogging group on Facebook, primarily mommy bloggers. I was shocked at how they operated, it makes food bloggers look like angels. There was constant chatter among people in the group on how to get freebies. If someone wanted to take their kids to a local entertainment center, they would ask who had a contact there; same went for hotel stays, restaurants, almost anything imaginable! It seemed few ever considered paying their own way without researching how they could do it on an establishment’s dime. It certainly gave me some personal insight into the fact that I’ve heard many local companies can’t stand bloggers. I left the group; clearly we did not share the same view on interacting with local businesses and I was just simply embarrassed!

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