As many of you noticed (and commented) Shuna's most recent post reviewing Range generated a lot of controversy over the ethics of blogging, specifically regarding food journalism. I want to make it clear that as KQED's producer of Bay Area Bites I reviewed and approved her post.
The post generated a strong reaction, with both supportive and critical comments...the most comments ever on a BAB post. What the comments brought up was not whether Range is actually a good or bad restaurant but whether it was ethical for Shuna to review a restaurant where she had applied for a job and had exercised chef privilege to get "special treatment" (i.e. a better reservation); basically, a journalistic conflict of interest. I think some of the commentators assumed she had a free meal on the house and may have been rejected for the job. I thought it was important for her to clarify these gray areas since it was not clear from the post what the story was regarding these issues.
I felt that Shuna was honest about her position and that her "insider" perspective might actually enhance her critique of the food. Others thought differently. Regardless of opinion, this is a good debate on many levels. Jen, our newest blogger, posted the issue on Food Blog S'cool.
Other issues that were brought up:
Do you review a restaurant after visiting it one time and should you review a restaurant when it is in its infancy (before 1 to 3 months have passed)?
To me, the beauty of the blog is that it does not have to follow the strict guidelines of mainstream newspapers and we can exercise some flexibility and get first impressions out quickly. A key factor is being up front about these conditions. Our bloggers need to clarify their position, timing and perspective. Blogging is very much about personal opinion. The opinions expressed by our individual bloggers are not necessarily KQED's opinions, but as an organization, it does need to have guidelines in place to support KQED bloggers.
Some food for thought and comments...
Should blogs follow the same ethical guidelines as mainstream media?
Since this blog is under the umbrella of KQED, do we need to follow journalistic guidelines that other personal blogs don't adhere to?
Our bloggers are a diverse group of food professionals but are not necessarily professional reviewers or journalists. They are not paid for their work, they are volunteers. Do they need to follow the guidelines that professional reviewers abide by or does the nature of the blog call for a more personal perspective?
One commentator posted some good questions:
"I think it would be great if you had an article on the ethics of blogging -- how it's different from 'real' journalism, how it's the same, what needs to happen and what are the goals. Is it a blog if it's under the KQED banner or is it a magazine in blog format? If it's a magazine, is there an editor? What is the editor's role? I'm not saying there are any definite answers but this entry/article really points out the need for the discussion. And it would be interesting.
FWIW, I'm not sure there are any absolutes but having your co-bloggers come on and defend your position adds nothing except point out they are loyal and true, which is nice to know not a news flash."
Interestingly, there was a blogger session last week at the Association of Food Journalists conference that was slated to address some of these ethical issues. On their website they have posted their ethics and food critic guidelines.
However, the guidelines are copyright 2001 (pre-blog) and the AFJ does not acknowledge food blogs as a category in its awards competition, so I am passing these along not as rules that we should necessarily follow, but issues we should discuss.
Some current discussions of Blogger Ethics can be found here:
The cost of ethics: Influence peddling in the blogosphere at USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review
A Bloggers' Code of Ethics at Cyberjournalist.net
Weblog Ethics at Rebecca's Pocket
Here at KQED Interactive we are discussing these issues in our weekly content meetings. Since we are new at establishing ourselves in the blogosphere we are in the process of figuring out our position regarding ethics and guidelines.
I would like to get people's feedback on this issue. I certainly don't want to deter our bloggers from writing critical reviews or insist they adhere to rigid guidelines. I think the freedom of the blog allows us to have more of an edge, and edginess with honesty is a good thing. The blog's reviews are extremely popular-- especially of new establishments--so it is important to arrive at a consensus of approach that we all believe is ethical yet provides the insight and immediacy of the inside scoop.
I look forward to reading your thoughts.