Friday, March 5, 2010

The ethics of food writing.

Coincidentally, three weeks ago I started a Gastronommy draft about my disapproval towards today's so-called "foodies," Food Network whores, the crappy saturated food blogosphere across the globe (maybe mine included!), and picky eaters who have decided to eliminate entire food groups from their diet for exasperating reasons.

Two weeks later, I pick up an issue of TimeOutHK sitting on my colleague's desk in our Duke's Group office.  I flip through and notice a review on TBLS and generally approve, as the writer and I seem to be on the same page about that restaurant.  Later I see a column by the same writer about food bloggers.  I found the article relevant to my original post and was actually going to link to it, not realizing who exactly she was referring to in her anecdotes.  A week later, some minor silliness unravels in the digital world... as you may have noticed from my previous entry.

I've decided to copy and paste my comments on that previous entry here along with some additions.  I don't know if I'm going to post my draft from three weeks ago anymore, since half of it is now covered below.  But we'll see.

Quote from my comment in previous entry (slightly edited):
On topic, what's interesting to note is that after my post on TBLS on Feb 3, linked my entry quite a number of times, including directly to TimeOutHK. One week later, a review of TBLS by TimeOutHK AND their  "Bloggers shouldn't be allowed to blog" column.  Hmm....
--Just forming theories and insinuations. ;)
(I'm joking, guys... half joking anyway)

What's funny is that the writer of this article and the dyslexic FoodInsider don't seem to realize is that I actually agree for the most part with her Blogger-hate attitude and food journalism ethics.   Particularly her categories of food blogs:
"Many blogs fall into one of three categories: the ego-driven nobody who power-trips with his iPhone, writing negative, knee-jerk reviews if they are not fawned over at restaurants; the “I took my mom to ____ and we liked ____ very much” variety; or the worst of the breed, the marketing spiel disguised as a personal blog."  

Some writers are elitist when it comes to dining and food writing.  But I'm very cool with that.  As dear friends and family already know, admittedly I too am elitist about those who choose to label themselves foodies.

 I can't stand wannabe food writers who blog about food, simply because they eat.  They don't research or understand how to completely appreciate food or all of the hard work that may have gone into the establishment.  I also can't stand lazy food journalists (rampant in HK for that matter), who nag restaurants for free tastings and end up taking one or two bites, before taking advantage of the free alcohol and copy+paste press releases.  From personal experience, I've seen certain HK food writers parade into Duke's Burger and our other establishments literally saying to our staff, "Don't you know who I am?"  In an IDEAL world, I expect established food journalists around the globe to follow the New York Times' standards: at least 3 visits, stay anonymous, try as many items as possible on the menu, research, and get the facts right.  Additionally, editors should not be influenced by their advertisers.  I've also personally experienced advertisement salesmen of well-known publications in Hong Kong who have made promises to influence their editors to write about our various restaurants if I chose to advertise with them.  These things happen.  That's life.

Where the writer of this article and I divide (besides the writer's nonsense victoria-hidden-identity-bullshit) is her inability to get with real life and understand how media is edging towards the digital, whether we like it or not; that restaurants giving free tastings to bloggers is all part of the marketing and PR scheme. The common blogger, regardless of their writing quality, integrity or intentions, have some power. At the end of the day, restaurants are a business.. and the common restaurant patron often uses the internet as their first source of food-research.

This TimeOutHK writer and others need to accept that reality and work with it before they get left behind. If she truly cares about the ethics of food writing in the blogosphere, perhaps she should stop with the petty gossip and should instead be using her journalism power towards making movements to standardize laws or regulations, similar to the US Federal Trade Commission's new regulation on requiring consumer-driven blogs to state when an article is actually an advertorial or based on complimentary products and services.

As for this statement in the TimeOutHK column:
"The last category is harder to spot if you don’t do the due diligence. Some of the most respected food bloggers keep their identities hidden for anonymity, but if you cover the food beat, then you’ll know instantly which ones are blood relatives of people running various restaurant groups."

First, I'm going to completely ignore the part about anonymity as it is completely irrelevant to me (see previous entry notes on this, if you want to be updated on the story).  I will be completely straightforward and say that I speculate that this writer either has a grudge against me or she's simply deluded if she still believes her original accusation.  The bizarre accusation being that I am hiding my identity, hiding my affiliation with Duke's Group, hiding my relationship to my father (owner of Duke's Group), hiding my affiliation with Gastronommy, and thus she implies Gastronommy is being used for ulterior motives.  From what I know of her writing, background, education, and mutual friends, she originally struck me as a relatively aware and logical human being.  Her accusations and implications about me on her Twitter are surprisingly irresponsible and quite disappointing. As a journalist, she should get her facts right.  As a person, she should show some grace and admit the error. ...but I digress.

So let me ask you guys this, unless the industry-related blogger is using his/her blog as an advertising platform or other gray-area means, isn't it to be expected that the individual has a keen interest on the topic as a hobby as well?  Is it really that surprising if someone who grew up in a vineyard to end up blogging about wine?  Is it wrong?  If anything, I'm personally interested in food blogs written by waiters, chefs, line-cooks, restaurateurs, baristas, cashiers, farmers, doorbitches etc as it gives another perspective and insight I otherwise might not have realized.

A second question:
Should non-paid bloggers of any genre, be expected to uphold the same responsibilities as a paid journalist?  Is it fair to demand that they always include proper disclosure, honesty and research?

Out of personal values and integrity, even with Gastronommy being purely a casual personal hobby-blog, I hold myself to the same responsibility.  However, I'm quite torn about expecting the same from the thousands upon thousands of other bloggers in the world.  Hobby-blogs are a personal matter, so I feel self-righteously demanding the same is not my place.  I figure the quality blogs (or the entertaining gag-worthy cheap blogs) will rise and the rest will naturally fade into the shadows.

I shall leave you with my sleepy late night thoughts.  Thanks for reading.


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