A Boston Globe correspondent stands in the middle of a small room without walls, surrounded by piles of jagged, glass shards. Next to one pile is a medium-sized rock and the correspondent stares at the rock, which she had thrown only moments before. The ramifications had been obvious, yet she made the throw anyway. There are always consequences.
A headline on the front page of the Boston Globe newspaper, the March 7 edition, disturbed me: "Bloggers Eat Free." What sensationalism was this all about? I turned to the article, Eat, Tweet, Blog, and found it was about the Boston Brunchers. I have attended a few of the Boston Bruncher events so I am familiar with the organization and a number of the other bloggers who go to their events. In general, I found the article to be shallow, failing to depict the greater details and scope of the organization. But what most bothered me were the attacks on the integrity of the bloggers for accepting free meals.
Throughout the article, the correspondent made several digs at the bloggers including, "While bona fide reviewers, who taste anonymously and pay for everything, see this as a conflict of interest (what bad things are you likely to say when the meal is free?)" This is insulting on numerous levels, such as not considering bloggers to be "bona fide." In addition, the writer is essentially implying that a blogger will sell their integrity for a measly $30 brunch.
As one of those bloggers, I am deeply offended that anyone would think I would compromise my integrity for such a meager amount. I have spent years honing my craft and believe I possess a very good reputation. My blog even possesses a Code of Ethics with a listing of my Disclosure, Advertising and Sample Policies. The correspondent seems to possess an air of superiority because she is writing for a traditional newspaper, though she also has her own blog, Bistro Broad.
Now return to my initial paragraph for a moment and consider what I am trying to say. To put it more plainly, think about the saying that "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."
The Boston Globe correspondent who penned the Boston Bruncher article is named Kathleen Pierce and I have met her. In fact, I met her back in March 2010 when we both attended a free wine junket to Paso Robles, California. Free airfare, free hotel, free meals, free wine tastings, and more. As a reasonable estimate, each writer probably received benefits worth at least $2000. This really puzzles me. How can the writer who received such a bountiful freebie now complain about a blogger receiving only a $30 brunch? Even if a blogger went to 10 of those brunches, the value of those meals still would not equate to the value of the wine junket.
There is an unjust double standard here, and Kathleen should be ashamed she even raised the issue in her article. Did Kathleen compromise her own integrity when she received that free press trip? If she thinks someone will do so for a $30 brunch, then such a trip must surely have done so to her. Just consider how many $30 brunches it would take to equal a $2000 press trip. How many other freebies has Kathleen accepted during her writing career? Is the Boston Globe aware of the previous Paso Robles trip? Stop throwing stones when you are guilty of accepting far more than a meager brunch.
Bloggers are particularly aware of disclosing any freebies they receive, especially after the FTC rule changes of 2009. Anyone who considers themselves a Journalist should be even more aware of such ethical issues. So it seems logical that Kathleen, who describes herself as a journalist, is aware of those rules yet why did she ignore them on her own blog? If you look at her Paso Robles blog posts, you will see that she failed to disclose the press trip that she took, a clear violation of the FTC rules. And this is the person who is questioning the ethics of the Boston Brunchers. It is very sad to me.
I believe Kathleen Pierce should publicly apologize for questioning the integrity of the Boston Brunchers. I also believe the Boston Globe should offer their own public apology for Kathleen's article. So let us await their response.
For an additional discussion on the ethical issues of this article, please check out Adam Japko's post, Wine Blogger Sample Disclosure Double Standard, a well-written discourse on this matter.
Update (3/15/12): Douglas Most, the Deputy Managing Editor of Features at The Boston Globe emailed me a response to my post. He stated they were unaware of Kathleen's wine trip, but at the time she was not a regular Globe freelancer and had only submitted several freelance pieces. She never wrote about the wine trip for the Globe. He has also spoken to Kathleen, reminding her of the Globe’s freelance policy and that freelancers must avoid all trips, free meals or such which could be or be seen as a conflict of interest. It does not appear that any apology will be forthcoming.