Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rant: Ethics Issues At The Boston Globe?

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.

33 comments:

NP36 said...

That stone should hit its mark for sure. Nice job.

Justin Ide
www.f2percent.com

Jason Phelps said...

Go Richard!

As a Boston Bruncher I was offended as well. I write what I think about experiences, or not at all if I choose. Most people who know me know damn well I'm not gonna say good stuff just cause something is free. I have plenty of posts that prove that. I disclose my freebies when I get them so that I and the business giving me the free stuff can stay on the legal side of the line.

It is pretty sad to see the information you turned up. Another example of traditional media employing people with shady ethics who take shots at others who they are jealous of.

Jason

Eating The Week said...

Nice sleuth work on this one. I'm in agreement that transparency and ethical behavior is required of bloggers, journalists and everything in between.

MC Slim JB said...

The problem is not with clearly professional food bloggers like you, Richard, but free-food-and-drink chasers like The Boston Foodie. If you're not maintaining your anonymity, you will always be subject to the suspicion of pay-for-play, fair or not, thanks to the number of types like that in the game. Keep taking steps to be above-board, like disclosing all comps and being fearlessly honest, and you stand a better chance of maintaining that separation from the freebie-whores and the shills.

Amy said...

Great comments and thank you for the added insight into this issue! I'm also a Boston Bruncher and wrote a post about how I too was saddened that anyone questioned my morals in writing my blog posts and that I did it simply to get free handouts? As a food blogger I do it because I love it. Period.

Anonymous said...

Difference being that bloggers are not journalists? Unless they are affiliated with an credible news source. Your blog was nice and well written, but I doubt it will really effect Kathleen Pierce because she IS a journalist. And you are not.

Renee {Eat.Live.Blog} said...

Thanks for writing this Richard!

I absolutely agree with this being an issue of old media understanding the way new media works. Some old media companies (for instance Harvard Common Press)are doing an amazing job of embracing new media, understanding what it is, and working with it. Others are sadly just trying to fight the trend.

I also think it is amazing that everyone has chosen to simply "forget" that this is the way that PR has always worked. Companies send tons of SWAG to newspapers, magazines, TV stations, etc trying to get mentioned. And when they do, it is almost never mentioned that the item was tested for free. I feel that as bloggers, who (at least most of us) do this for our passion for it, not the paycheck, are much more likely to be honest in our reviews, since there are no political reasons, or monetary reasons, why we shouldn't.

I also just want to say how happy I have been with the Boston blogger community and the way they have really pulled together to support each other in the last few months. THAT is what Boston Brunchers is really about!

Lena H. said...

Wow -- great background work on this!

I definitely felt the article was one-sided and poorly done, particularly after hearing about specific comments that were inaccurately recorded and credited. I never would have imagined that a fellow blogger would have -- or could have -- been behind the piece.

If I write a review for my blog at all -- it's absolutely going to be my honest opinion, the good and bad. As for my Brunchers experiences, I've personally decided to hold off on publishing my post until I have been back to the restaurant or provider and had at least one separate experience. This is just my personal preference because usually I'm too busy chatting, laughing, and generally enjoying myself that I know I'm not taking enough photos or notes about my meal to write an accurate review.

It's so disappointing to find out that the writer behind the article wasn't as transparent as the majority of the implied free-loading bloggers I have become friends with through these events. It should be no question who I have more respect for at this point.

Wine Harlots said...

Nice work, Rich.

It's not that the ethics questions shouldn't be asked -- hell, every time we meet we end up discussing ethics, but the way the article was presented was a cheap-shot. (But the food bloggers didn't really help -- the comments were insipid, and the photo they used looked like high school girls at a pot-luck feeding frenzy).

Here's the comment I made on Boston Globe website:

"The Emperor has no clothes.

It’s a bit hypocritical for the Boston Globe correspondent, Kathleen Pierce, to call out Boston food writers for their lack of ethics, where it appears Ms. Pierce used the same modus operandi of excepting free meals and press junkets (while at the same time, failing to disclose this information as required by Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255). Richard Auffrey from the website Passionate Foodie talks about Ms. Pierce’s own ethical dilemma here: http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/2012/03/rant-ethics-issues-at-boston-globe.html

It’s common knowledge that many newspapers and glossy magazines demand their meals to be comped. In this era of declining ad revenues, it’s understandable, but to call the kettle black when you’re using the same techniques? You’re a hypocrite.

And for the newspapers, such as the New York Times, who have legendary ethics policies, even they do an end-run around their guidelines. They may forbid their staff writers accepting all-expenses-paid press trips on the one hand, but then will pay for a story from a freelance correspondent who went on a complementary excursion.

Transparency leads to credibility. But if you live in glass houses, you should put down the stone, and make sure your house is in order before you begin calling out others for shoddy housekeeping."

Nannette Eaton
Wine Harlots

MC Slim JB said...

PR may attempt to sway old-media pros with freebies, but pros will either disclose the fact or (like myself) simply refuse them.

Wine Harlots said...

Nice work, Rich.
It's not that the ethics questions shouldn't be asked -- hell, every time we meet we end up discussing ethics, but the way the article was presented was a cheap-shot. (But the food bloggers didn't really help -- the comments were insipid, and the photo they used looked like high school girls at a pot-luck feeding frenzy).

Here's the comment I made on Boston Globe website:

"The Emperor has no clothes.

It’s a bit hypocritical for the Boston Globe correspondent, Kathleen Pierce, to call out Boston food writers for their lack of ethics, where it appears Ms. Pierce used the same modus operandi of excepting free meals and press junkets (while at the same time, failing to disclose this information as required by Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255). Richard Auffrey from the website Passionate Foodie talks about Ms. Pierce’s own ethical dilemma here: http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/2012/03/rant-ethics-issues-at-boston-globe.html

It’s common knowledge that many newspapers and glossy magazines demand their meals to be comped. In this era of declining ad revenues, it’s understandable, but to call the kettle black when you’re using the same techniques? You’re a hypocrite.

And for the newspapers, such as the New York Times, who have legendary ethics policies, even they do an end-run around their guidelines. They may forbid their staff writers accepting all-expenses-paid press trips on the one hand, but then will pay for a story from a freelance correspondent who went on a complementary excursion.

Transparency leads to credibility. But if you live in glass houses, you should put down the stone, and make sure your house is in order before you begin calling out others for shoddy housekeeping."

Nannette Eaton
Wine Harlots

Wine Harlots said...

Nice work, Rich.
It's not that the ethics questions shouldn't be asked -- hell, every time we meet we end up discussing ethics, but the way the article was presented was a cheap-shot. (But the food bloggers didn't really help -- the comments were insipid, and the photo they used looked like high school girls at a pot-luck feeding frenzy).

Here's the comment I made on Boston Globe website:

"The Emperor has no clothes.

It’s a bit hypocritical for the Boston Globe correspondent, Kathleen Pierce, to call out Boston food writers for their lack of ethics, where it appears Ms. Pierce used the same modus operandi of excepting free meals and press junkets (while at the same time, failing to disclose this information as required by Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255). Richard Auffrey from the website Passionate Foodie talks about Ms. Pierce’s own ethical dilemma here: http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/2012/03/rant-ethics-issues-at-boston-globe.html

It’s common knowledge that many newspapers and glossy magazines demand their meals to be comped. In this era of declining ad revenues, it’s understandable, but to call the kettle black when you’re using the same techniques? You’re a hypocrite.

And for the newspapers, such as the New York Times, who have legendary ethics policies, even they do an end-run around their guidelines. They may forbid their staff writers accepting all-expenses-paid press trips on the one hand, but then will pay for a story from a freelance correspondent who went on a complementary excursion.

Transparency leads to credibility. But if you live in glass houses, you should put down the stone, and make sure your house is in order before you begin calling out others for shoddy housekeeping."

Nannette Eaton

Richard Auffrey said...

Anonymous:
First, being a journalist does not mean someone is immune to ethical violations. We have all seen journalists from places like the NY Times caught in significant ethical violations.

Second, some bloggers are journalists, and they don't have to be associated with a new agency. The definition involves far more than just the vehicle one uses for their writing.

Third, this blog is only one output for my writing. I have also written for newspapers and magazines. Guess by your definition that makes me a journalist too.

(Why is it that the negative commentors usually are anonymous?"

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks for all the positive support! And glad to see all of the comments.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi MC Slim JB:
I do agree that there are bloggers and other writers who are in it for the freebies. But over generalizing about a large group of bloggers, like the Boston Brunchers, was wrong for Kathleen to do, especially considering her past actions. I think the public is often wise enough to determine who and who is not merely a shill. And I encourage all bloggers to follow a code of ethics, so that their actions are transparent and above board. Take care.

Chez Us said...

Standing tall on my soap box and applauding you, "BRAVO"! Written with class and professionalism.

People should not throw stones when living in a glass house. I have heard so many "professionals" complain about the same such topic but then they accept "many" freebies. Practice what you preach people!

Great read.

Jacqueline Church said...

I'm shocked by the vitriol directed by the old school "I'm a JOURNALIST not a BLOGGER" types. A free brunch did not kill print journalism. The failure to adapt did. They still struggle with a model that works for newspapers and magazines and instead of looking at the big picture. It IS a new world. Some bloggers stink, some are quite good. Some are, gasp!, even ethical. Transparency is more important than ever. Even publishers who claim to support good talent and vie for good content don't pay a decent wage for work. No easy answers but to target bloggers with mean spirited comments about their weight or their attire is not adding anything positive to the discourse.

Elina (Healthy and Sane) said...

Wow, I finally read the article after seeing your blog post (had it on my todo list for a while...) - so ridiculous! She had all of these examples of honest reviews - including bad ones - and yet her conclusion was still kind of shady. Did she not enjoy the food herself? What is wrong with saying nice things about a place you love - in your media of choice?

Adam Japko said...

Rich, we should sick the FTC on her and the Globe to demonstrate why they should rescind their distinction between bloggers and traditional journalists. Both media formats influence audience...why would it ever be ok to get away with non disclosure in one vs. the other? BTW, thanks for the mention and link!

Jason Phelps said...

Hey Anonymous, did you choose to stay hidden because you didn't want anyone to address your nonsensical statements by name?

Sad that you didn't do what Richard did, your homework. If you had you might have learned about the author and where his work can be found. Not just a blogger, although at that he is one of the best.

Better luck next time!

Jason

JC said...

As an "outsider", I'm not a blogger, nor a journalist, I was put off when I found out the Boston Bruncher meals are comped. And, I knew before the article in the Globe. Personally, I feel uncomfortable reading the blogs because of that. Just my opinion. What would be the big deal if you all paid for your meals? I understand you're not going incognito, and you'll get extra treats. However, I think I would value your reviews. It's not just about disclosure. I have read a number of the BB's blogs, and anything negative was pretty minor. Bottom line, I don't think you're going to bite the hand...

Michelle Collins said...

This is a great post, Richard. I actually knew Kathleen back when we were both working the Nashua/Lowell scene, so I was surprised by the way she positioned this particular article. While I was excited that the Brunchers were getting some exposure, I was disappointed by the negative spin in her piece. There are many locally-owned restaurants here in Boston that the Brunchers have supported, reviewed, and given well-deserved exposure to. In addition to the reviews being honest and well-written by the Brunchers, they're also helping to support the local community. It's unfortunate that was not addressed in her article.

Harry said...

Silly blogger! Those standards are only for the little people and vermin such as bloggers. They certainly do not apply to the important work of established pillars of the media, such as the NYT and it’s crazy Irish Aunt, the Boston Globe. How foolish you are to expect the important people keep the same standards they expect from you!

Kara said...

Did the Boston Globe pull that "Eat, Tweet, Blog" article? It's not loading for me. (Or maybe you need subscription to read?)

Sharlene said...

JC- one of the reason bloggers don't always pay for their meals is that they can't afford to. Newspapers have budgets to pay their writers to eat and in order for writers to be prolific and educated, they need to eat often. I am sure you know just how expensive eating ou frequently can be. Fun fact- numerous magazines and tv shows that you love and trust receive endless loads of free crap and don't have to disclose. The rules for bloggers should be extended across the board. Disclosure is not just good practice for bloggers...

Karon said...

As a print and online writer, including blogs, I take offense to anyone claiming to be a journalist just because he or she works at a newspaper. I have worked full=time for a newspaper and continue to freelance for newspapers, and I have seen MANY staff writers who were NOT journalists. It's not WHO you write for, but WHAT you write. Quality, well-written articles and reviews are not published only in newspapers; they are found across the Internet.

Jess said...

I am not a Boston Bruncher but was also surprised at the tone of the Globe article. I'm glad you called the author out on her comments. I just wrote a comment on one of your track back articles that my family has a close friend who was a food critic for a major newspaper for years. His only qualification was that he knew people in the industry and he liked food. "Real" journalists aren't usually food critics- they're out covering news. I think the she's a bit misguided on that score. The tone of the article to me was that of someone who feels threatened in their job security. If that's the case, I feel sorry for her but she should still print a retraction or apology.

The Boston Foodie said...

As much as I love to be singled out, I have to say that I don't think I know a single blogger, personally, who does not have a transparency statement of some kind on their blog or who does not regularly declare comps, as required by law. Anyone that has actually read my blog would know that a comp drink, appetizer or meal absolutely does not buy you a rave review. We call them as we see them. To Ms. or Mr. MC (since we don't know), if talking with Harold McGee about Science and Cooking at Harvard, interviewing a young ex-convict who found redemption through food or researching cutting-edge cooking techniques makes me a shill then a proud shill I am. A shill with a journalism degree, no less. When you take yourself too seriously then all the fun goes out of it. We're having fun as print is just trying to stay above water. Thank YOU Richard!

Jana said...

Whatever the case, I'm psyched to have found Boston Foodies Blog and am pleased to read your commentary Richard. What I like most about food blogs are the photos. A review is nice but a picture says it all.

To those who think that a 4 year degree makes them superior to bloggers, get a grip. I've met many food bloggers who are chemists, executives and even PhDs. Journalists haven't cornered the market on education.

I don't personally care whether people write good or bad reviews. It's a community of people from all walks of life who who get together and enjoy food. Really, no controversy here Globe.

Anti Money Laundering said...

Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.

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