Ethics

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about two reviewers from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate accepting trips etc. from winemakers.  One reviewer “vacationed and enjoyed lavish social dinners in the company of wine importers whose wines he reviews.”  It raises some interesting ethical questions.  I think the potential for abuse is especially ripe in the blogosphere.  After all who knows where bloggers are coming from? I’ve mulled over what I would do.  The closest I came is that I was offered a free bottle of wine from a local winery after one of my reviews.  I didn’t accept it,but I thought about what would happen if I was offered a free meal or something like that.

So far this is all just speculation.  Fred’s been looking to sell out for years, but nobody has been buying!

Link to the article here.

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4 Comments

Filed under Reading, Restaurant Reviews

4 responses to “Ethics

  1. Funny you mention this- I have been thinking about this also. As a blogger about local food I sometimes get offered stuff and I have decided to turn it down as a rule; though it seems innocuous at the time I feel like it’s a slippery slope.

    • fredfood

      I’ve really not had to deal with this issue, but I have thought about it. Certainly if you got something for free I think you need to disclose it up front. Even with disclosure I’m worried about the more subtle effect on any reviews. I’m basically a polite person and would hate to hurt the feelings of someone who is nice to me.

  2. It’s a super-sticky issue, and one I’m always feeling my way around. I do get offered things fairly regularly, especially since I am known to bring media coverage, foodies and my personal friends and family along to the places I love best.

    I do try to disclose any freebies. Most of the time it’s something along the lines of getting an extra course sent out from the kitchen or a top-up of my champagne flute.

    I depend on some people to give me free samples, or I won’t be able to write about them at all. The FNP has mostly stopped reimbursing these sorts of expenses for freelancers. When I wrote about the candy canes and chocolates at Zoe’s Chocolates or the cheeses at Cherry Glen, it was pretty much a given that the Tsoukatos family and Wayne and Diane would be giving me some of their goods to sample. Bryan Voltaggio fed me some snacks when I wrote about the process of putting together Volt. Christine gave me sushi when I covered her Sushi 101 class. Nezih and his company paid for me to attend the wine dinner at Isabella’s, and the Maryland Resto Assn paid for me to come to their annual awards gala. Many of the people I wrote about had directly asked me or my editor for coverage–and if you are asking for coverage, it’s assumed that you’re going to comp the writer. It’s a legitimate PR expense.

    I no longer am writing straight restaurant reviews because the FNP is not sending freelancers for these stories, and they’ve capped reimbursement rates well below the cost of most fine dining establishments. A feature is different from a review. I would not pretend to be an anonymous consumer advocate reviewer in text while schmoozing the chef and accepting freebies when actually at a restaurant.

    I usually reject any freebie I am dead certain I will not enjoy. I reject any freebie that I think is putting out the donor. I don’t guarantee positive coverage in exchange for a freebie.

    I cannot afford to write about food without accepting something along the way. I am on a super-tight budget. My husband teaches for a public university, my catering business is small, and our investments are in the crapper along with everybody else’s. I don’t accept that I can only write about something if I can afford to pony up for it 100% myself. However, I don’t call around making demands or anything–no John Mariani faxes dictating the proper way to make my favorite cocktails here. I accept whatever comes gratefully. And I do try to say so when I write something about the experience.

  3. fredfood

    Rochelle- great comments. I don’t think anyone expects everyone to be anonymous and pay their own way 100% of the time. I also think a good writer distinguishes between a feature type article/post and a pure critical review and resists blurring the two. Anyone who has really thought about this wouldn’t expect a writer for a feature type article to pay their own way. As I have developed I have come to believe that pure review articles are of less relevance to people than features although there is always a class of people that for whatever reason (inexperience, insecurity?) want you to tell them what is good. In my opinion it’s more effective just to tell people what is out there, what it is like and let them decide. After all there is such diversity in palates that unless you truly know the how your palate matches up to the reviewer’s tastes, it’s kind of worthless.
    PS My spouse teaches at a state university as well.

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