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Food blogging ethics: The continuing discussion

July 10, 2009 |  6:07 pm

Meatgrinder Some saw it as the mainstream media taking potshots at blogs. Others saw it as part of the blogosphere's long-deserved comeuppance. Regardless, Wednesday's food blogging ethics story has generated some interesting responses.

While some thought the Eater LA/Must wine bar brouhaha exemplified the lack of accountability in the blogosphere, others saw it as a case study in online accountability. Wandering Chopsticks wrote via Twitter: "Printing that tip was so obviously wrong that people called them out on it. Market regulates itself. No official code needed."

It’s not that only blogs have to worry about these issues, it's just that traditional print publications have been around a lot longer and have policies to address these concerns. But as the line between old and new media grows murkier, so do the standards.

Jenn Garbee, a well-known local food writer and blogger who freelances for the L.A. Times and contributes to Eat: Los Angeles, wrote in to say: "In the past year, it's been increasingly disturbing to see the ethics values become even murkier not only in the blog world, but also in the print world. I get a lot of "huhs?" when I remind folks that I cannot take a comp for the LA Times. That's not new. But what is new is this response now surprises a lot of PR folks and even other freelancers; it didn't surprise anyone as recently as a year ago. That disturbs me. Yes, there is little to no pay in the blog world, but that doesn't mean you can toss ethics out the window. Heck, there's little pay in the freelance newspaper world these days. It just means you have to diversify more, but diversify ethically."

Almost no one is suggesting that food bloggers should adhere to the same standards as restaurant critics at newspapers. That would be absurd and impractical. And bloggers will bristle at any attempt to impose a uniform set of ethics, whether it's from a government entity or self-appointed ethics watchdogs. As Pat Saperstein of Eating L.A. pointed out on yesterday morning's Air Talk on KPCC, "blog" is a word that describes so many different kinds of writing that no one standard fits all.  

So it boils down to this: Blogging about anything, but especially food, is a highly subjective and personal experience. People should be transparent about their ethics policies. People should be fair when reviewing. People should be thoughtful about what they publish. But if they aren't, no one can do much about it. It's up to users to be skeptical when reading.

-- Elina Shatkin

Photo credit: Randi Lynn Beach / For The Times