Integrity and credibility are priceless. It’s a critical life lesson and certainly worth contemplating on a cool and quiet Sunday morning. I got up well before sunrise today, and by 7am I was famished. I pulled out some leftover “loose” uncooked longganisa meat from the fridge, put a non-stick pan on the stove with a touch of oil and fried about a cup worth of meat until cooked and broken down into little bits. Next, I added in several cups of day old rice, stirred, added in a few lightly scrambled eggs, stirred again and seasoned with some salt, freshly ground black pepper and a few teaspoons of seriously wicked homemade siling labuyo (native bird’s eye chili) vinegar. Scooped some of the fried rice into a bowl, grabbed a pair or mismatched chopsticks, settled into an chair in the lanai/garden and opened up the newspaper…
When I got to the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, I noted that the cover story (in fact, the entire magazine’s focus for the week) was about Pinoys in the Blogosphere. Several articles about blogging, bloggers, and the blogosphere… Then I started to read Margaux Salcedo’s article which narrates the rather disturbing, but totally believable story of the DARK SIDE of food bloggers who write for compensation; and worse, bloggers who write bad reviews if restaurateurs refuse to buy their “services” (the modern day equivalent of revolutionary taxes as it were). I appreciate Margaux bringing this issue to light and for mentioning marketmanila.com as one of the exceptions to this growing (dare I say) trend… I completely agree that this type of appalling behavior gives blogging a bad name in general…
But there is also a part of me, as I wolfed down the fried rice, that was screaming “I TOLD YOU SO!!!” to no one in particular, but to all internet users in general. So for the benefit of new readers or those who may have missed the first 6 years or so of this blog, let me reiterate a few things:
1. I absolutely positively do NOT accept any money or goods in kind in exchange for a post that I write. I buy and taste or consume 99.9% of the items I have written about. I do not attend PR events, accept free tickets to shows, freebies or promotional items, free meals, food, etc. EXCEPT in very rare instances where people I have already written about, or who insist beyond gracious refusal, that I take a taste of their goods, etc. I used to be able to say I have NEVER accepted a freebie, but these days, I must be completely transparent and say I have taken a bottle of homemade vinegar from Gil Carandang who has been a suki for over 12 years, or a baked good sent in exchange for jam I sent their way, fresh lettuce from a farmer, or pinakbet from Jessica Soho. But in nearly all cases, these were AFTER the fact, and definitely of no significant financial consequence nor would it result in further coverage of the subject at hand. One of the reasons I preferred anonymity in the past is that restaurateurs didn’t send freebies to our table and treat us with kid gloves, or vendors try to get me to taste their goods. It is difficult to say no, but not impossible. Nevertheless, I have probably ended up buying hundreds of items rather than suffer the awkwardness that may arise, but I am pretty certain my standards on this regard are as high as they come almost anywhere on the planet.
2. Many restaurants, PR agencies, homebakers, etc. have asked me to taste and review their goods. I probably get 5 of these emails a week at least. And in all cases, I have declined or ignored such requests.
3. I do not go “out of my way” to try and review a restaurant or product. I blog about what I come across, so this is by no means an exhaustive and comprehensive coverage of the pinoy food scene, just the meanderings and thoughts of a single person.
4. There are no paid advertisements on this blog. I do NOT make any money from the blog whatsoever, with the exception of the repeated mentions of ZUBUCHON and related experiments (that have commercial implications, and are indeed a business), which I have documented over the past 3+ years from the time I experimented with lechons to the time it was featured on an international television program to the time that the crew spearheaded an effort to market it in Cebu.
I have RAILED vehemently against the lack of disclosure, the freebies, paid endorsements, etc. several times over the last several years, sometimes to an occasional outburst of indignation from other writers, press people, PR professionals, advertising folks, and readers of this blog… but my views on these matters have been consistent all along. If you are curious, you may wish to read or re-read these old posts:
Why I Don’t Write For A Newspaper/Magazine & Why I Don’t Accept Any Freebies – Read the discussions in the comments section of that post, they are most interesting…
And for an early situation that I exposed that sounds similar to what Margaux Salcedo described in her article today in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, read in the order given, these posts from two years ago:
SO WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE, IN MY PERSONAL OPINION?
Don’t believe everything you read on the net or any other media for that matter. Use your head, and build your own opinions. Think critically. Be wary of folks who may not be totally objective simply because they HAVE agreed to accept compensation in whatever form in exchange for writing something on their blogs or space. There is a big difference between an opinion and a paid opinion. Search for folks who have, over the years, built a reputation of integrity, independence, objectiveness — in other words, who have credibility. If you want to go further still, eschew or intentionally stop reading folks who you think lack integrity. After all, they make their money based on the popularity of their blogs…
As a blogger, it may be suicidal, but honest nonetheless, to say that I personally believe that food and travel bloggers are FAR MORE CREDIBLE if they SIMPLY DO NOT ACCEPT ANY FREEBIES or COMPENSATION WHATSOEVER from the subjects which they write about. Following defined ethical standards outlined by well-known international newspapers and magazines is a very safe and logical starting point. And DO NOT even attempt to argue that people with less means are exempt from the ethical standards I suggest… I have answered those arguments before in the posts indicated above.
I will go further and state on the record that I think many users of the internet are relatively naive, impressionable and just outright GULLIBLE. So while I hope they all learn to discern the “grain from the chaff” perhaps that is too much to ask given the state of our educational system, so it behooves bloggers with any significant audiences whatsoever to blog responsibly.
Restaurants and purveyors of food should not be cowed by what are now described by some quarters as tantamount to powerful “threats” posed by individual or large groups of bloggers who feel they can create, promote or destroy based on what is written in the internet, or is the more appropriate term the social media? I say fight back! Question if the blogger writes for compensation. Whether they are part of groups that sell their services to known PR agencies. Whether they have asked for freebies from fellow restaurateurs. Build your own lists of credible food blogs and bring balance and sense back into the equation! Readers of food blogs should do the same! On the other hand, restaurateurs who think they can BUY a good review and PAY for positive coverage are also at fault for feeding the animal that has now, in some instances apparently turned beastly. :(
Finally, a few words on “group think” or “mob rule” or whatever you want to call it… but in the past few years on this blog and in my daily dealings I have found increasingly that more folks here and elsewhere ignore basic logic and rationale and instead rely on what the mass public opinion or what I like to refer to as “safety in numbers”. I am generalizing somewhat, but I find sometimes that Pinoys like to be in “groups” and feel protected when there are lots of others of a similar ilk or frame of mind, regardless of whether the discussion is logically framed and conclusions are drawn from facts. This is relevant because in this day and age of the internet, one seems empowered simply because the ability to spread truth or lies has become so easy, aided by the click of a few keys, with little thought to ethics, responsibility or consequences. We all need to step back from this and realize that the internet and more specifically blogging is simply a tool, a wonderful tool for some perhaps, but NOTHING ELSE. It’s when, how, why and what we use this tool for that really counts. And doing that well harks back to desirable and laudable qualities and attributes that have been around for several millenia which include, among others — honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, credibility, etc. Phew! Time for lunch. :)
P.S., Margaux, if you read this, can you email me the name of the PR group, blogger and restaurant referred to in your article? I may try to be responsible most of the time, but a little chismis keeps the juices pumping as well… hahaha. I am kidding, I don’t really want to know and can probably guess at least one or two of those identities… :)