The Lead Up
I’ve been wrestling with a question for some time that arose from a lunch I had with a respected food editor in Kansas City. We were talking about food blogging and my lunch guest mentioned that she was a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ), an association which provides services to food journalists. She told me that AFJ is interested in courting food bloggers since many of us are serious journalists, which I thought was absolutely fantastic.
I would love it if my readers had tangible evidence that when they could come to BlogWellDone.com, they will be treated to content that meet a certain basic level of journalistic integrity. I was ready to sign up right then and there just thinking about me–the journalist. I was also thinking what it would mean for my readers to see my AFJ membership and know that this is a blog that takes journalistic standards seriously.
There’s only one problem. AFJ asks its members to adhere to a very strict code of ethics. The full code of ethics can be found on the AFJ site, but the part that seems most relevant to my inner turmoil is this:
(1) Gifts, favors, free travel or lodging, special treatment or privileges can compromise the integrity and diminish the credibility of food journalists, as well as that of their employers. This includes commercially sponsored contests. Such offers should be avoided. An example is a contest promoting specific food products that is open to food journalists only.
In other words, members of AFJ pay for the meals they review from their own pocket. They do not accept gifts, be it books in the mail, meals from chefs, products to review, etc. In exchange, their readers can be fairly sure that the journalists are being objective and are not being unduly swayed by gifts from a chef, restaurant, producer, etc. I applaud that. I really do.
And Therein Lies the Rub
See, here’s the thing. I do not support my family as a professional blogger. The money I make blogging pays for the website and defrays (though certainly does not eliminate) the cost of ingredients.
The question I have to ask myself is could I afford to keep blogging at the level I do if I had to buy the products I review? Maybe, maybe not. The greater question is if I had to pay for them, could I justify the expense along with the time I already invest that keeps away from my family? I’m thinking no.
The problem, of course, is that to some readers, the fact I don’t pay for the products makes all my reviews at least somewhat suspect. The whole point of paying your own way is to avoid any sort of conflict of interest, which, again, is why I applaud the AFJ for taking the stand that they do. However, I’m just not sure that I could to live up to their code of ethics and maintain BlogWellDone.com’s current quality standards.
My Own Code of Ethics
In my own defense, I do have a code of ethics. Ultimately, I am here to serve you as the reader and I need to keep that in mind.
For instance, that is why you will notice anytime I talk about a product or restaurant, I am fully transparent about what I paid for and what I didn’t. Basically, I’ve decided that a review copy or a review product cannot make me say nice things, all it really it does is prod me to actually reivew that item. Is it perfect? Perhaps not. Is that good enough for my readers? I hope so, but you tell me.
An Open Forum
So now you know where I stand. To recap, I currently accept review copies of books and products. I don’t plan on discontinuing this, even if it means not joining AFJ. Still, I believe in standards and I believe in ethics, but for now, having to pay my way into every food event, track everything that might be construed a gift and pay it back, and turning down review copies and product is not something I can do.
As readers, how do you feel about that? Is it enough for me to openly say I was sent a box or a product or a book rather than paying for it? Does it make a difference on a recipe vs. a product review?
As a food blogger, how do you feel about the AFJ offer? Would you give up all the review copies and product in exchange for membership? Is there a middle ground somewhere? Could the AFJ create a special designation for bloggers (or writers) who don’t support themselves writing about food?
Please weigh in if you have a thought. I’m genuinely curious to know what everyone thinks and I vow to take whatever feedback you give and incorporate it into my editorial policy in the future.