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April 13, 2011

Disclosure

Any Shenanigans Here? Dominic Armato

  DISCLOSURE: If, say, I visited because an invitation was extended by the restaurant, or they attempted to comp a portion of my meal, or I'm a regular visitor and have gotten pretty chummy with the head chef, this is where you'll hear about it.  

Like that little green box there? It's new. Let me explain.

Last week, Eric of Eric Eats Out, in his monthly column over at Desert Living Today, vented a little of his frustration over the ethics (or lack thereof) of food blogging. Whenever this topic comes up, I'm of two minds. My first instinct is to feel that no matter how legitimate and honorable, it's a pointless discussion. Some bloggers are honest, some aren't, and they'll either earn people's trust or they won't, no matter how many rules we outline or how much we discuss the subject (many and a lot, respectively). But on the other hand, it IS an important topic. Vitally important, in fact, even if I wonder whether the discussion actually has any concrete effect other than to allow us a little time to navel-gaze (we're good at that). For the purposes of this post, I don't want to go too far down that rabbit hole, but for me it's always come down to two things. Be open, and be honest. That's it. If you wear disguises, carry credit cards with aliases and visit a restaurant no fewer than seven times before writing about it, great. If you cozy up with the owners, accept freebies and always call to let them know you're coming, that's great too. Just let the readers know. They're not idiots. Given a little context, they can decide whether or to what degree it will color their reading of a post. Just tell the truth and have a hair trigger when it comes to disclosure.

Which brings me back to the little green box at the top of the post.

To be abundantly clear, though this is a change in format, there's zero change in policy. I haven't been holding out on you up until now. Quite the contrary, I've always made a very conscious effort to disclose, on the rare occasion when it happens, any context that I think is material to somebody's reading of the post. I've noted when I visited a restaurant with staff who knew in advance I'd probably be writing about it. I've noted when I have some personal connection to the place I'm writing about. Though I'm not going all Ruth Reichl and taking pains to keep myself anonymous (Google me... not happening), I've always tried to point out any instance where I had reason to believe a little extra attention might have been focused on my plate, or anytime I might be subject to a certain degree of subconscious personal bias. But just because I think this is so important, and because I don't like ambiguity when it comes to this sort of thing, I've decided to make my disclosures sort of official-ish. They won't just be worked into the text of the piece, and they won't be buried in italics at the bottom of the post (though they never were). Rather, if there's something about my visit I think you should know for ethical reasons, from here on out it's going to be right there at the top in a bright green box. It probably won't be too often. Historically speaking, there's been little that merited such a note, and after 5+ years of this I have no intention of suddenly hopping on the sweet, sweet food blogging gravy train and going all pay for play on you. But on the occasions when I think there's something you ought to know, it'll be clean, clear, concise, and right up front. And it doesn't even look too bad.

Comments

Quid pro quo, Clarice... I tell you things, you feed me things.

I could never be a food blogger, because I would sell out instantly. And cheaply. Even at my IT job, the second anyone brings me a cookie, I'll drop whatever large client I'm working on to help them organize their bookmarks. I have no self control.

hmm... D,
the green box isn't showing up on Firefox.

And lol at Indy George... that's funny! (I got an invite to "Rolling Stone Restaurant" this week, no joke, it's actually not a pop-up restaurant -- http://la.eater.com/archives/2010/12/08/two_floors_of_fun_at_rolling_stone_restaurant_and_lounge.php " -- and much like George above, I freakin' said yes.)

Kudos to Skillet Doux. Thinking I shall integrate this same feature upon blog redesign.

Remember, maybe a year ago, someone proposed making this kind of disclosure mandatory for blogs of various types. "Microsoft sent me a trial copy of this software, and here's my review, and I get to keep the software." I think that effort died after some serious freedom of speech issues, but I applaud your interest in disclosing the comped glass of wine or whatever if it makes you feel less smarmy when it happens.

This is a pretty oblique piece you've written here, SkilletDoux. I understand the text, but taken together with the scattered thoughts of EricEatsOut covering the same topical and geographical territory, I smell a mystery. Eric's big fat commercial for the FTC in his column sticks out like a white flag made from his holey underwear. It reads as if he had received a Summons to Appear and needed to type out something exculpatory to bring the judge praising the regime.

Now as for your green box/inset. Hey, it's your blog, it's fine, but it doesn't seem like you. While it's not ugly, it ain't pretty, and Mark Twain would fold this information into the body of his writing as local color. (Haven't you before?)

So it's down to this: Has Phoenix been raided by the feds?
=======================moving on....

Since shop talk underlies your post, I will take this opportunity to humbly suggest that your restaurant reviews always feature the menu price for the tasted courses. Prices are the compass to understanding ingredients and the (mis)handling of them. It also clues the reader in on how fine or unfortunate a "(just)Good" rating is depending on price. $8-12? I'll try it. $21-30? DISASTER!

Thus you blog features would be:
Good writing....CHECK!
Photo illus.....CHECK!
Taste-O-visioN....X...
Price Info......CHECK!

(Just a thought. Everything else is groovy. Carry on.)

That disclosure would have been really helpful in your post on Andreoli.

SinoSoul... This is why I should never launch anything at 3:00 AM. Thanks for the heads up. I'll get that cleaned up pronto.

Anon Man... I think it was made mandatory by the FTC, at least as far as comps are concerned. Frankly, I didn't pay close attention because they weren't talking about anything I wasn't doing as a matter of habit anyway.

bryanD... While I appreciate your dedication to reading between the lines, there's nothing there :-) Well, not for me at least. I can't speak for Eric. I had been considering it already, then Eric wrote his piece, and now there's a restaurant I want to write about (hopefully tomorrow) that I think should have a little note. So the combination of the three in rapid succession brought me to conclude that it's a good time to just do it. I know it's overkill, but I just like to err on the side of being overly up front with such things. And I agree, it isn't as elegant as simply working it in. But it's so rare that there's something that bears mentioning, I figured it was a good tradeoff. Plus, I kind of like it as a personal deterrent. It's okay on occasion, but don't make a habit of putting yourself in that situation... that kind of thing.

Thank you for your disclosure. I have nothing against freebies, as long as there is transparency along with it. Now if only out elected officials would put a little green box next to their vote on any given issue... ;-)

I dig this. Bloggers have to work extra hard to gain the trust of their readers (versus say, the New York Times food critics), and what you've done is made everything as transparent as possible.

This is how it should be done, and I applaud you for being as transparent as possible. And hey, it looks pretty nifty, if I do say so myself.

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