Food Blog Code of Ethics 2.0

In just a few short years since food blogging became an established sub-group of the blogging world, an online community of mavericks blazed a path through the wild west of online food writing. Trend setting men and women like Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes, David Lebovitz, Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim, and Shauna Ahern of Gluten Free Girl pioneered an entirely new way of looking at and documenting their experience with the food.

Their work began simply. With time, however, they began to innovate, create, and establish the groundwork for an entire genre. Thanks to their early efforts, where there was once nothing but desert, there grew whole communities of food obsessed artists, consumers, and everything in between.

Recognizing the need for modernization, newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times brought food reporting online. Magazines added internet features. Media sites like Serious Eats and Eater popped up as impromptu news sources and gossip columns.  Businesses that recognized the financial potential of harnessing the power of public opinion, they created online reviewing sites like Citysearch and Yelp.

The internet was the New World and in short time it was colonized with innovative new food writers, food photographers and stylists, online reviewers, gossips, and opinionated commenters. Innovation begat breakthroughs. In very little time the once small community of “food bloggers” multiplied at great speed.

And yet, there was very little talk about responsibility.

The Food Blog Code of Ethics

Back in early 2009, in a little corner booth at a Los Angeles restaurant, my friend Leah Greenstein and I—two food writers and restaurant professionals—discussed our observation of a disturbing trend within the restaurant community. Inside the kitchens and dining rooms of restaurants across the country, owners, chefs, and service professionals seem to have a mounting distrust of anyone calling themselves a food blogger. We recognized that the restaurant professionals’ swelling dislike of the online food blogging community was due in part to reckless and irresponsible conduct from people who published their views and opinions online. Yelpers wrote reviews with the intention of destroying businesses. Bloggers used their websites as a threat to do harm to restaurants or a business’ reputation.

Leah and I were frightened of what seemed to be coming: an inevitable war between a lawless group of online publishers and the establishment (restaurant professionals, food reviewers, and the law). Rather than be damaged by the reckless acts of others, Leah and I set out to write our own set of guiding principles that carved out a path on the higher ground of ethics. We hoped our manifesto would inspire us and perhaps others, to think about the power and responsibilities of online publishing on a daily basis.

Turns out, our manifesto did get a lot of people talking (and arguing). It spread through the internet like wildfire across an open prairie. Along the way we might have gotten a little scorched, but the positive results outweighed the challenges.

Soon after, the FTC stepped in to represent the first arm of the US Law. The Federal Trade Commission threatened suit against businesses that failed to reveal their financial dealings with influential online publishers. Suddenly, blogs, websites, and even profit-driven media sites began disclosing corporate sponsorships and posting their own code of ethics. Food blogging conference halls buzzed with people having heated debates over the limits of language to protect them from being prosecuted, ridiculed, or devalued for not disclosing freebies, trips, samples, give aways, and other gifts.

In many ways, the Wild West of the food blogging world began to seem a little more civil.

That is, until the mavericks became online celebrities. That’s when the trolls arrived. Hate-mongering individuals who spewed spiteful comments and emails from false accounts began popping up all across the internet.

Then Twitter came along. Twitter opened up whole new territories like a speeding train through the early gold mining towns of the Wild West. Those who did not have time to blog, had time for Tweets. Suddenly, anyone with a thought about food or restaurants could express themselves with lightening fast results. As the speed of everything online increased, the attention to responsibility and accountability dwindled.  Who had time to think about the responsibilities of what they had to say? It was just 140 characters. How much trouble could they get in?

Friends, I see before us another turning point. Though the Wild West of the blogosphere may look a lot less untamed than it once was, many of its inhabitants are still feral.

No matter how much a person might say they don’t have to play by anyone’s rules, one thing is clear: No one is above the law.  It doesn’t matter if you are a commenter, a blogger, a Twitter star, or even an editor of a gossip rag, eventually you will be held accountable for your actions. Courts and government agencies are building cases against the uncivilized. We are expected to be civil.  We should take it upon ourselves to be responsible, accountable, and honorable before someone takes that right to self-govern away from us.

Consider this, if you create anything that goes online, you have power.  If you have power, you have responsibility.

So, in hopes up giving the original Food Blog Code of Ethics a bit of a sprucing up, Leah and I got together to make it a little bit more contemporary (and short).

Please swing by the Food Blog Code of Ethics 2.0 to see if the code we wrote works for you.

Today I am moderating a panel at the Western Foodservice and Hospitality Expo with Brad Metzger of Brad Metzger Restaurant Solutions, to speak about the relationship between online food writers and chefs. If you happen to live in (or near) San Diego, please come by and join in on the conversation.

SIGN UP FOR EMAIL UPDATES

Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

foodbuzz logo

Recent Posts

Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

22 Comments

  1. August 28
    Reply

    Nice bit of history on ethics in food blogging. Thanks for sharing this!–and for being a trendsetter for responsibility.

  2. August 28
    Reply

    Excellent thoughts on food blogging ethics -thanks for sharing

  3. August 29
    Reply

    oh, Brooke, you go girl! Without giving up your home, your blog – now is your time to be writing for a big publication. You deserve to be paid for each and every word you write on this page! Thanks for this!

  4. Love this post. Thank you for taking out the time to help write the Code of Ethics. I like that the updated code is clear and concise.

    • August 29
      Reply

      Thanks Carrie! I’m glad you like the brevity of it!

  5. August 29
    Reply

    Strikes me blogging years are like cat years – one equals seven in normal human years!

  6. Really interesting post. I was noticing all of the twitter trolls this past weekend and it really felt like a new world order to me… things are really changing.

  7. This is wonderful Brooke and so very, very needed. Sadly, those who probably most need to read this probably won’t, but fortunately they are in the minority!

    I know the conference will be a resounding success!!

  8. August 30
    Reply

    loving 2.0! great job guys. A perfect update that really shows how the online world has changed over the last couple of years. Has it really been two years? holy cow.

    • August 31
      Reply

      I know, time sure flies doesn’t it? Kinda scary. Thanks for coming by and giving the new FBCE 2.0 a thumbs up!

  9. John Eddy
    September 2
    Reply

    ” Courts and government agencies are building cases against the uncivilized. We are expected to be civil.”

    Could you cite these cases? Give an example? And, to be fair, I’m not looking for things that are actually illegal, such as death threats, but simple incivility. An example where the courts or government give one whit about whether or not I’m *rude* to you.

    The Freedom of Speech is specifically in place to protect impolite speech. No one cares about polite speech.

    And just so I’m ENTIRELY responsible for my actions, I’m putting my real name on this comment and I’m @jaydeflix on twitter.

    Oh, and ‘spread like wildfire through the internet’? Seriously? No. It spread like wildfire through the food blogging community. I’d wager most of the Internet hasn’t heard about it.

    • September 2
      Reply

      John,
      Thank you for your comment. I disagree with your point, I think a lot of people care about accountability, civility, and ethics within the blogging world. Maybe it’s more correct to say you don’t care about polite speech. And that’s your choice. Your freedom. I appreciate your accountability in leaving your name.

      Beyond the FBI investigating threats, there are plenty of legal battles occurring within the blogging world. Here are a few I found through a quick internet search: this and this site that lists legal suits against bloggers.

      I don’t have a meter that tells me what percentage of the internet heard about the Food Blog Code of Ethics back in 2009, but what I do know is that some well respected media sites like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, UK Guardian, Columbia Journalism Review and National Public Radio all spoke about our manifesto. I really don’t care in knowing the exact number of people who heard about this Food Blog Code of Ethics. What I care about is that it got a lot of people thinking about ethics in online publishing.

  10. September 2
    Reply

    How is it possible that there are so few comments on this post?

    Thank you, Brooke, for writing this. I think accountability has been on a lot of our minds lately. Well-linked and well done.

  11. September 2
    Reply

    P.S. I’m sure you know how much I love the fact that you used Statler & Waldorf to start things off.

  12. I applaud you for writing on this topic but your manifesto really speaks to just common courtesy and integrity doesn’t it? I fear Nancy hit the nail on the head with her comments.

    I have a long history in this field…long before any of the parties you cite above. I have been putting recipes online since 1995 and I’ve seen the changes of the past few years with great dismay. What used to be an arena with websites where people shared their recipes ‘for the love of the game’ became a whole different thing once money entered into the equation.

    I recently was invited to an event as a guest, with the ‘hope’ that I would blog about my experience, although it was not required. Still, I accepted because I felt the event was a positive one promoting Colorado, the state where I live, and I knew before I went that I would love it and anticipated that my posts would be easy to write. They were…the event, the city, the food…everything was fabulous and I said so in three different posts.

    Not so much the majority of my peers; mostly food critics from different Denver periodicals or websites and one mommy blogger. They missed events because they were drunk (and tweeted about it!), didn’t find the time to interview the celebrity chefs we were given access to and went about their merry way without much sense of reciprocity. In truth…they basically wrangled a free vacation without a care in the world about obligation. I was and remain…what? Amazed? Sadly…not as much as I would have liked to have been because I’ve heard about this rampant abuse of privilege in other situations. I think the only word that truly applies is disgusted. I even felt a GREATER sense of obligation to somehow prove I was not taking advantage; that I recognized that in accepting this assignment that I had a measure of accountability.

    I guess that’s the trifecta for me. Courtesy, integrity and accountability. Even some of those people in this for a long time could stand to revisit those standards!

  13. September 3
    Reply

    You go girl! And I’m right there with you Michael, love the video! (BTW your link on the Yelp users trying to destroy restaurants doesn’t work).

  14. Brooke, while you have touched on many important points in the ethics of food blogging. I fear you have left others untouched. Have you given any thought to the ethics of developing relationships within the blogging community and the inherent sophomoric: you follow me on twitter but maybe I don’t want to waste a follow back on you? Between strangers, totally understandable. Between so-called blogging ‘friends,’ just mean. Something to think about. Nancy

  15. Alois Larc
    September 21
    Reply

    Great article about ethics. I belive that every one that write something should be responsible for their words. Sadly the anonimity of the internet makes people brave an tell things that other way they would not tell.

    Restaurants have to understand the new game a culture where the brand name is nor any more in control of the company and use social media to build better customer relationships and a great prestige, instead of being worry about their online reputation.

    Cheers from México

  16. What a wonderful and informative post Brooke! It is pretty amazing how much of a sub-culture food blogging has become.

  17. October 6
    Reply

    Great post, great manifesto, great conversation….blogging, texting, tweeting allow the writer a perceived veil of anonymity. I find that people will say/write things online that they would never dream of saying to a person face to face. You are correct, it is uncivil, and irresponsible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *