Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

[Opinion] The importance of transparency in blogging

Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve kept up with the Twitter storm that has followed tweets from chefs Gaz Smith (Michaels of Mount Merrion) and Garret Byrne (of Michelin-starred Campagne in Kilkenny). No matter which side of the fence you are on, this debate has revealed some ugly sides to the world of food and travel blogging. 

It is claimed that a blogger contacted Campagne seeking a free meal in return for blog and social media coverage. On the surface, it appears gauche and self-entitled on the part of the blogger. But on the other hand, it was a business offer that Garret could either accept or refuse, and refuse he did. 

As a blogger, I’ve always tried to feature restaurants and venues that I feel deserve to be shared. As a result, I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve written a strongly critical review. I’ve obviously eaten in many restaurants where the best thing was the exit, but I’ve rarely chosen to feature those spots. 

I do also have a secondary reason for not writing negative reviews and that is because I feared the potential backlash following a negative review. The threat (real or self-imposed) of whispers and calls of “Who does she think she is? She’s only a blogger, she doesn’t know anything, what right does she have to critique us?” have deterred me. As a blogger, I don’t have the weight of an established newspaper or editorial section behind me. It’s just me, my opinions and the words that I write.

Looking back, I’ve been blogging now for 9 years, and I think it’s now time to firmly state that I am mostly a restaurant reviewer and critic. I am hesitant to claim the profession of critic, given that using that title implies a certain amount of acquired knowledge and ability to discern good from bad. We trust critics in the weekend newspapers to give us the low down on restaurants, we trust them to guide us when making decisions on where to spend our hard earned cash. So I hope you can see why I am reluctant to declare myself as such. 

But the truth is that I do know a lot about eating out. I’ve built up that experience up over the years by exploring the world of dining in Ireland and wherever I travel. I have a decent palate and I’ve invested in my wine education. Am I being pretentious and escalating myself above my blogger station by stating that I’m a critic and reviewer? Perhaps and at this point, some readers will probably say that I should wind my neck back in. 

Part of the reason we trust critics is that their reviews are perceived as being independent. I pay for every single meal that I review, and I also pay for all those that I don’t review. This allows me to state that I too am independent. My reviews may be influenced by the reasons I have outlined above, but they are most certainly not influenced by money or a free meal. 

I am occasionally offered free meals by PR agencies or restaurants in return for a blog post, but all such offers are politely declined. Over time, I’ve perfected my thanks but no thanks response. It is flattering that they feel I have the reach or influence to help them, but in my opinion paid-for-coverage is just not as trustworthy as independent coverage. 

What is not clear from the snippet of email shown to us on Twitter is if the blogger would disclose the free nature of their meal to their readers. I personally believe that all reviews or coverage generated in return for payment (either cash or benefit in kind as was the case in the Campagne request) need to be clearly disclosed. It’s the only way that the reader can have confidence and trust in the writer or publication. 

Being self-funded and independent is not possible for every blogger and furthermore we also need to understand that blogging is a genuine business and career for many writers. This means that content will be written in return for payment of some kind and this is fine in my book. But doing so absolutely requires full disclosure and transparency. Anything less is doing your readers a disservice. And after all, we would not be writing except for our readers.
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