My Five Cents: Discussing the Difference Between a Blogger and a Journalist

Tuesday, I wrote a post warning restaurants to “just say no” to people who introduce themselves as food writers and expect a free meal for a write up of their restaurant. I thought the “conversation” that took place in the comments section was, for the most part, an intelligent sharing of thoughts between readers, bloggers, restaurateurs, and anonymous commenters. Yesterday, I received phone calls and emails from people across the industry. At the end of the day I realized we have an ugly can of worms swarming around Dallas and I think it’s time we start to clarify some issues and try to make peace.

On the subject of free meals to bloggers: I received emails from PR people ratting on restaurateurs and emails from restaurateurs ratting on PR people. PR people say it’s the restaurants fault; restaurant owners blame the PR people for not vetting bloggers. My five cents? Restaurateurs, if you want to give away free food to any blogger that is your prerogative. I agree that people who are paid to bring business to a restaurant need to do a better job of bringing qualified bloggers to the table. And that means learning how to say no.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon this blog post. The author of the piece that appeared on the blog for PR Newswire is Victoria Harres. Ms. Harres is Director of Audience Development at PR Newswire, the main voice behind @PRNewswire, social media lead for @Business4Better, and a frequent speaker and writer on social media for business.

She writes a report on a monthly meeting organized by the Social Media Club of Dallas. The event “Bloggers: Truth, Lies & How to Work with Them” consisted of a panel of local bloggers and a room full of PR people. The discussion was to help clarify the air on what bloggers would like from PR people and vice versa.

I read Harres’ report at least ten times and I followed  links to the bloggers sites. What I found is this: Nobody has defined the difference between a blogger and a journalist, nobody really understands the FTC guidelines for bloggers, and many bloggers feel that they are entitled to respect and special treatment because they do it for passion. Two restaurateurs told me yesterday that they were “talked down to” because they failed to recognize several local bloggers and give them special treatment.

Let’s break it down.

The panel at the Social Media Club of Dallas meeting included technology blogger Pelpina Trip (@Pelpina), mommy blogger Holly Homer (@TexasHolly), lifestyle and photography blogger Amy Locurto (@livinglocurto), and food blogger Rachel Pinn (@Foodbitch). The conversation was moderated by Cynthia Smoot, who was an ad rep at D Magazine (D CEO) before she moved over to Gangway Advertising. She also writes a lifestyle blog, OhSoCynthia, where she chronicles “Dallas’ hottest events and coolest people.”

Smoot tells the audience that her time as a blogger is valuable. So the “fabulous pair of boots she was recently given for covering a fashion event” is justified. Holly Homer claims her passion to write should be paid for because she has a day job and is not privy to her “expenses being paid for by a media company.” She claims “we are bloggers not journalists.” Bingo, baby. That is why there are now FTC guidelines for bloggers.

I left a comment on Harres’ post about the FTC guidelines. Sarah Skerik, vice president of social media for PR Newswire responded:

Thanks for reading the blog and the comment! Actually FTC regulations was discussed during the panel. It’s something that all are very aware of and know to disclose.

Her note was followed by one by Harres:

The bloggers quoted in our recap appear to be fully aware of and in compliance with FTC guideliness — see @OhSoCynthia’s editorial policy, and @TexasHolly’s disclosure.

I visited their sites and I went back and read the guidelines. They are not in compliance and are open to being fined by the FTC.

Food writer Dianne Jacob cut through the technical writing of the guidelines and offers this assessment. Here are some snippets:

1.The FTC can fine both the blogger and the company for not disclosing an arrangement where the company compensates the blogger for a review, positive mention, or sponsored post. According to the FTC, compensation happens when you:

  • Receive a free product and review it
  • Link to the product’s website and receive a commission (called an affiliate program)
  • Receive money, product or services for posting about a product
  • Review a product or service that comes from an advertiser on your site.

2. The definition of “disclosure” is more specific. It’s not enough to make a general disclosure on your About page anymore. The discloser must be contained in the post itself. “So long as the disclosure clearly and conspicuously conveys to the reader the relationship between the blogger and the advertiser, the disclosure will be adequate,” states the article. That means you can write something as simple as, “Company ABC gave me this product to review” and you’re done.

So Smoot and Holler’s disclosure pages are not within the guidelines.

I have one more observation to make about what I learned from visiting new, for me, food blogs. We have a problem with entitlement. Smoot writes:

“I do not charge to attend an event, but I do ask that you place me on your media list and waive any admission fee in return for my attendance and possible editorial coverage.  Please note that my attendance does not guarantee editorial coverage on this website. I do not promote events in advance unless they are sponsored (paid posts) nor do I publish about events I did not attend.”

“What you (and I am talking to you, PR people) also need to understand, is that I am not a journalist. I am a blogger. BIG DIFFERENCE. The words I write are my thoughts and opinions. They are not bound by any industry code of ethics or fact-checked by an intern.  I will not be calling any publicist to ask for permission to publish something.  If you or your client put out information through Twitter, Facebook, or any public online platform, it is fair game for me to use and repost.”

Holy cow, so thoughts and opinions don’t apply to journalists? Interesting. And arrogant.

Harres’ post also contains complaints from the panel. They are upset by being referred to as Dear Blogger and are upset by PR people who don’t take the time to read their blogs before barraging them with emails that don’t pertain to what they write about.

Dear Bloggers, welcome to the club. Journalists get emails addressed to Dear Editor, Dear Technical Consultant, Dear Fashion Expert…I could go on all day. You should be happy you’re in the loop at all. Pelpina Tripp pleads with PR pros to “do their research. Don’t send her pitches if you’ve never seen her work and don’t know what interests her audience” and “If you don’t bother to check out my blog why should I care about your pitch?”

Then tell me why I should care about your blog if you are writing only positive reports on things you have not paid for? Who are you serving? Better yet, who are you promoting?

 

UPDATE: Cynthia Smoot discussesbloggers vs journalists.

 

 

 

 

71 comments on “My Five Cents: Discussing the Difference Between a Blogger and a Journalist

  1. @justablogger, you and your blogging breatheran are just scum. You have the “entire industry” against you. Unlike bloggers, the good folks at Dmag ensure that no restaurant ever fails;-). These people just don’t get it. The action of one individual is obviously how every blogger behaves. It almost seems like JTT and his buddies would like their non “VIP” bothers to keep their idiotic views to themselves. Surely no self respecting person would rely on a site like Yelp for reviews/opinions because what would we non “VIP” types know about informing others of our opinions on food and service. Every single poor review on Yelp was the result of a non comped meal or denied ultimatum. A crappy meal or service cannot be had in Dallas.

  2. JTT, it’s sad that your experience with bloggers has led you to these conclusions, but I will respectfully bow out since nothing I say can change those past experiences. Maybe one of these days my wife and I will stumble upon your restaurant, and if we love your food, we’ll tell everyone about it. That’s just what we do. Thank you for the enlightening conversation and I hope you have a wonderful evening.

  3. First of all, thanks to Nancy for bringing to our attention an issue that has obviously struck a nerve with a wide range of people. The incident at Sevy’s demonstrates blogging at its rudest, but a blanket statement against all bloggers is off base as well. I can’t tell you how many great bbq places I’ve been to because of Mr. Vaughn, who before he became well known, was just a guy logging thousands of miles covering the state in search of a food that got him out of bed in the morning. All on his own dime.

    Do sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor serve a purpose, having common folks give their unprofessional opinions on dining, hotel, etc. opinions for a given region? Absolutely. Are these sites subject to corruption, with false reviews submitted by competitors, disgruntled former employees and their ilk? You betcha. It’s buyer beware with blogs, and the readers are the buyers.

    I think many blogs started out being the therapy of laid off workers, housewives/househusbands and similarly bored types that just wanted to be a voice in the wilderness. “I exist!” they cry out, and they do. For better or worse. But I think it’s time the Greater Dallas Restaurant Assoc. got together and decided how best to handle this and published a blanket policy. I, for one, would hate to see a good restaurant close just because a crabby blogger was denied free grub and posted a scathing review as retribution.

  4. @ the guy if a restaurant closes because of ” a crabby blogger” was denied free food.. it prob has no business staying afloat in the first place. Your “VIPs” and patrons will support good value, food, and service regardless of social media or reviews.

  5. NN’s “blanket” statement was 97% accurate. It’s like calling the Park Cities rich. I’m sure there are some middle-class people there, maybe 3%. I’ve never met one, but that’s okay. I’m a grumpy, cynical, ornery curmudgeon so I’m prone to gross generalizations.

    There are good bloggers. It’s just rare, like 3% rare.

    Vaughn is different because he is an actual self-educated EXPERT. Truly, I did not know there was thatmuch poetry about meat. In fact, he developed an entire dictionary/vocabulary to speak about bbq. (However, I do think a few of his posts are tainted. There are a few raving posts about some joints that are just plain bad. It’s not good food, but since he got a personalized tour (and probably some free food) he gave them a glowing review. It’s not perfect.) I don’t think Foodbitch, ohsocynthia, whatever, none of them are experts by any stretch, whatsoever. And yes, I agree, that blogging started as a way to vent. But it’s a little narcissistic. Like being a reality TV star. I also don’t watch the Kardashians, so I’m just not with the times. I can’t accept the new social media world.

    Problem with “commoners”:
    My last 12 or so Yelp reviews have been awful because “common” people think their budget-focused opinion is an accurate depiction of my restaurant. If your entire bill consists of Happy Hour snacks, why are you qualified to make an overall assessment of my entire menu? Your bill was $25 and you expect us to roll out the red carpet for you? The average VIP bill is $80-120 for two. Yelpers don’t order anything that’s not discounted. We don’t discount our entrees or special dishes that are representative of our chef’s style. I trained my servers to make suggestions. Take them. If you order chicken, don’t judge me based on your budget and limited palate. (Obviously, I’m not frying chicken)

    We have friends who own retail shops. If I only came in twice a year during their semi-annual clearance, I would not doing them any favors. Restaurant people are not rich. At all. My home is the size of my VIPs walk-in closet. But I do, emphatically, believe in supporting small establishments. They need my money. I spend more a lot at my friends businesses and restaurants because I support them. Restauranteurs are common people who feast like kings, when they can. When we dine out, we enjoy ourselves. To the bloggers and other common people out there, consider focusing less on consuming THINGS for yourself so you can spend more on other people, supporting THEM.

    Vaughn was whole-ly committed to dead animals on a bed of wood sticks or coals. Most (97%) bloggers are committed to themselves and what THEY acquire for FREE. We want people committed to supporting the industry.

  6. @Dallaslaw, no we have screwed up. We accept those crappy reviews. But I would have rather them complained to our face, so we could reconcile the issue then and square up.

    I don’t want to wage a war. Restaurant people are “commoners” – we don’t have JDs or MDs after our names, USUALLY. Those are usually our investors. We don’t own a lot of fancy things. But we are generally very committed to supporting other establishments.

    And yes, I’ll take that wager. The “entire industry” supports NN calling out someone who skipped a tab. It’s an unthinkable crime, worthy of being banned, if you skip a tab and you are in the industry. No joke. Your reputation would be sullied and you wouldn’t be hired anywhere else. Don’t know how you could justify theft, when there wasn’t an out-right agreement. Guess you don’t practice contract or criminal law.

  7. JJT, simmer down. I, for one, support local restaurants on my own dime- eating out an average of 10 times per week. But i’m in the advertising industry and I can’t tell you what a bad wrap restauranteers get, known for not paying their bills. Collecting from a restaurant is like collecting from a ticket broker. It’s next to impossible.

  8. @JTT, I get part of what you are saying but you can’t make blanket statements. Regardless of what industry or neighborhood you come from, a dollar is a dollar. My parents own a catering business and I grew up in that business. I have served numerous people in my indentured servant era as a child. No Park Cities here.

    My last few Yelp posts were Lucia (6 visits), Boulavardier (2 visits) Ritz Carlton Palm Beach (hotel, not restaurant, 2nd visit ocean front suite) and a wonderful taqueria (great chicharonnes taco). I think I’m savy enough to figure out the true nature of a place on more factors than a singular review.

    So why discredit services like Yelp or a good blog? Prior to social media, reputation was purely word of mouth or by reviews like DMN or Dmag. That was an awful lot of power for a reviewer to hold. Now, diners actually have a medium to share real time experiences. Seems to me like Nancy doesn’t like this, nor you for that matter. Her post was not just about a tab being skipped, it was about her obvious disdain of bloggers. Plus, you said it, restaurants love comping meals to make up for crappy service. I didn’t choose to go out to get awful service and hopefully get a meal comped. I think that is insulting-upsets me more actually. So now you think a free appetizer or drinks will make up for a ruined evening?

    As for the type of law I practice, it’s not criminal or contracts-transactional, corporate stuff. But I do watch a lot of Law and Order;-). Seriously, theft of services, look up the Texas Penal code. Cities enforce this all the time-it’s a big issue in New York.

    Finally, what do you have against chicken? I love chicken-it’s healthy and tasty-ask the guys at Oak and Driftwood. So if I order chicken and a nice bottle of wine, I’m a lesser customer than the guy who orders wine and a steak? Thanks! And happy hour? Does anyone still go to that once college is over? Think about the source of the happy hour complaints, more importantly, you should stand behind everything your restaurant puts out. Disclaimer “JTT’s happy hour snacks are not indicative of the actual food served in this establishment. They are solely intended for increasing bar sales”.
    I’m not sure of your background, but you have a very dismissive opinion about the common folk you claim to associate with. Not everyone has $120 to spend on each meal. That $20 ticket was earned though that commoners hard work and they deserve no less than anyone else. They could and should take that money somewhere else. I truly hope your restaurant is not one that I visit.

  9. Thanks to all of you for discussing this issue. My purpose was not to make a “blanket statement” against bloggers. My intent was to point out that restaurants face many problems dealing with bloggers. I’ve listened to their concerns for years. After I witnessed a food blogger at a wine dinner hopping around and hassling diners and taking photos, I began to research other sites and I was stunned to read pages where bloggers proclaimed they were entitled to respect and special treatment because they do it for passion. It may be a small percentage at the local level, but when restaurants have to comp 30 to 60 “bloggers” for a media dinner because they were advised to do so by a PR person or social media expert, then it trips my curiosity. If you buy an ad for a magazine or newspaper to increase your business, you want to know the demographics of that publication so that you feel you are getting your money’s worth. I suggest bloggers make up a sheet with their demographics and justify their true reach. For the record: I am not against food bloggers. The more people are talking about the restaurant industry in the Dallas Fort Worth area, the better. Obviously, there is a problem between independent bloggers, PR companies, and restaurant owners. Call it a growing pain. I’m the messenger here, not the policy writer. If we don’t talk about it, we can’t fix it. Again, thanks for your thoughts.

  10. Nothing bumps up your views than a juicy piece of gossip. Pity that you have nothing better to do with your time than to post crap like this. You attacked another journalist and then make yourself out to be the authority on the subject and remove an implication to you by calling yourself the messenger.

  11. @Caitlin – Calling this “gossip” is almost as funny as calling the blogger “another journalist”. But thanks for the laugh.

  12. JTT= John Tesar. Now Johnny, go back and attempt to open that restaurant so the bloggers can beat down your door.

  13. @Giggles, I know you find most things humorous but I don’t. The journalist Ms. Nichols wrote about is well-respected and writes good articles. She paid the bill. Lumping her in with others who routinely ask and expect for freebies was wrong.

    I didn’t think the story was newsworthy. It is gossip. With so much going on in the food industry in Dallas, I think there are better things to write about. Thank goodness there are other writers for DMagazine that think so too. I enjoy reading their informative news posts without all the drama.

  14. @Jesus Christ. If that is him, then it’s unfortunate. I have not had the chance to try any of his places yet. I usually like waiting a couple months after a place opens but his don’t seem to last that long.

  15. It’s not just restaurants that have to deal with bloggers. I do some film publicity and there have been people who show up at the press screening demanding to be let in because they have a website. Or when we did press kits, want one of those. (We actually caught one of them selling the press kits and posters they got at screenings.) It is the sense of entitlement that gets me.

  16. I transitioned out of the hospitality industry about 20 years ago into consulting and this article shows how much things have changed and … how much things have remained the same.

    For what it’s worth I managed 4 Star / 4 Diamond hotels and restaurants and while we didn’t have the social networks that exist today, we did have our share of people coming in our doors asking for comp meals and rooms in exchange for their review in hard copy publications.

    Our philosophy was pretty simple … if you have to let us know in advance and ask for it to be comped, you were only looking for a freebee!

    I can tell you that that only time we ever knew that the AAA had inspected our property was when we received their letter telling us about their visit and the rating they had given us. Look at and read any legitimate restaurant critic and you understand why they don’t publish their picture in the byline of their articles … and they don’t go looking for free meals.

    As for you bloggers who are want-to-be journalists … when you can actually be paid by a publication for your word smithing (there actual is a difference between having a passion and having a profession) you can begin to call yourself a “journalist”, until that time you are little more that a techi wanting to mooch off the restaurant industry.

    And for you restaurant owners and managers who shurk in the corner because you think some unknown person who owns an IPhone, pays $10 a year for a URL, and calls themselves a blogger might get PO’d because you call their bluff … you are only feeding the problem and need to stop your insanity.

    And finally … if you are a restaurant owner who needs to compensate people with a twitter list to praise your food and service … it won’t be long before your customers will close your doors!

  17. Dear Nancy:
    As a veteran newspaper reporter and graduate of the University of North Texas School of Journalistm, I
    Thank You for addressing the “blogger v. journalist” issue. As a freelancer, I always stress that I am not
    a “blogger” precisely because too many of the newly-minted writers never even heard of the WSJ Stylebook, AP Stylebook or any other writer’s guide!!
    Having worked briefly for the WSJ, and having written for a major newspaper, I recall being warned not to
    accept any “freebies” while working for them. Nonetheles, freelance writers are not required to comply
    with those rules. So it’s really up to the writer and his or her own ethics, or lack of.

  18. Pingback: FTC Disclosure Guidelines for Bloggers