The Blogging Ethics Debate
I recently accepted an interview with The Business Times to share my views about the business of blogging, the people who have made blogging a full-time career, and if it can be a lucrative option.
My stand is very clear: Food blogging should never be a lucrative option. Throughout the interview, I said that when blogging turns into a career, it’s not a passion anymore.
I’m not a full-time blogger and sponsored posts are not my main source of income. I make a living from providing services such as food photography, freelance social media management work, writing food articles for websites, and running food tours. The hard work that I’ve put into building my blog has been instrumental in helping me to build a reputation in F&B and social media.
About Tasting Invitations
Journalists and bloggers accept invitations to food tastings. Some journalists may have the luxury to dine at the company’s expense, others don’t. They write based on their experience during a particular tasting. Food bloggers do the same.
I found it interesting to read quotes from restaurants claiming not to engage media for food tastings and paid reviews. I’m not sure if they might have been misunderstood because they have been courting publicity from food bloggers and journalists. I shall not name and shame, you know who you are.
I blog about places that I feel are worth trying and during the BT interview, I specifically said “I am responsible for my readers.” So it doesn’t mean that if I am invited to eat, I will write an awesome review. Neither will it guarantee coverage. Simple as that. I am sure many of my blogger friends write responsibly too.
Yes I do understand that some restaurants portray their best side during a tasting and so I try to keep my tastings to a minimum and focus my efforts on my own food hunt and hawker fare, which forms the bulk of my content. No, the bak chor mee or chicken rice uncle don’t pay me to blog. Instead, I pay them and thank them for serving such great food! That has always been my sincere mission: TO SHARE ABOUT LOCAL HERITAGE TO READERS.
About Paid Reviews
The story: I charge for my food reviews.
The truth: my food reviews are NOT paid. While I accept tasting invitations from restaurants sometimes, I don’t write paid reviews. (No, I am not paid to say that plate of hokkien mee is the best and I pay for my own Hokkien Mee!)
– Product Advertorials: Brands engage my services to create recipes using their products and pay me for the recipes and photos.
– Event advertorials: Brands engage me to feature specific events to create awareness.
These are written with the acknowledgement that it is an “advertorial” in the blog post. I do not solicit payment in exchange for reviews from restaurants or hawkers.
The Blogging Scene in Singapore
I started blogging 8 years ago because I wanted to share my passion for food. This passion led me to pursue a professional writing career with magazines and newspapers for over 5 years. I’m free to express myself without any obligation. I can’t speak for everyone but many experienced bloggers in the local F&B scene write responsibly. Many of us even stay up late at night to work on this passion while holding down day jobs.
To be fair to new restaurants, I’m not the kiasu type who wants to be the first to highlight new businesses on the food scene. Sure, I can get the highest viewership but I would never be able to write a detailed review. It’s unfortunate, but there are those among us who would actively ask to be hosted and/or paid – just not all of us.
Because I know three months is the time needed for a restaurant to get organized. I feel responsible for what I write because I am dealing with people’s livelihoods or someone’s reputation in a competitive F&B scene. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll realize that my reviews are mild and not too extreme.
About Editorial and Advertorial
The article opened up a few questions about whether a blogger should be paid for their work. Bloggers should be paid for their work just like journalists, but I believe that advertising and editorial content MUST always be kept separate at all times in order to maintain credibility.
“Editorials” technically refer to opinion articles. It means the article has posted out of genuine interest, and unpaid. If you tried an awesome plate of chicken rice and want to share it with your readers by posting on your blog or social media, that is editorial content. The information may come from press release or invitation to an event.
“Advertorials” are content that you have been paid to produce. This is usually negotiated in advance. The brand will have certain parameters and goals with your post and you will probably have negotiated a package with services:
– Writing a blog post with tracked links from clients
– Publishing the blog post on a specified date
– Using specified language from the brand in your post
– Getting approval from the brand before publishing
– Branded distribution of content on social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and including certain hashtags
– Banner ads to promote brand on site
The list goes on. If a brand has specific branding to be included in the blog post, then that is indeed advertising content. Once the article is paid, our opinion is absent. It is just solely about sharing information and it won’t be a review anymore. For example, there is a difference in saying this restaurant sells seafood VS this restaurant sells the best seafood. And most importantly, ALL ADVERTORIALS MUST BE STATED.
Even though I said that bloggers should be paid for the work, good and real content is important. Balancing act is necessary, keeping 70% ad-free blog is a good gauge. It’s also important to be clear about the difference between advertorial and editorial. Because if you are not clear, your readers will not be either.
Why are food bloggers being attacked? I don’t think responsible food bloggers are any less credible than mainstream media. Restaurants can pay for advertorials in newspapers (but at a much higher price), they get invited to hosted food tastings all the time, why are fingers pointed to us? Not all blogs are reliable and you should invest only a degree of trust in online information. The trick is to take all opinions with a pinch of salt. Be it newspaper or blogs, these are opinions available to help you make the final decision about where to eat. Cheers!
P/S Thank you to all my foodie friends for the inputs and help to edit the article.