Blogger Blackmail

There’s been some Drama in the food blogger world again.

“Surely not!” I hear you gasp. “How can this be? Aren’t food bloggers all Kidston and GBBO tent-zen in their outlook?”

No. No some of them are definitely are not. Especially when they don’t get their hands on what they think they are ‘entitled’ to.

Blogger with a small following contacts a business. Requests samples to review. Business sets up a small event, with nice things. Small samples. They are A BUSINESS after all. Blogger comes in, demands rather more than was offered. A flounce ensued, and some “he said she said” back and forth of blog posts happened.

For me, on this one, I’m on the business’s side. (You can kind of tell a grabby blogger)

There’s a bit of a furore about her time, and what it’s worth. YES blogger time is worth payment. When a brand requests that you do a review, then they should expect to pay you something. The manner of compensation can be agreed upon. It’s your time, and your work.

However, WHEN YOU ASK TO REVIEW SOMETHING, that’s your choice. You’ve essentially asked someone to give you something for free so you can indulge your hobby. It’s very rude to throw it in their face because what they offered wasn’t enough for you.

Demanding £100 worth of goods to review isn’t on, when that wasn’t what was agreed. Saying that it covered the work and the photography isn’t on either when YOU asked for the samples. The business didn’t ask you to do this. You decided to do it.

So that was that. (Except oh lordy it is still rumbling on. And on.)

But no. The heavyweights joined it. Next we get Jay Rayner and his ‘bloggers who get freebies can’t be impartial’ stance.

Now, as much as I adore Jay, and you all know that I do, I find this is just bollocks. It’s perfectly possible to do an impartial review and many, many bloggers out there do a grand job. Nicky Richmond and Kavita Favelle are two who spring immediately to my mind. Both of those blogs are ones that I love reading, and they are not scared to tell the truth. More power to them.

So please Jay, and some chefs too, don’t tar us all with the same brush. We’re not all grabby hands GIVE US FREE THINGS NOW bloggers, though I cannot deny there are those out there, same as any section of society. I wish there weren’t people like that, to be honest, because all this is doing is making the genuine non grabby bloggers feel like pariahs.

We blog, we’re just writing about food, not changing the world one borlotti bean at a time. That doesn’t entitle us to anything except a bit of reciprocal consideration.

For most, we blog because we want to share what we’ve found. Speaking personally, if I’ve had a fabulous meal somewhere, then of course I want to tell other people about it. It’s the same as having a natter down the pub and saying “OMG guys, you have to go to this place.” That’s all. I’ve been to some brilliant places that have been recommended on people’s blogs, and I know where to steer clear of too.

It gets the name of the restaurant out there just that bit more, which can’t be a bad thing. When I blogged about Duck and Waffle, within the next three weeks, at least 2 other friends went there and had the meal of a lifetime. To quote Ina Garten, who wouldn’t want that?

Yes, I am going to take photos of my food, and you know why? Because I love doing it, and people want to see it. People like cookbooks with photos, and people like food photos on blog posts. Not too many, mind, this is about the food, not my camera skills. A good food photo should make you want that food in your face now. (Do feel free to say if a photo is good, and has achieved its hungrymaking aim.)

Bloggers – it’s perfectly possible to do a critical review even when it’s a fully comped meal/event/whatever. Be reasoned, polite, offer constructive criticism and say what was good, and excellent, not just what went wrong. You’d be amazed at how far this gets you. (A free meal for two at Carluccio’s in my case, to give one example, to apologise for a badly cooked dish.)

If you cannot do this, you probably shouldn’t do reviews on your blog. The whole point of a review is not to big up the product or the business unrealistically, it’s to give others an overview of your experience. A TRUTHFUL one.

Of course, if your experience was fantastic, then rave away! But if it wasn’t, then say so. Politely. Chefs and waitstaff are people too you know, and constructive feedback is useful. Most businesses want to know where they might be tripping up.

I know of bloggers who’ve said that the food at an event was not that great, but then said they were going to blog that it was “because it’s a freebie” and it pays to be nice.

I have to disagree with that attitude. The truth is what people need, because if you say a place is great, and I go there on your say-so, and then it’s inherently awful, that is a real let down. Places have their off days, and people have different tastes, that’s normal, but when it’s bad, with no hope of change, you can tell. [coff]lechabanais[coff]

Don’t tell me it’s all dreamboats and petticoats, when it’s actually Steptoe and hobnail boots.

Instagram can only give a snapshot, it doesn’t really tell about the experience. I love it, I think it gives a fast paced glimpse into people’s lives (and their dinners) but I do still read people’s blogs, because I like the people who write them, and I enjoy hearing their voice, dissenting or otherwise. There are still lots of voices out there, that are well worth listening to, and who tell the truth.

The Jay Rayner reviews where he tears into a place are always ridiculously popular. I’m not really into scathing, I admit, but he does it so well, and with a sense of hurt in a “How could you do that to my food?” way. I can understand that. I can also understand a blogger not wanting to do that. Well, you don’t have to, and let’s face it, not many can do it as well as Jay, but I want honest output from bloggers, not dressing up a poor experience with frills and dissembling.

I’m a blogger, yes. Not a terribly prolific one, because Life happens, but I do enjoy it. For me, it’s not about freebies, or money, it’s about sharing the joy of food and eating. And I’m going to keep it that way.

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14 thoughts on “Blogger Blackmail

    • That winds me up. PRs are MEANT to be nice, that’s their job. It’s all spin and polish. I don’t feel I owe a PR anything, except honesty and politeness. Some of them are genuinely nice people, and some are just doing their job in a nice way. If you see what I mean. Puff pieces do no good, and serve no purpose.

  1. Yup…I absolutely agree with all of this, Lisa…very well written as always. As a small food business, I’m quite often contacted by bloggers asking for free produce to review. I must admit that I always check their blogs out first to see if they are the kind i’d be happy to be reviewed on!!

    • For me, asking for a sample to review is a bit odd. My food blog has a tiny following, so it’s not like I will affect sales very much. Demanding something is a whole other box of tinsel.

      If I am offered something to review, I will do so honestly. I was sent a range of flavoured crackers and cookies to review once, 6 boxes, and every one of them was stale. I wrote my review, but sent it to the PR first, who thanked me and asked me not to publish it as it had identified packaging problems which they needed to go and work on. I saw no reason to say everything was perfect when it wasn’t, nor any reason to lambast them in public. Nothing goes viral faster than a bitchy negative review.

  2. Well said! I had stepped away from writing on my site as i didn’t feel comfortable with the way the blogging community was heading on several counts. This was one of them.

    Knowing i am not alone, makes me think of returning. Thank you.

    • Pat, it would be nice to see you back. 🙂 We can only keep our integrity intact, we can’t help what others choose to do. I just want my blog, small as it is, to be still as full of OOH LOOK YUM excitement as it ever was. I admire the bloggers who do it for work, and who do it well, because I’d never have the time for that!

  3. I’ve met Mehreen, she’s nice. I have never emailed a company/restaurant asking for a free meal etc., it’s not my style but I do get offered them and I know some people use their blog as a living, it’s not wrong there’s just a way of doing it professionally. And from the bakeries opinion perhaps this wasn’t done that way. However, the bakery named and shamed the blogger not the other way round and that is unprofessional. Personally this whole situation has upset me because our perception to the public has been bad and people are saying ALL bloggers are, to put it nicely, every curse under the sun, chefs have waded into the waters (chefs whose restaurants I had paid to go to as a customer) being largely offensive too and quite frankly that’s upset me.

  4. I don’t agree that you can be impartial if someone gives you stuff – unless you’re saying you then track down all their competitors and give their products an equally in-depth review? That you’re equally likely to review someone who offered you nothing as someone who gave you something? With the same amount of page space, photos, and name mentions?

    By reviewing the one who offered you treats to review them, rather than someone else, that’s already favouratism, and letting yourself be influenced by gifts. They’re paying you for space in your blog.

    • I mean, they’re businesses. They wouldn’t be giving stuff away if they weren’t convinced it could buy them some business advantage.

      • I will disagree with you here. If someone sends me something to review, they might get space n my blog, they might not, it’s not a MUST DO.

        Also, I don’t review an item or a product by thinking “Oh I MUST BE NICE because they sent me a freebie.” That is not how it should work at all. There are too many puff pieces out there that do just that, and I fail to see how that is of any use at all.

        “By reviewing the one who offered you treats to review them, rather than someone else, that’s already favoritism, and letting yourself be influenced by gifts. They’re paying you for space in your blog.”

        They might gain a space on my tiny blog, but they do not buy my words or goodwill. If a product is crap, or a meal isn’t up to snuff, I will say so. I never feel beholden to give a good review, no matter who it is, whether it is a freebie, or if I am paying.

        Reviewing a restaurant or an item or a product – as an amateur, remember – is about sharing it with my friends, and I am not going to lie to them.

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