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A Code of Ethics?

Fri May 1, 2009

Hello, my name is Leah Greenstein and I’m a food blogger. I don’t get paid much for what I write, though I’d love to make a living at it. I do it because I love food and I love writing—even if actually sitting down at the computer can be painful when the sun is shining or I’d rather be making ice cream. Nonetheless, I write. And I take what I put out into the world as seriously as I would as if I were writing for a magazine or a newspaper, not because it’s required of me, but because I think I should. I believe in honesty, fairness and accuracy, and I think everyone has a right to their opinion.

I think the tension between honesty, fairness and accuracy and subjectivity has been the bane of the “journalism” world for decades. All one has to do is watch Fox News and MSNBC to see that different people perceive facts differently. Personally, I like to know what filter someone’s looking through. I read Mother Jones because I know it skews liberal and I read the Economist because I know its writers synthesize everything through an economic lens. If I want human interest, I look somewhere else.

But when I started reading other food blogs, I frequently found myself lost. How did this person get the product they were writing about? Was this nasty review written because of one bad dining experience or two or three? I mean everyone has a bad night, right? I know I had them when I waited tables and when I managed restaurants. And then suddenly, how did my photo end up on that person’s blog. There’s no link, no attribution—that’s stealing!

I started reading commentary about blogs, nasty tirades about amateurs and hacks. I stumbled across stories about Yelpers blackmailing restaurants to get free food or risk getting panned. I learned more and more about people getting plagiarized, their images getting lifted, and people who personally attacked chefs in their reviews, but then didn’t have the courage to put their names on what they wrote.

And it made me sad.

So I started talking to other food bloggers who, I found, were frustrated with the same things. And I found that my writing partner, Foodwoolf, was particularly fired up about the subject. So we set out for breakfast one morning to talk about standards and ethics, about honesty, fairness and accuracy, and expressing our opinions.

What we came up with was this: The Food Blog Code of Ethics. It culls from our personal experiences as bloggers, journalism school grads, photographers, waiters, restaurant managers, diners and common sense. It is by no means perfect, but it’s a way to start a conversation. We hope you join in.

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8 Responses to “A Code of Ethics?”

  1. sweetiepetitti Says:

    Loved this. I too write, and I feel writing from my heart is the only honest way, but writing with malice is just wrong. As a relative newcomer to food blog scene, I have been inundated with invites to various groups and memberships, and one was exactly what you spoke of, critiquing restaurants. Even with my food background I think it is highly unfair for me to tell the world how awful a place was. I have a much different view than the average joe. I stumbled on you on Twitter, but I’ll be back!

  2. foodwoolf Says:

    I hope other people (the people that are reading the FBCE) read your post, because I think it explains a lot behind the motivation we had to create our manifesto. I think it’s amazing what kind of conversations we’ve been privy to b/c of this whole experience and I can’t wait to see where the conversations go.

    Yours in ethics,

  3. Tangled Noodle Says:

    I found my way to your Food Blog Code of Ethics via a link on LATimes.com and I want to express my thanks to you and Foodwoolf for doing this. I realize that the FBCE is still in its early stages but you’ve laid out the essential issues that need to be addressed.

    As a current student and occasional freelance writer (although I do not have a formal background in journalism), I am most concerned with the lack of awareness or concern about plagiarism in the the blogosphere. I have come across food blogs whose content is almost entirely composed of verbatim Wikipedia entries, whole paragraphs from mainstream newspaper websites, and excerpts from subject-dedicated sites. These bloggers do not cite, credit or link back to any of their sources; they make a half-hearted attempt at paraphrasing with synonyms here and there. By omitting attribution, they imply that the ‘research’ and resultant post is entirely their own original work. (These blogs also often display copyright warnings.)

    This subject touches such a nerve because plagiarism is potentially an academic and professional career-killer for me. My husband reminds me that many people are simply unaware of what constitutes plagiarism but I feel that can only go so far as an excuse. I appreciate the link to cyberjournalist.net and for the obvious thought and energy you put into your site. I look forward to following!

  4. Leah Greenstein Says:

    Thank you so much Tangled Noodle, your support is truly appreciated. And I wish you the absolute best luck in your career. I hope together, with the incredible people who’ve become involved in this, we can expose and eradicate plagiarism while still keep the web a fresh and vibrant place where all sorts of ideas can be batted around.

    By the way, do you have the LA Times link? I haven’t see it yet and can’t seem to find it.

  5. Tangled Noodle Says:



    You’ll need to scroll down to the post entitled “Sampler Platter: Bonobos, Beer . . .”

  6. Hélène Says:

    Found you because of Twitter. I have a food blog (amateur). I started because my family lives in Quebec and I’m in BC and always requested my recipes. My pictures were stolen more than once. Even they were found on magazine websites.

    I have a question for recipes, if I make a recipe let’s say from Martha and I can only find her recipe in a cookbook that I have purchased, do I have the right to post the recipe online? I always give accreditation to the person when I publish a recipe. Waiting to hear from you. Thanks.

  7. Michele Says:


    I saw a link to the code of ethics on a blog I just found. I recently wrote my first restaurant review. I was very honest in my review but I didn’t disclose that my meal was comped. I didn’t know how to write that in and thought it would seem weird to put it there. After reading the code I can see that it is important. I have a question though, if you go to a restaurant and plan on writing a review for yelp, your blog, for anything, how do you handle photos? I like to take photos when I’m going out to eat. I always did that before my blog as well. If there was a fancy dessert or something I wanted to take a picture of I did and never thought about it. Now that I started using yelp and may add more reviews to my blog, what is the proper etiquette for picture taking in a restaurant? Do I need to ask permission? If they ask what it is for do I have to tell them that I will be writing a review? I’m very curious (and nervous) now and want to do the right thing. I never thought of people lying on yelp or of people using yelp as a way to get free food. Maybe I’m just naive but it never crossed my mind. It’s sad because I do tend to rely on yelp when I consider trying a new restaurant.

    Sorry that this is so long. I appreciate what you’re doing!

  8. Leah Greenstein Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Michele. Honestly, I’m still trying to work out the idea of taking photos for a review. I don’t think you should be telling the resto that you’re there to review them, so asking permission is kind of besides the point. Traditionally photographers go back and take pictures separate from the reviewer, but as a blogger that’s ludicrous. Ultimately, they’re your photos, so I think you should be able to use them. I’m not sure if the resto can ask you to take YOUR pictures down, even if it’s of their food.

    Not sure if that helps, but thanks for your comment. We’ll definitely have to ask around more to figure out this complicated issue.

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