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What do I do?

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Hi -

I'm connected with a restaurant (have worked there but not anymore) that has a paid relationship with a food blogger for a mainstream food blog run by a very big magazine. Basically, this individual receives cash and free meals at the place I used to work in exchange for posting nice things about it on the blog he writes for. I don't know if his bosses know about his arrangement or not.

I figure that this isn't a big deal, but recently I noticed that the blog he writes for is going out of its way to trash competitors restaurants (vegetarian restaurants) and I feel like this is morally wrong. What do I do? Do I post something in public? Do I contact his editors? Or do I just foreget about it because this happens all the time and no one cares. I don't want to get in trouble for this because I'm still working in the industry.

Any advice?

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  1. Wow... great Movie plot & a tough question. I'd let the big magazine know that you know what's up. It's not very ethical of restos to have a PAID blogger on their side, but you're right, it probably happens all the time. I think contacting the editor/ moderator is a good idea. Does this scambag write the blog for the mag. or is he/she just a frequent poster on the blog?
    adam

    3 Replies
    1. re: adamshoe

      They're a paid staff member. I guess the thing I worry about is that I contact the editor and they say so what? Then it gets back to the restarant and suddenly I worry that I'll be blacklisted. maybe that's too paranoid but things like this always sound easy then you get ready to do them and you start thinking of all the ways they can bite you in the ass.

      1. re: Whistleblower

        Do the right thing. Are they the only game in town? Will you enjoy dining there, now that you know? If you are worried, then send the note without any details. Let them try and pin this one on you. However, do it for all of the right reasons. You might go THROUGH Hell, but you won't go TO Hell, if you do the right thing.

        Hunt

      2. re: adamshoe

        Adamshoe,

        I am with you on this one. However, it is not that uncommon, and not just in the restaurant/food business. Reporters for other media, are often "on the take," to praise a particular business, and to trash their competitors. It's been going on for centuries, and seems to have spread to all forms of electronic media, including the Internet. If one encounters it every now and then, it's hard to spot. If they see it on a daily basis, then they are warned that there is a definite bias, though they (the recipient) might never realize that $ has come into play. After all, the reporter might just have a hate-on for a particular business, and never bother to state their bias.

        These predilections to bias are one reason that I will often do research when one reviewer out of ten loves, or hates, a place, when the majority take the opposite position.

        I was looking for recommendations and reviews of some fine-dining restaurants in an area far from my home. I kept seeing each restaurant trashed by one reviewer. This happened several times, before I researched this person. It seems that they trash all fine-dining establishments, in a very broad geographic area. Their only favorable reports were for one particular middle-stream restaurant, within a 200 mile radius. Paid? Biased? Who knows, but I soon learned to discount this reviewer, regardless of how toxic they claimed that each fine-dining restaurant was. It happens.

        It’s like stuffing the ballot box in some of the readers’-choice polls. In PHX, one pizza mini-chain won everything, including “Most Romantic Splurge Restaurant.” Yeah, right!

        Just because it’s on the Internet, does not make it true.

        Hunt

      3. If I were you, I'd leave it alone.
        If you're still in the industry who knows what it might do to your future. I don't think squealing in this instance is going to get you any points, but could probably backfire on you.

        1. The editor would likely be interested in what you know. A mainstream magazine has a reputation to uphold, one that would be tarnished if its reporters (or bloggers, and the line is blurring) were found to be taking bribes, which is what's going on here. If you want to cover your tracks, which is understandable, comment anonymously from a computer at a public library. Yes, it happens all the time - hell, it happens right here on Chowhound - but people do care.

          1 Reply
          1. re: small h

            How about: the editor "should" be interested?
            If this is a very big magazine, as you say, it is possible that your letter or email won't actually reach the editor himself or even anybody who cares. Not saying anything about you personally, but they get a lot of letters from a lot of nuts.
            Most executives don't read their own email or letters. They have staff to do that and staff screen out a lot of stuff if it seems wacko.

            If you are absolutely certain of this unethical financial arrangement, you should bust this guy. He is harming the other restaurants intentionally for a fee. Those restaurants might even have a legal cause of action against him and his employer, in this case the magazine. The editor needs to know this.
            You could go nuclear.
            Write a letter telling the editor that you are aware that the blogger has been taking bribes. That is what this is, you know.
            Tell him that the defamation must stop immediately and that you will be watching.
            If it does not, you will notify the other restaurants of the bribery, however reluctantly, and be willing to testify in court.
            Want to bet it stops immediately?

            An anonymous letter always raises suspicion and is often ignored. Make sure to preface your accusation with an apology for not identifying yourself, pleading that you are afraid of losing your job.
            Be extremely polite in the letter but be firm that an ethical violation like this harms others financially, is simply wrong, and that you know that his magazine would not want something like this done in their name.

            Bloggers for mainstream media are the media. They expect to be protected by the First Amendment and they have an obligation to tell the truth and follow the law.
            That includes not accepting bribes.
            He is harming others by his actions and deserves to be busted.

          2. Anonymous email!

            2 Replies
            1. re: Demented

              Thanks for the thoughts I am probably over-thinking this and being paranoid and all that. It makes me sound like a chicken but I'll probably leave it alone since I have no idea what he fallout will be and its probably best not to get involved but it makes me pretty disgusted with myself that that is what I'm going to do.

              Wish I worked in another field or city so I would not care about what the result was!!! But I guess I am too selfish and want too much to keep my job to do the right thing. Thanks for listening to me think about it out loud and thanks for the different opinions. it helps!

              1. re: Whistleblower

                I don't think you are being selfish Whistleblower. People can be really spiteful. It's good to think before you act. If you noticed, probably other people will figure it out too. Hmm. What about contacting some of the places this mercenary has unfairly trashed? Anonymously of course. The management and owners of those places might care quite a bit.

            2. It's very funny that you say this. There is a little magazine called In Town in my area that does restaurant reviews, and in about 6 issues, I did not see one negative review. Then I happened to look at them all in one sitting and noticed that many of the restaurants run ads in the magazine. I didn't really care until I saw reviews that were almost completely false. Restaurants being lauded for their inexpensive dishes, when the reality is, it's an easy $175-200 dinner for two if one was to have a bottle of wine. To me that isn't cheap eats.

              I also have heard of this being done in smaller mags and newspapers and especially done by bloggers. If you feel that this is wrong, I would contact them anonymously or have someone contact them for you.

              I have had a hard time with Chowhound on a few occasions because I have mentioned knowing the owner of a place and praised some dishes, while saying mixed things about others. They took my post off the board and sent me an e-mail saying because of my friendship with an owner the post had to deleted. I was fine with this, but then I realized that a place I knew the owner that I didn't write such a nice review is still up. While I regret the bad review it was honest as was my other review.

              I have read so many posts on this site that are obviously made by the owners, managers, or family and friends because they talk about these places as if they are the greatest eateries in the world. Some of them I've been in and even their descriptions of the setting isn't true.

              One final note. Not sure if you watch Top Chef, but the week Howie was eliminated in season 3 he tried to withdraw from the competition and then was voted off. He wrote in his blog that the show pulled a fast one on him and the week he was eliminated Michael Schwartz was the guest judge. Schwartz had just opened up a restaurant across the street or down the street from Howie's in Miami and they served the same type of food. Schwartz had been on tv and in magazine's ripping Howie's place, and when Howie saw him he wanted to kill the guy. He was visibly off his game that epsiode and said he was so upset that the show did that to him he wanted to quit.

              This was along winded way of saying that journalistic integrity only really works when the person writing is a true journalist. Bloggers, paid and unpaid, chowhounders, and other know-it-alls are all wannabee critics (myself included). You have to really step back and weigh who you are helping to how much it could cost you. If your livelihood is at stake, I'd take a second and think it through before making a move. If you feel this is something that needs to be done, then do it. Either way, I wish you luck with you dilemma.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jhopp217

                >>>"I have read so many posts on this site that are obviously made by the owners, managers, or family and friends because they talk about these places as if they are the greatest eateries in the world. Some of them I've been in and even their descriptions of the setting isn't true. "

                We're not specifically replying to jhopp217, but saying to a more general audience -- If there are any posts that you think are not entirely honest, click on the report link beneath the post to let us know and we'll investigate.

                At the same time, it's worth knowing that we've had genuine posters who get flagged somewhat often because of their writing style.

                PS. to jhopp217 re: "but then I realized that a place I knew the owner that I didn't write such a nice review is still up. While I regret the bad review it was honest as was my other review." -- If you can send us the link to your post, or report it as above, we'll remove it.

              2. I agree completely with smallh: Reveal all by commenting anonymously on the blog itself. The blogger's editor will definitely want to know this. Editors rely hugely on their writers to have ethics and integrity, they can't police them. A violation of this trust is important, and I think you have a duty to the magazine's readers, and to the restaurants that are getting unjustly trashed and praised, to expose the fraud.

                1 Reply
                1. re: originalfig

                  Once even a hint of chicanery hits that blog, all of a sudden a lot of people will be putting it together.

                2. It;s a hard call. If he was only praising the restaurant, I would let it ride, but because he is trashing the competition, something should be said. Just be sure you cover your ass.

                  1. I was a Journalism student in college. Now I'm in law school (as well as working in the restaurant industry when I have time.) I'd absolutely write an anonymous e-mail. When money is changing hands, it's more than likely you're not the only one who knows. So, tracing it back to you isn't that likely, right? Let the editor know what's up. What they choose to do with that information is their business.

                    1. Write to Dear Abby -- she'll know what to do

                      1. I say be a tattle tale uhmmm, I mean whistle blower.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: MattInNJ

                          Great post. This sounds like the backstory of something I would read in the "Ethicist" column in the New York Times Magazine. I say make SURE you've got your facts straight, and take your case to the editors, anonymously if you need to. There's already too much of this kind of nonsense going around. Someone should be held accountable.

                          1. re: Cheflambo

                            This is happening more and more often. They recently found a restaurant in my area paying people to give them ridiculously positive reviews on Yelp.

                            1. re: MattInNJ

                              It is not just restaurants either. If you look at a cookbook review on Amazon there are always a couple that are 6 paragraphs long and tell you this is the greatest cookbook on earth. Suspicious?
                              The mother of the author perhaps?

                        2. I've noticed bloggers these days are making a huge profit with their ads and "perks" from restaurants. Some even going as far as flying a popular blogger in to do a "taste test". I recently read a number of bloggers were invited to the Bahamas to help promote Club Med. I guess it's like celebrities and athletes endorsing brand name items but costing much less money. Some may call it a bribe. Whatever it is, I don't believe in hurting other parties. Not that I necessary agree with it but it is what it is.

                          1. These things always have a way of coming back to the source no matter how careful one is.
                            My advice is to leave it alone.

                            1. All's fair in love and food service!

                              1. I am not that familiar with the hospitality industry but I can tell you that in other fields - IT, Finance, retail - professional bloggers are hired by companies to generate positive PR - this used to be done by radio, TV, magazine - now it is internet. I would leave it alone. I learned long ago that "what comes around goes around" and you need to make sure you are still in a position to smile about it when it happens.

                                1. Let me take a moment to counter some of the advice you're getting here, because I think it's lousy advice.

                                  1. "Don't say anything, because you'll get caught." Not easily, if you take some precautions.

                                  2. "But you have to work with these people!" Most restaurant owners and most bloggers DON"T do this. There will be more people who want to work with you than people who don't. And that's only assuming you get caught, which you probably won't (see #1).

                                  3. "Everybody does this, and nobody cares." No, they don't, and yes, they do. All you have to do is read one of the several sputtery Chowhound threads about the grievous lack of integrity over at Yelp. Honesty is still valued, and people still practice it.

                                  You're the only one who knows what's best for you. But what's best for all of us is for you to report the behavior.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: small h

                                    Re: #1
                                    a) Use the internet at the library or a Kinko.
                                    b) Get a throw away 'phone at Wally World.

                                  2. In all honesty, I don't think it's particularly unusual anymore for a blogger/food writer for a small publication to get or insist on free meals in exchange for coverage of a restaurant. I did marketing/PR for a multi-concept restaurant group in LA for a few years, and it was a pretty constant request. It sounds like this guy might have gone a bit across the line, but it doesn't even sound particularly outrageous to me at this point.

                                    Of course, I recently had a TV show called "Best of..." try to sell me "editorial" coverage on their program, so I've pretty much lost my faith in ethics within food media.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: cyberroo

                                      It's a tough spot, but I'd choose to report it. If the possibility of retaliation against you is too great to risk, enlist a friend who is outside of the business to act on your behalf - upon hearing the facts, they might just want to bring it to the editor's attention anyway, as it seems that many of us would like to do!

                                      1. re: cyberroo

                                        Maybe you shouldn't mix bloggers and food writers for small or community newspapers. There is a difference.
                                        Community or small newspapers have advertisers and are at least commercial enterprises with owners who are liable for their transgressions.
                                        Bloggers can be pretty much one-person operations. Some are very responsible but there are rogues who can be shake-down artists.

                                        Professionally, I have done media accreditation for events large and small for many years. It is amazing how many drop out immediately as soon as they are told that there is a charge for space on the press platform or that the media will not be fed.

                                        Food blogging is very much the Wild wild West. Any blogger who asks for freebies? Outta there.
                                        Somebody should start a blog to name names.

                                      2. I'm a food columnist for the local newspaper. If I did something like this, my ass would be grass in a heartbeat, justifiably so. This is despicable. Tell everyone you know, including his employer.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: pikawicca

                                          Pikawicca - you ARE a food critic! But I'd still invite you to dinner.

                                          1. re: alwayscooking

                                            And I would accept.

                                          2. re: pikawicca

                                            picawikka, I know just how you feel, but this guy worked for a restaurant and just running around telling everyone may not have a lot of weight. People might discount his talk as just gossip.
                                            I get as outraged as you do about these breaches of journalistic ethics but to really bust somebody you gotta go for the jugular.
                                            He has to get this complaint HEARD.
                                            You work for a newspaper.
                                            How does he do that? This is a BIG magazine.

                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                              In my experience, most publishers of newspapers and magazines are very sensitive to the appearance of impropriety. I actually had lunch with a newspaper editor this afternoon and related a similar, though less heinous story. She was appalled, and obviously would never have stood for this sort of thing.

                                              If someone told my editor that I was accepting (much less demanding) free food for favorable commentary, I'd be tarred and feathered. I have to believe that the same standards prevail in most places.

                                              In short, write a letter to the publisher, giving as many facts (not opinions) as possible. Keep your words rational and non-emotional. People will pay attention.

                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                Maybe MOST, but the New York Times is still defending itself over the Vicki Iseman smear, even though they've issued a weak apology in exchange for her dropping the lawsuits over an article that never should have seen the light of day much less than front page, based on innuendos and anonymous sources. She is a private citizen whom they harmed to damage John McCain.

                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                  This suit was settled without payment.

                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                    The cost was enormous.

                                          3. You say that you don't know if the bosses know about the arrangement or not. Perhaps there is other information that you do not have either. I am personally the type of person who would not feel comfortable interfering with some one else's livelihood, especially not knowing all the facts, and where I am not directly affected. And, if true, I think that the pros and cons tend to be apparent to readers - I like to think that readers are intelligent and balance the information. JMHO.