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Jason doesn't need me to defend him, but singling him out for attack when the practices you describe (whether he has engaged in them or not) have been so widespread as to require action by the FTC sends me the strong signal that some personal animosity is at work.

 

Why don't we discuss the topic itself?

Let's be topical without tormenting others, shall we?

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It's not whether it's enough. It's whether it's a minimum you could reasonably expect.

And it is as I'm sure you'd agree. We all know about the hand jobs you get from David Chang. But we also know that he gives you hand jobs because you spend a lot of money at his restaurants and wrote favorably about them even before you got the "personal favors". The only bloggers saying that full disclosure is too much to expect are the ones, mirabile dictu, writing obviously fraudulent reviews.

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Jason doesn't need me to defend him, but singling him out for attack when the practices you describe (whether he has engaged in them or not) have been so widespread as to require action by the FTC sends me the strong signal that some personal animosity is at work.

 

Why don't we discuss the topic itself?

I agree, but to be fair, it was Jason himself who raised the issue in response to a Tommy Eats quote and it's him who vigorously defended non-disclosure.

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Actually, it's not an honor system any more - in theory at least. It's obligatory (the problem is enforcement).

 

FTC

 

continued

 

In a nutshell: amateurs must play by the same rules as professionals.

 

Wilfrid, the FTC regulations/guidelines cover disclosure for advertisers on blogs. I derive no income from my blog and I have no advertisers.

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As to whether blogs with no ads are exempt, I haven't checked. Possibly so.

 

But as to the first part, the regulations do seem to me to apply to editorial content. As you can see from the second clip, the FTC is not discussing suing advertisers, but suing bloggers.

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One would hope that the FTC site would have a neat summary, but here are some comments from elsewhere:

 

Bloggers are spilling over with enthusiasm about their latest find: a trendy restaurant, a chic gift shop, the latest product, service or fad. Nothing could be better, they claim, you really must try it, buy it.

 

Would you be skeptical of those rave reviews if you knew that the blogger was being paid for their words of wonder? New FTC regulations, effective in December 1, 2009, require bloggers to disclose money or perks - or even free products.

 

http://internet-law.lawyers.com/Truth-in-Blogging-New-FTC-Blog-Disclosure-Rules.html

 

Looking at the actual FTC guidelines, they do seem to cover editorial endorsements as well as ads:

 

an endorsement means any advertising message (including verbal

statements, demonstrations, or depictions of the name, signature, likeness or other identifying

personal characteristics of an individual or the name or seal of an organization) that consumers are

likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the

sponsoring advertiser

 

In other words, if a blogger is sponsored by the advertiser - whether through payment or perks - he should comply with the disclosure requirements. I suppose OTB is saying that a vendor (a restaurant, for example) is not an advertiser. I must say, the guidelines might have addressed that more clearly.

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1. Some of them run their sites/blogs as if they were professional reviewers. What many of them either don't know or fail to act on, is that professional reviewers almost always have a follow up conversation (post reviewing visits, prior to review being published) in which critical bits of information--ingredients, cooking methods, reasons for combinations, etc.) are discussed with the chef/GM/owner. To skip this step does a disservice to the person reading the "review" as well as the establishment being reviewed and in many cases skews what somebody might take away from a review. This can ultimately affect whether or not someone tries a restaurant.

 

This has come up before, and unfortunately it runs slap into the concrete wall of practicality. Also, be careful what you wish for. I have no idea how many food blogs there are now in New York alone, but it would be quite unrealistic to expect every restaurant reviewed to help them fact check.

 

I occasionally follow up with the restaurant in this way if I feel it's important to do so, but I try to make it unnecessary. Some restaurants have been very helpful with this; some chefs just don't return calls - and I don't honestly blame them.

 

 

I ignore a lot of those calls as well. I balance what I perceive their audience to be against what I think they can screw up without my help and often decide the potential damage isn't worth the conversation.

 

One other clarification I would make. Does a person need a stand alone blog to be subject to these journalistic standards? Many of the most egregious characters in Jersey are not "bloggers" in as much as they are prolific posters here and on Gullet (when it was still possible to be a prolific poster there). They have the ability to drive traffic in or out of your restaurant. As a restaurateur you are doing yourself a disservice to not try and provide an memorable experience for them. Often times, if you are able to "make them," that includes a free mid course, or a pre-dessert or a bottle from the cellar that might not be on the list that you were saving for the cooks to drink after they killed it on a Saturday night service. We've all done it. And personally, I've made "making" people an art. If you read the threads on your restaurant and are moderately adept at using your open table system, it isn't hard at all to make a blogger/reviewer, etc.

 

Also, in Jersey there are a few people who are harder to classify. Someone like Rosie is a perfect example? Is she a reviewer? not really. A commentator? a general all around promoter of NJ's dining scene? her column certainly drives traffic. I've personally sent her mid-courses at restaurants. She always pays her own way. Does she need to disclose the tasting portion of lobster risotto? Or if she orders and pays for 2 desserts, does she need to disclose that I sent her 3? If the lobster risotto causes her to take a liking to me and unduly influences her comments, but she still says, "marauder sent me a divine risotto" is that enough to satisfy these standards?

 

I think Rail Paul nails it. Over the years, he has assigned a believability factor to certain bloggers. More often than not, his own judgment seems to mirror theirs. At that point, it is almost irrelevant if they are Mother Theresa or on the restaurants payroll.

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To draw an analogy to film critics: whether Rex Reed is on the take or not, I'm not gonna believe anything he says.

OTOH, I will read/listen to what Kenneth Turan says regardless. He's not the best, but he has valid information.

I suppose if there were a Rotten Tomatoes for restaurants, this might solve things a bit.

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Actually, it's not an honor system any more - in theory at least. It's obligatory (the problem is enforcement).

 

FTC

 

continued

 

In a nutshell: amateurs must play by the same rules as professionals.

 

Wilfrid, the FTC regulations/guidelines cover disclosure for advertisers on blogs. I derive no income from my blog and I have no advertisers.

 

The issue isn't "income," although one could argue that a comped meal is just like cash. The issue is whether a blogger who does not reveal comps is being honest with his readers. My contention, as you well know, is that it is not.

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Actually, it's not an honor system any more - in theory at least. It's obligatory (the problem is enforcement).

 

FTC

 

continued

 

In a nutshell: amateurs must play by the same rules as professionals.

 

Wilfrid, the FTC regulations/guidelines cover disclosure for advertisers on blogs. I derive no income from my blog and I have no advertisers.

 

The issue isn't "income," although one could argue that a comped meal is just like cash. The issue is whether a blogger who does not reveal comps is being honest with his readers. My contention, as you well know, is that it is not.

Your contention is clear. There does appear to be an ambiguity in the guidelines (at least as quoted by Wilf) as to whether an "advertising message" can include editorial content or not. Of course, the FTC is not the be-all and end-all of right and wrong.

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I'm not a lawyer but the guidelines seem pretty clear about it - if you endorse a product without stating you've received compensation then you're in violation. This has nothing to do with ads that are clearly marked as such, and everything to do with editorial content.

 

Of course this is a weak guideline from a weak regulator, but if someone is reading it as applying only to advertisers on blogs then they need new glasses.

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As to whether blogs with no ads are exempt, I haven't checked. Possibly so.

 

But as to the first part, the regulations do seem to me to apply to editorial content. As you can see from the second clip, the FTC is not discussing suing advertisers, but suing bloggers.

Then the FTC doesn't know what it says elsewhere:

 

"I’ve read that bloggers who don’t comply with the Guides can be fined $11,000? Is that true?

 

No. The press reports that said that were wrong. There is no fine for not complying with an FTC guide.

 

Are you monitoring bloggers?

 

We’re not monitoring bloggers and we have no plans to. If concerns about possible violations of the FTC Act come to our attention, we’ll evaluate them case by case. If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers – just as it’s always been."

FTC

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As to whether blogs with no ads are exempt, I haven't checked. Possibly so.

 

But as to the first part, the regulations do seem to me to apply to editorial content. As you can see from the second clip, the FTC is not discussing suing advertisers, but suing bloggers.

Then the FTC doesn't know what it says elsewhere:

 

"I’ve read that bloggers who don’t comply with the Guides can be fined $11,000? Is that true?

 

No. The press reports that said that were wrong. There is no fine for not complying with an FTC guide.

 

Are you monitoring bloggers?

 

We’re not monitoring bloggers and we have no plans to. If concerns about possible violations of the FTC Act come to our attention, we’ll evaluate them case by case. If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers – just as it’s always been."

FTC

So the guidelines lack bite.

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