Tag Archives: freebie

Food Blogger ‘bun fight’ discredits MasterChef SA sponsor Woolworths!

It was via Twitter yesterday that I picked up a link to a blogpost “Not so good today…”, written by respected food and cookbook writer and TV producer Anne Myers on her blog ‘I love Cooking’. In her story, she identified two instances of food bloggers writing irresponsibly in their recipes, not on their own blogs, but on the newly created website for MasterChef SA sponsor Woolworths, leaving the retailer with egg on its face, with two of its four guest MasterChef SA food bloggers being accused of unprofessional blogging.

To tie in with its MasterChef SA sponsorship, Woolworths created a Woolworths Pantry page on its website, and invited four food bloggers they felt to be at the top of their field to blog for them in return for payment: Alida Ryder writes the blog ‘Simply Delicious‘, and was named the top food blogger at the SA Blog Awards in 2010; Ishay Govender followed in her footsteps in winning the SA Blog Awards 2011 Food Blogger of the Year for her ‘Food and the Fabulous’ blog; Jane-Anne Hobbs is described on the Woolworths website as having ‘pioneered recipe blogging in South Africa’, now blogging on her ‘Scrumptious’ blog, and soon to have a cookbook published, she announced today; and Fritz Brand, who blogs on ‘Real Men can Cook’, is a more recent blogger with no known accolades (interesting is that Woolworths accepts his writing with grammatical errors, and he even misspells the Woolworths brand name on his own blog!).  Once a week the bloggers contribute their recipes according to a set theme, and receive credit for the recipes that are featured.

Strangely, no MasterChef SA branding appears on the Woolworths Pantry pages, only the ‘Cook like a Chef’ box appearing on the recipe pages, an adaptation of the in-store banners ‘Cook like a MasterChef’. The bloggers do not comment on the MasterChef SA programme at all, even though the initial Tweets of some of these bloggers led one to believe that they would be commentators for Woolworths about the reality TV cooking programme.

Ms Myers was very kind to the two Woolworths Pantry bloggers, in not mentioning their names in her blogpost, perhaps a weakness, as their names were revealed later in the day anyway. The bloggers concerned commendably showed integrity by declaring their discredited recipes in the Comments section of Ms Myers’ blogpost, and their responses are interesting.

Fritz Brand claimed ownership of the criticised Nutella Crêpes recipe, which called for five teaspoons of salt, four of which were to be coarse salt, according to the Woolworths Pantry recipe, which Ms Myers wrote was difficult to rub through the sieve, as required in the recipe.  Brand defends his recipe in the Comment on Ms Myers’ blog, stating that his recipe only called for one teaspoon of salt, and that Woolworths must have got it wrong in posting the recipe on its site! He also writes that he posted the same recipe on his own blog, without the four extra spoonfuls of salt.  The four mystery spoonfuls of salt were removed from the recipe on the Woolworths Pantry website after Ms Myers’ blogpost appeared!

Interestingly, a second Tweet about food blogger ethics circulated later in the day, with a link to Ms Govender’s blog, and her blogpost ‘Food Bloggers – The Cauldrons are boiling’.  Not knowing that she was under attack in Ms Myers’ blogpost, it sounded as if Ms Govender was having a general go at ‘bully’ food bloggers who do not have a ‘spirit of community’, who discredit others, who wave ‘their blog stats and self-importance around’, one not realising that she was in fact reacting to Ms Myers’ blogpost.  She called for an (undefined) ‘formal qualification system’ in the ‘food blogging business’ that builds ‘sensibility and comaraderie’ (sic), implying that only qualified persons may comment about other bloggers, one suspects she was trying to say.  Only on re-reading Ms Myers’ blogpost last night was it clear that Ms Govender’s blogpost was a response to Ms Myers’ very serious allegation that Ms Govender’s recipe for ‘Dark Chocolate Souffles’ had been plagiarised (an ‘almost word-for-word replica of the recipe’) from the website www.bonappetit.com. Ms Govender writes in her blogpost about ‘bully’ bloggers’ ‘crucifixion mentality’, without ‘calmly gathering facts and asking the involved people for their opinions’, clearly (but unfairly, in our opinion) accusing Ms Myers of this behaviour. On Ms Myers’ blogpost Ms Govender defends herself in writing that some standard recipes would appear very similar to others, that she has a background in intellectual property law and could never consider taking ideas from others, that she gets involved in community projects benefiting others, and is an example of the ‘spirit of community’. Ms Myers was harsh in her reply to Ms Govender, clearly not moved by it at all: ‘Ishay, defending yourself and pointing out your qualities and good deeds for the lesser priviledged (sic) will not change the way I feel about responsible blogging. I made it clear that I used the post in which the chocolate souffle recipe featured as an example of what I believe to be some of the causes of foodblogging’s detoriating (sic) credibility and vanishing visitors’.

As this blogpost is about food blogger ethics, it is interesting to observe how opinionated and previously fiercely independent Woolworths Pantry blogger Jane-Anne Hobbs, who describes her ‘Scrumptious‘ blog as ‘Recipes and inspiration from an independent African food blog’, has shifted in her definition of ‘independence’!  In her ‘About me and Contact’ page, she writes: By ‘independent’ I mean that my blog is not sponsored by anyone, and that I don’t endorse products or services in exchange for freebies, money or publicity. Because this blog is a freebie- and ad-free site, you can be assured that any branded product I recommend to you has been selected and paid for by me, because I think it’s interesting, tasty or exciting. Disclaimer: I earn my living by working as an independent food writer, recipe developer and social media consultant for a variety of clients.  Their products and services are never mentioned on this blog. Post Script; 20 March 2012: I’ve recently been appointed one of Woolworths offical (sic) bloggers for their sponsorship of the new TV series MasterChef South Africa.  I’m am (sic) paid to write blogposts and recipes for Woolworths, and will be reproducing that content on this site. You’re welcome to send me press releases, or invite me to launches, but please note that I don’t accept samples, ‘gifts’, ‘freebies’, or any similar inducements! We must commend Ms Hobbs for being the only one of the four Woolworths Pantry bloggers honest enough to declare her blogging for payment. Each of the four bloggers’ blogs carry the same Woolworths’ banner.

We predicted that MasterChef SA would be controversial, but did not expect a food blogger ‘bun fight’ to be the cause of such controversy, in addition to the MasterChef SA sponsor Robertson’s controversy, about which we reported last week.  It will be interesting to see which further controversies will develop in the remaining sixteen weeks of MasterChef SA!  The incident also questions the SA Blog Awards’ evaluation of top food bloggers!

POSTSCRIPT 3/4: In looking at the line ‘Cook like a Chef’ in the Woolworths ads linked to their food bloggers’ recipes one must ask again what the definition of a ‘chef’ is.  All four food bloggers are recipe writers but clearly not chefs.  One wonders why Woolworths would be dishonest in its advertising in projecting the bloggers to a more glorified status and so mislead their customers.

POSTSCRIPT 3/4: Woolworths Pantry has credited Bon Appetit magazine with the ‘inspiration’ for Ms Govender’s dark chocolate soufflé recipe subsequent to the publishing of Ms Myers’ blogpost, confirming that Ms Myers was correct in what she wrote!

POSTSCRIPT 4/4: For Week 3 on the Woolworths Pantry website, only recipes by food bloggers Alida Ryder and Jane-Anne Hobbs are featured, with none by Ishay Govender and Fritz Brand. The photograph of the four food bloggers is also no longer featured!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage

Towards a Code of Ethics for Food (and other) Bloggers!

I have come across a blog called “Food Blog Code of Ethics”, compiled by two food bloggers in America, which has raised the important issue of ethics in food blogging, which principles can apply to wine and other blogging too.  The Code raises important issues for South African bloggers in dealing with the ethics of blogging.

Brooke Burton writes the blog ‘FoodWoolf’, subtitled “the restaurant insider’s perspective”, and Leah Greenstein’s blog is called ‘SpicySaltySweet’.  They got together with other food bloggers to create an ‘union of ethical food bloggers’, setting “Reviewers’ Guidelines” and compiling the Code of Ethics.   We do not necessarily agree with all their principles, but welcome it as a foundation for a Blogging Code of Conduct that we may jointly subscribe to as members of the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club.

The blog post on reviewing restaurants states the following principles they subscribe too – our comments are in italics.

1.   One should visit the restaurant more than once, and state if the review is based on only one visit – we do not agree that a review should be based on more than visit, as the strengths and weaknesses of a restaurant are usually the same and apparent immediately.   Restaurants should strive for consistency, so that the reviewer should experience it in the same way on any visit.  Reviews help restaurants improve their food and service quality, if they are smart about facing them and learning from them, not always a strength of restaurantsMultiple visits are expensive, as most visits are paid for by the reviewer.  On our Blog we will update our impression with a Postscript, as we did recently for La Mouette, for example, in that the experience was vastly different compared to previous ones, highlighting a consistency problem.

2.  One should sample the full range of dishes on the menu – this is a hard one to implement, as many menus are excessively big.  Taking a partner to lunch/dinner and ordering different dishes helps, so that the reviewer can try a larger number.  Recently we were criticised by Richard Carstens’ sister-in-law, Leigh Robertson, for not having a starter at Chez d’Or, and that writing a review based on tasting three dishes only was not fair to the restaurant.  I doubt if a starter would have made my review any more positive.  Having a wide range of dishes, when paying for it, is a cost and a space consideration.

3.   One should be fair to a new restaurant and wait for a month after its opening, to give it a chance “to work out some kinks”, and should qualify reviews as ‘initial impressions’ if the review is done in less than a month after opening – bloggers have become very competitive, and some want to write a review about new restaurants before their colleagues do.  Our reviews state when the restaurant opened if it is new, so that the reader can read such “kinks” into it.  The first ‘Rossouw’s Restaurants’ review of La Mouette raised the issue of how quickly one can/should review a new restaurant, one of Rossouw’s inspectors having been at the restaurant on its first or second day of opening.  Two visits to Leaf Restaurant and Bar on two subsequent days showed their acceptance of customer feedback by moving the ghetto-blaster they have set up on the terrace from on top of a table, to below it, after my comments to them about it.   No other business, play or movie has a second chance in reviews being written about it, in that they are normally done after opening night – so why should restaurants be ‘protected’ in this way?   No business should open its doors when it is not ready to do so (Leaf held back its opening because it had problems in getting a credit card machine installed by the bank)!

4.  One should specify if one received a meal, or part of it, or any other product for free, and should also declare if one was recognised in the restaurant – absolutely agree on the declaration of the freebie, and we have regular Blog readers and Commenters who delight in checking blogs for the freebies.  Some bloggers are labelled by such readers as not having credibility, in that they usually only write about meals they received for free, and usually are very positive about them, so that they can be invited back in future!   The recognisablity of the reviewer is an interesting issue.  I always book in the name of “Chris”, with a cell number.   If I know the owner or a staff member of the restaurant, I will state that in the review.

5.   One should not use pseudonyms in writing reviews, and reviewers should stand up and be counted by revealing their names – absolutely agree.  In Cape Town we have a strange situation of Food bloggers who hide behind pseudonyms.  Andy Fenner (JamieWho) wanted to remain unidentified when he started blogging, yet appointed a PR agency to raise his profile, and was “outed” by Food & Home, when they wrote about him, using his real name.  He is now open about his real name (probably being irritated by being called Jamie more often than Andy, I assume).  One wonders what bloggers using pseudonyms have to hide?  Wine bloggers seem to be more open and upfront about who they are.   I would like to add here how difficult it is to make contact with Food Bloggers in particular .  Most do not have a telephone number nor an e-mail address to contact them on their blogs, and one has to use a Comment box to contact them, which most do not respond to.   Yet many of these bloggers are looking to make money from advertising on their blogs. 

The Code of Ethics which the two bloggers prepared with their colleagues is as follows:

“1. We will be accountable

  • We will write about the culinary world with the care of a professional. We will not use the power of our blog as a weapon. We will stand behind our claims. If what we say or show could potentially affect someone’s reputation or livelihood, we will post with the utmost thought and due diligence.
  • We understand why some bloggers choose to stay anonymous. We respect that need but will not use it as an excuse to avoid accountability. When we choose to write anonymously for our own personal or professional safety, we will not post things we wouldn’t be comfortable putting our names to.
  • If we review a restaurant, product or culinary resource we will consider integrating the standard set of guidelines as offered by the Association of Food Journalists.

2. We will be civil

  • We wholeheartedly believe in freedom of speech, but we also acknowledge that our experiences with food are subjective. We promise to be mindful—regardless of how passionate we are—that we will be forthright, and will refrain from personal attacks.

3. We will reveal bias

  • If we are writing about something or someone we are emotionally or financially connected to, we will be up front about it.

4. We will disclose gifts, comps and samples

  • When something is given to us or offered at a deep discount because of our blog, we will disclose that information.  As bloggers, most of us do not have the budgets of large publications, and we recognize the value of samples, review copies of books, donated giveaway items and culinary events. It’s important to disclose freebies to avoid be accused of conflicts of interest.

5. We will follow the rules of good journalism

  • We will not plagiarize. We will respect copyright on photos. We will attribute recipes and note if they are adaptations from a published original. We will research. We will attribute quotes and offer link backs to original sources whenever possible. We will do our best to make sure that the information we are posting is accurate. We will factcheck. In other words, we will strive to practice good journalism even if we don’t consider ourselves journalists”.

The above aspects are clear and need no elaboration.  The last sentence of the Code is odd though, in that we are “new age” journalists, and must play by the same rules as the print, radio and TV media do.  That means we must research our stories, to ensure their accuracy.   One can correct a blog post if one makes an error, including spelling and grammar ones.  An American food blog recently added a note about getting the name of a restaurant reviewer wrong – she did not change it in the blog post, but wrote an apology at the bottom of her post, highlighting the error, which most readers probably would not have picked up.  A controversial issue is the announcement of Reuben Riffel taking over the maze space at the One&Only Hotel Cape Town, which Riffel has denied.   No correction or apology to Riffel or the hotel has been posted,

We encourage Bloggers and Blog readers to give us their views on the Code of Ethics as well as the Restaurant Review guidelines, which we will be happy to post.  I would like to get the ball rolling by stating that the Code should include the publishing of Comments, even if they are controversial, as long as they do not attack the writer or the subject of the blog post with malice, and the Commenter is identified, as is the family or other relationship of the Commenter (e.g. JP Rossouw’s and Richard Carstens’ sisters-in-law).   I would also like to hear views about revealing to the restaurant that one is writing a review, in that I was recently criticised by the co-owner of Oskar Delikatessen for not asking permission to write a review and to take photographs, which contradicts the Code on writing unidentified.  A third issue is the acceptance of advertising on one’s blog, or accepting sponsorships for brands, and how this should be revealed.

POSTSCRIPT 22/8 : Reuben Riffel’s appointment as the new operator of the restaurant at the One&Only Hotel Cape Town has been announced in the Sunday Times today.   We congratulate Spill blog on having had its ear to the ground in announcing this news ahead of all other media.  The One&Only Hotel had denied speaking to Spill about Reuben’s appointment at the time that they wrote the story, and Riffel had denied it too. 

POSTSCRIPT 29/8:  Since writing this post, the identity of The Foodie as being David Cope has been revealed by Crush!2.  Furthermore, Clare “Mack” of Spill Blog (with her husband Eamon McLoughlin) has been identified as being Clare McKeon, an ex-Irish TV chat show hostess, columnist, author of “The Emotional Cook”, magazine beauty journalist, and owner of the Bliss Beauty Salon.  

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com