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Monday, 28 January 2008

The first nail in blogging's coffin?

OK, maybe not the first - but certainly the first one that makes me personally feel Death's chill hand groping for my virtual collar.

I got an e-mail today. Does it look familiar to any other bloggers out there?

I am writing to draw your attention to a new online platform we have put together. Our President and Chairman is Pierre Chappaz, co-founder of Kelkoo, and our name is ebuzzing.

ebuzzing allows bloggers to earn money by publicising things they actually like, and even to define their own price for doing so.

They browse ad campaigns posted by advertisers, then create content for their blog highlighting those products and services that they genuinely wish to talk about and are paid for each article.

You can learn more about ebuzzing on our Blogger's Page and also our FAQ. And we would love you to sign up and be part of our community of bloggers.

So just to be clear, they're offering you money to take ads, and turn them into editorial on your blog. In other words, they're bribing you to deceive the people who are kind (or sad) enough to read your blog that it's not advertising at all, but the genuine opinion of someone whose words they, for some reason, value.

I said no.

The whole thing made me a little sad. But when I'm feeling low, I always find the tonic that puts a smile back on my face is Heineken, brewed in Holland since the 187os to an unchanged recipe that uses only the finest hops and barley and is available in all good off-licences - at prices that won't put a hole in your pocket!


Deege said...

Actually you are required to state that it is a sponsored blog post. At least that is the rule with the existing pay for blog companies- the new one may vary. They also require you to maintain a 20-1 blog vs sponsored blog post. So it's not nearly as bad as it sounds.

mhaugan said...

There was an interesting article on this in the latest issue of Wired. Apparently Google went through and set people's PageRank to 0 if there were known to participate in pay for blogs. Not that that would be a big drop for my blog, but enough of a threat to keep me from participating.

BLTP said...

Do you know what really goes well with a chilled heineken a tasty and filling Greggs steak bake, the snack that does fill you up between meals.....

Alan said...

I admit it. I did six posts for ReviewMe back about a year ago:

The weird thing is that, while you were to be open about it, you were also not required to like the stuff you are reviewing so you get bolstering praise like "not for me. But if you want to try, you could try."

I think the real point is creating some linking boost but as the ReviewMe mania of 2005 seems to have died off, I wonder what good it really was even for that.

Anonymous said...

Coming from someone who is clearly beholden to various breweries, this really is rich!!

Greg Clow said...

I got the same email, Pete. I ignored it. Although like Alan, I also did a couple of reviews for ReviewMe a while back.

I told myself at the time that it was OK since I had to state at the top of the post that it was a paid review, and I was able to give an honest opinion either way whatever I was reviewing.

But soon, the self-justification stopped working, and I started to feel dirty about the whole thing, and shut down my account with them. It just started to feel a but too much like payola, which wasn't cool to me as a former DJ and music writer.

Pete said...

"Beholden to various breweries"?

I love how the slanderous comments are always anonymous.

For the record, I take money from breweries to do marketing consultancy work. Sometimes I'll write about what I learn from doing that work, but I always make it clear that it's been a paid job. Sometimes this stuff will be critical of the brewery that's paid me (see the Stella post). This stuff is always done on a project basis. I have no long-term links with any brewery. But like any drinker, I have my favourite beers.

Apart from that, I have the same amount of contact with breweries that any other published, serious beer writer does. We're approached all the time with news, offers of brewery tours etc. We know the people who work there, we get on with most of them because for most people, brewing happens to be a very sociable business. We have drinks with them. It means we can write informed work about that these firms are really doing - proper journalism - instead of sitting in our bedrooms ranting conspiracy theories.

But like anyone else, I don't take money to write favourable things about any brewery and pretend they're my own opinions.

Oh alright, I give in - I admit it. I'm part of a sinister conspiracy where a select bunch of people sit around pushing a sinister corporate agenda. And you know what, Anonymous? It goes further than you think. In fact everyone's invited, except you. Because it's YOU we talk about when we're all being chums around the boardroom table, and how we can pull the wool over your eyes. We want to destroy small scale independent brewing and make you drink nothing but Bud Light. That's the plan.

Stonch said...

Not all rude comments are anonymous - I've got a regular called Whorst who is proud to put his name to them!

Pete, I too dislike the bedroom conspiracy theorists but some of what you said in response to that slur doesn't sit easily with me...

You refer to "published, serious beer writers". Times have changed: a lot of people who are interested in beer read lots of websites, but don't touch the print media. I would have thought that's why you've engaged with this medium.

What I'm saying is - don't get involved with blogging, but then simultaneously be sniffy about it on the other hand.

Although I don't like the look of this e-buzzing thing either (paid-for editorial is surely a no-no), equally I'm not comfortable when "published, serious beer writers" have a knee-jerk reaction as soon as there's a suggestion bloggers might get some financial reward.

Maybe that isn't your attitude - I can't tell from this post - but I know it's a view held by some others, and it bothers me.

Alan said...

I can't tell you what should or not make you uncomfortable, Greg, but the point is that taking money to secretly write favourable things is less than transparent. Taking money to write things is what professionals do. That is why Pete wrote is a good way of putting it:

"But like anyone else, I don't take money to write favourable things about any brewery and pretend they're my own opinions."

Otherwise, an author who gets money from ten magazines with ads from 1000 beer sources who supports beer culture would be in the same boat as the person who writes booster stories for pay. It is all just beer sourced money - all that matters is what you do with it. Anyone saying that there is a difference caused merely by scale is kidding themselves. A blind paid booster is the same thing whether general or specific.

[And, now...where is my Brown disclaimer form 17....Ah, yes: "I am Alan and I approved this comment."]

Greg Clow said...

Alan, I definitely have no problem being paid for my writing. Even though it's a sideline for me, I'd love to make more money off of it.

What makes me uncomfortable about ReviewMe and other similar services is that the writers/reviewers are being solicited and paid directly by the company who has something they want reviewed. (OK, technically, ReviewMe is acting as a middleman, but the company specifically requests a particular writer/blog to cover their product, and earmarks their payment for said writer/blog).

Put it another way - what if you were sent something to review (some beer, or a book, or whatever), along with a cheque for 50 bucks. Even if disclose the fact that you received the payment, couldn't your journalistic ethics be questioned?

Being paid by a magazine to write an article or review is a different story. Even if the company places an ad in a magazine, they are (presumably) not doing so in order to garner a review - they are purchasing an ad. If the magazine is ethical, they'll have a firewall between the advertising and editorial sides of things, so the fact that some of the money being paid to the writers came from some of the companies having products reviewed shouldn't matter.

(Yes, I know that not all magazines are run on such an ethical basis. I know from my days being involved in the music scene that there are lots of publications - esp. smaller ones - that base their editorial coverage on who buys the biggest ads. But I'm wishfully thinking that most beer magazines aren't quite as dirty...)

Anyway - maybe I'm rationalising this too much, but the bottom line is that I think there's a difference between being paid to write for a magazine vs. being paid via ReviewMe and similar services to write reviews. That being said, I don't begrudge anyone who chooses to take the latter route - I just decided after dabbling in it for a bit that it makes me uncomfortable as a writer.

Pete said...

Stonch, I have absolutely no problem with anyone being paid for their writing - or even bloggers writing just for the joy of it.

I expressed the distinction I was trying to make badly. I didn't want to draw a distinction between paid journos and passionate bloggers. Prickling at Anon's accusation, I was trying to distinguish between people who write seriously, research things and express themselves cogently, and people who simply throw out idle, ill-thought out rubbish. Journos don't have a monopoly on the former, and bloggers certainly don't on the latter. I would include most of the people who have replied to this thread so far (yourself included) among the first camp.

And for God's sake everyone, I wouldn't argue for a second that there is anything wrong with the principle of someone getting paid for their writing, whatever the medium. I can't yet make a full-time living from writing but I hope to, one day.

All I'm saying, as a former ad man, is that it is essential to keep a very clear distinction between advertising and editorial.

Stonch, you take advertising on your blog. It looks like advertising. Anyone can see that it's advertising. I can read your blog and choose either to look at the ads or not. If it makes you a few quid, more power to you.

The strength of blogging is that it does allow so many people to express their personal views. I just think it's important that if looks like personal views from the heart, that's what it is.

Alan said...

I agree with what Greg and Pete have clarified but we have to keep in mind that the professional journalist's basement full of samples sent from breweries and junkets to foreign parts to witness the beauty of Babmurg are as bar or worse than as fifty bucks in an envelop. [I am happly secure from samples due to stupid Canadian law.] I recall last year a comment made from one beer journalist about how problematic certain benefits others (not himself) took and then opened a journal to find him in the back row of a group junket to another continent. Very odd. As a lawyer who has advised two cities and one province on conflict of interest, I am quite happy to identify that face in the picture as a person with conflict identification issues.

Plus, I do not think I am a journalist. I am not quite sure what I am but I am pretty sure I am not a journalist. I am also not sure that Pete as an author and an advertising/general brewing consultant is a journalist. I don't think beer writers who are also restaurant and trade consultants are journalists either. In fact, I have a hard time thinking of anyone who is actually a beer journalist and not one of any of a number of other very good things related to beer and brewing.

This complicates the issue of creating a general creed of beer writing ethics. We are all too different. Plus, there is all that beer messing it up, too.

atJ said...

As a professional journalist who happens to specialise in beer and cider I pick and choose what I want to write about (pitching ideas is part of being a freelance journalist), but if I am asked to write about a product that I don’t particularly enjoy but if it’s good money (this is after all how I earn my living) and not objectionable then I will do it, in a very neutral manner (I used to be a rock writer years ago and used the same procedure when interviewing Cliff Richard, whose music and image I loathed, but it had to be done).

I had to write about a Stella Artois quality programme (ha!) a couple of years ago and was given the chance to leave my by-line off, I didn’t but wrote the piece in a neutral, factual way without endorsing the product which I haven’t had for 20 years. It’s part of the territory if you want to write about beer in this country — you have to compromise if you want to pay the mortgage, but isn’t that part and parcel of life? Just keep the compromises as small as possible.

And the other thing about junkets. None of us can afford to swan around the world checking out beers and breweries. I’ve investigated biere garde and North Italian micros under my own steam,but if a brewery comes along and says would you like to visit Zyweic, Farsons or Svyturys and oyu get an insight into beer culture in those countries (a brew pub in Vilnius, a country bar in Malta) then I’m off, but through experience I’m more sceptical about heavily corporate trips to mega places where the only contact you get with the local drinking culture is at the international hotel bar where they serve Greggs’ steak bake…

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

while you mention Heineken,I was watching David Lynch's Blue Velvet the other night , 'Man I like Heineken! You like Heineken?"

BLTP said...

don't they also mention the "king of beers" in the same exchange

Lew Bryson said...

Busy, busy, busy...

I'm just happy that I finally got one of those e-mails a couple days ago; I was starting to feel left out. No, I'm not doing it. I might say neutral things when I write, but my blogging is me. Period.

Alan, I can see junkets swaying folks -- and I'm trying to do more on my own dime because of that -- but they do give a writer an opportunity to soak up information, particularly on the right junket. I've been on several junkets that I never wrote stories about -- I never said I would -- but I've used some of the other stuff I've picked up on the trip.

But samples? I'm sorry, I cannot be bought for a 12-pack. And if I don't like the beer, I'll either say so on my blog, or I'll send the folks who sent me the stuff a polite e-mail, saying I didn't like it, and here's why, and thanks, maybe some other time. I just don't see samples as swaying. And neither do any of my editors, some of whom have pretty tight ethics policies: they all make exceptions for samples. The New York Times is quite ethical: they take samples. It's easy to take them and stay honest once you realize that there are 10,000 breweries in the world: you're afraid of pissing off a couple? Screw 'em! Besides, I still get samples from breweries I've reamed. They know how this works.

Greg, we maintain that kind of firewall at Malt Advocate. I've never once been asked to write or run a story because of ad concerns, and we've lost advertisers because of reviews. We've gained readers, though, and that has made the ads that other producers bought more profitable.

The only thing I don't like about bloggers as a professional the holier-than-thou attitude some of them take. I did say "some"!

Alan said...

"...I'm sorry, I cannot be bought for a 12-pack..."

I think my point is that it is difficult to suggest one value proposition (junkets, samples) in relation to beer writing is OK in itself and one is not (ads, being paid). We all receive benefit in one way or another and it is what you do with it that makes me allocate integrity to the person's writings.

I think your "holier than thou attitude" problem is a shared one with professional beer writers, too, as that is just another aspect of integrity. The person who starts the day thinking they are clear of these issues or gets a head start on them because of previous record or other business connections is in breach of Grannie rule #1: handsome is as handsome does. But, as I thought when an acquaintance who was a professional humour writer started to blog - it must be very odd having those comment things now showing up at the end of a professional writers pieces for someone who has been at it for decades. It is not just the attitude of blogging is the the mere fact of its existence that creates such a broad brush of archived response to this column or that beer - this is only so much one can say, isn't there? I was quite shocked when a good brewer, for example, when on about the "HateBeer" forum on the internet but who would have thought that pursuing one's dream as a craft brewer would mean being pursued by a gang of note taking cranks.

Zythophile said...

I get sent beer (lots of it, sometimes) from some brewers whose beer I like and whom I write about in a positive fashion, and on the flipside I don't get sent beer from other brewers I like and write about in a positive fashion - it makes no difference as to what I say about them. Similarly I've had free trips and so on in the past from brewers I've subsequently been rude about (InBev, for example).

I think people are intelligent enough to be able to spot if you're not telling it how it is, and if you want to keep your audience, you're straight with them. That's the argument I always used with advertising salespeople who wanted editorial to be nice to a potential advertiser, in the days when I was in B2B journalism, and the same applies to blogging.

As a journalist I've written advertorials for publications, and been happy to take the money, because the audience I'm writing for is not one where people know me. In the beer world there are a few people who know who I am, and I'd be very dubious about lending my name in a publication to something someone was paying for, on the grounds that it could be seen as compromising. On my blog - definitely not. Whatever credibility I might have built up would be gone immediately.

Incidentally, I'd be surprised if there were more than five or six people in the UK making a full-time living from writing about beer and brewing, and that includes those working for What's Brewing and so on - my personal bread and butter comes from freelancing in what used to be called the Street of Shame before it migrated to places such as Waterloo and Wapping.

Greg Clow said...

Alan said: "I think my point is that it is difficult to suggest one value proposition (junkets, samples) in relation to beer writing is OK in itself and one is not (ads, being paid)."

Again, the issue (at least in my mind) is not with ads, or with being paid for writing in general. The issue is with a brewery or other company paying me (or any other writer) directly to write an article about them.

(An exception to this would be getting paid to write some sort of press or marketing material which is clearly presented as such. I did this when I was a music writer and wrote a few press releases for a record label. But they did not have my name on them, and were not presented as unbiased editorial material.)

I consider beer samples to be the equivalent of the promotional CDs I got as a music writer and DJ. I didn't feel that I was being "paid off" by these because it is standard practice within the music industry to send CDs to the press to get them reviewed. Those reviews may be positive, or may be negative, and any music writer who feels that they need to give a positive review to a CD just because they got it for free is either young, foolish, or both.

Same goes for the beer samples. Breweries want reputable writers to review their beers, and the best way to do that is to send them samples (where the law allows, of course). As with the music, free beer should not mean a free ride when it comes to the criticism. I approach every beer that I'm going to write about the same way, regardless of whether I paid for it or not.

Going back to the music industry, it is a big no-no for record companies to give cash directly to writers, DJs, radio stations, etc. in exchange for reviews and airplay. It's also unethical for magazines or radio stations to allow their reviews or airplay to be skewed based on who runs the most advertising. And I think that similar rules should apply in the world of beer writing.

Coming back full circle to ReviewMe and other similar services - I guess it could be convincingly argued that because the writers have to disclose that they are being paid to write the article, then it's OK to accept the payment. Perhaps it could be seen to be the equivalent to the "this trip was funded by the such-and-such tourist board" that appears at the end of travel stories in many newspapers. Personally, I'm not completely against the practice - I'm just uncomfortable enough with it that I chose to stop doing it.

And since I'm now just repeating myself from my previous comment, this is probably a good time for me to stop ranting. :)

Alan said...

I think, then, that may be a real distinction between journalistic ethics and the sort of ethics I deal with in law and government as there is no room for some things being acceptable benefits and others not so acceptable. But I use (and claim for RevCan purposes) income and expenditure in relation to beer in the same way a not-tiny publication would. A sample not bought by me doesn't enter that equation so it has to fall somewhere and, as I get to drink the beer, it is a bonus of sorts. In my working life, that sort of bonus is a clear violation.

But that is really not so much on point - so a hypothetical, then: if you read in a beer mag about a trip to a far off beer joint or town and the report is purely glowing without any downside, do you read it assuming the piece was ad-pinion? Surely nothing is that pure. Similarly, what about a history that places a significant brewery in a far better light than an objective report on a similarly situated business outside the brewing trade might suggest? If it is correct to question appearances such that "benefit must equal bias" does it not also follow that the "bias must equal benefit" equally follow"? Isn't the appearance of objectivity equally important in the product as well as the process?

I don't think, by the way, that is an easy question, especially in an area where many fans and certain trade participants write and are as read by the public as much as are a smaller number of pure trade journalists.

Knut Albert said...

Alan, I am surprised about your reference to Hatebeer in this thread. Could you elaborate on this?
For the record: I am fairly active on ratebeer, and have only positive experiences with the European crowd active there, a generous and sharing community which has established an amazing database that everyone can use and enjoy.

Alan said...

It's not my view, Knut. I am merely reporting what I was told by a North American craft brewer. That was their term and was part of a voicing of frustration over the power of beer forums, blogs, etc. over their trade. I mention it as an example, ilustrating that there are other of points of unhappiness with the beer discourse.

Stonch said...

Lots of people have misgivings about online beer rating, and I count myself among them. On the other hand I find Ratebeer and invaluable resource, so it's a mixed picture.

Alan said...

Yes, I rely upon them, too, though I sit more to the Beer Advocate side of the universe.

Knut Albert said...

I agree, it is a mixed picture.

There are lots of craft brewers that sell out a new beer in days just because the word is spread via Beer Advocate or Ratebeer.

And the sites are good resorces for getting the overview of beers and brewers, and I doubt that you would have volunteers maintaining those databases without the rating incentive.

Lew Bryson said...

on reading the "glowing report"... If I could have found anyone to pay me for a piece on my trip to Dusseldorf and Cologne last year, it would have been a beautiful glowing report, with nothing negative except how confusing the ticket machines were at the train stations. And I paid for the whoe effin' thing myself, not one free beer. Some things are just wonderful, and I refuse to make up or exaggerate something so that my review has "balance." I think that's a flawed theory of journalism. Not that you were suggesting that, but I've seen it happen.

Alan said...

...Some things are just wonderful...

That is a very good observation and the only caveat I would add is that it is when everything is wonderful over an extended body of writing by an author or a periodical that I begin to wonder. Wonder is well worthy and when both observed and related skillfully, made even more so.

BLTP said...

I am starting a rating site to rate beer fora:

SEO BRO said...

It sounds like you got a bee in your bonnet with all this BUZZZZ! Perhaps we need the aid of Buzz Sawyer or his pal Rusco Sweeny.

Although a bees life may seem sweet with all that honey it requires hard work. Well, see you later, I'm getting a case of HIVES!