A small movement started in May 2009 amongst the food blogging community when two bloggers put together a concise code of ethics.  It consisted of all the rules we were taught in communication school regarding journalism–yes they do teach that stuff, even though it doesn’t seem obvious these days.

Surprisingly, there was resistance to the code, saying it violated bloggers’ freedom to lie of speech.  For me, having an educational and professional background in TV and radio, these rules sounded obvious.  It’s surprising how many other bloggers don’t even consider these common sense guidelines.

Here’s the code:

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.

I would like to think that we at ZenKimchi have been following this code from day one.  When someone gives us a free meal (like a W180,000 burger), we disclose right away that we got freebies.  I don’t let restaurants write their own reviews on ZenKimchi Dining and am always vigilant when someone tries to game the system.  I’m sometimes blurry on my civility, but I believe that a blog is like a party at someone’s house.  If someone’s urinating on the carpet and scaring everyone off, it’s proper to remove the anomaly.

I’ve talked to the other members of Team Kimchi, and we have all pledged to follow the Food Blog Code of Ethics.  This is interesting in Korea, where journalism, much less blogging, doesn’t use the same standards as in the west.  A couple of years ago a chef became impressed when I paid for a meal.

Read that again.

He said that he regularly got bloggers come in and demand free food for good reviews.  I was one of the first bloggers to actually pay his bill.

One big food writer told me that it was policy in Korea to inform restaurants ahead of time that you’re going to review them.  That’s not how I roll.  It hurts the integrity of my writing.  Aside from the cases when I’m invited to try out a place, it’s my policy to not tell any restaurant what I am before paying the bill.  And when a restaurant does give me free food, I don’t let it influence my writing.

I’ll tell you right off that the new Italian restaurant Lugo invited my wife and me over to try the menu.  They’ve been doing that for food journalists in Seoul this past month.  And I’ll say that even though I got that food for free, I would gladly return and eat again paying full price.  They have amazing food.  You’ll be hearing more about them soon.  But, yeah, they gave me a free sample (a big one), and it’s my job to disclose that.

Thomas of Vinestock is a new friend of mine, and he lets me taste wines for free.  But he has a good business, and he’s doing sacred work in bringing good quality products into the Korean market.  So I’m going to promote him any chance I get.

Chef Hickey of the W, Chef Kim of Star Chef–these guys have become good friends over the years, and everyone knows that is so.  And, yes, I will promote their work if it’s something that I think ZenKimchi’s readers would like.  But I think I also overcompensate and criticize their food more harshly than others to avoid the impression of favoritism, so I need to watch that.

I receive newsletters from hotels and restaurants.  They don’t pay me anything to post their events.  I wouldn’t mind if they paid, but as of now, they don’t.

But as they say, Seoul is the largest small town in the world.  It’s impossible to be a food writer and not have these relationships because we’re a small intimate group of passionate foodies and winos.

I would truly love for the Food Blog Code of Ethics to spread to Korea.  It’s already taking hold in America.  By coincidence or not, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in October 2009 officially established the rule that bloggers have to disclose paid endorsements and gifts the same way traditional journalists do.

Food bloggers in Korea who pledge to follow these guidelines, feel free to say so in the comments or post them on your blog.  ZenKimchi has signed the pledge on Blog with Integrity, and we will keep the badge on our sidebar as a reminder to ourselves.

And readers, please make sure that we stay honest.

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