What Was I Thinking?

#OneADay 5 – Money And Ethics (Again)

with 2 comments

Another one-a-day blogger, Evrim Ersoy, wrote a great response to my post on selling out.

If you want people to take you seriously, take what you write seriously then it’s your journalistic obligation to prove to them that what they’re reading is not just another form of paid for advertisement.
Evirm Ersoy – The Art of Selling Out

Go and read it so you can follow my points below.

The major part I don’t understand is the distinction between a restaurant giving you a free meal and your paying for a meal and then claiming it back on expenses. Either way, the source of the payment isn’t you. The meal tastes just the same, the service is just as good and the wine is just as overpriced.

The other option is for you to pay for the meal yourself. Surely the only way that can go is towards demands for higher writing wages? How is payment coming from your own bank balance any different, except in the writer’s mind? This brings us back to the point in my last post about choice. Subconscious positive feelings through gratitude are a fact of humanity but all critics are well aware of what they’re writing and why. Restaurant reviews include the cost of a meal for 2 plus wine and of course the reviewer considers the opportunity costs for the reader, yes?

Evrim has a great quote from Ebert about gifts. In case anyone missed my sarcasm about mugs and diaries and lunch in the last post, I agree. Gifts bad. Alcohol particularly so. Granted, in the UK’s social culture it’s harder to build professional relationships without it but anything more than accepting a few rounds in a pub is pretty fucking dodgy in my book. Especially if you (the writer) never reciprocate.

[Disclosure: In December Shopping.com gave me a bunch of cocktails, a shared bottle of champagne and a bottle of Prosecco. They were sponsoring a Christmas quiz, I was a +1 with a friend and my site isn’t about shopping portals. Relevant or red herring?]

Bringing this to a more personal level – I get the occasional free game. I buy other games. Giving me a free game means I feel obligated to write SOMETHING about your game in particular – I was going to write something about some game anyway, so is it unethical to choose the thing right in front of me over the one still in the shop? Is it morally “better” to choose the one I paid for because I thought it looked fun? Why? My choice to buy for myself was influenced by marketing budgets, after all.

Of course publishing only-positive reviews is doing a disservice to your readers. From what I’ve learned over the past few months (through anecdotes not personal experience, I feel the need to add ;), it will also earn you a reputation as a hack and lose you respect from readers, colleagues and PR people. It’s your choice.

Here, I went to Namco a few months back to preview Enslaved: Odyssey To The West:

The game itself is quite fun. As Monkey, you run around the landscape beating up mechs with the occasional boss thrown in for good measure…
…Combat is… okay. I played on Normal mode and found it fairly pleasant, which probably means that fans of melee action games will find it shocking.
Debbie Timmins (Me!) – Preview – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

I made a conscious effort to ensure the piece reflected the good and bad of my experience. Is it not sufficient to judge a writer on the correlation of their work to the subject matter? How does the adding the knowledge that Namco bought me a pizza and a couple of cans of Coke change the quality of my review? How about the knowledge that it was a horrible gooey sweet chilli pizza that I didn’t enjoy very much?

Personally, I think it’s more important to disclose the fact that I’m not an expert on melee action games – the sort of information that many reviews don’t include, in the name of “objectivity”. Requiring full disclosure on the entire PR experiences sounds to me like a demand to open yourself to circumstantial ad hominem accusations.

Rounding off to Evrim’s statement above: Does the proof that “what I’m writing is not just another form of paid for advertising” not lie in the accuracy of my report as compared to yours and your friends experiences? I cannot be exceptional in choosing to trust reviewers based on how well their opinion of films I’ve already seen meshes with my own, can I?

The questions in this post are not rhetorical. I genuinely want to see more opinions on this. Leave them in the comments or drop me a link to your own post on the subject, please.

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Written by Weefz

5 January, 2011 at 3:44 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Marvellous response.

    Before everyone joins in what will be an interesting debate (and before I run out the door for a screening) I’ll leave a few pointers behind.

    When your company pays for your meal (or trip or event) then there is no OBLIGATION on the part of the writer. If the restuarant is paying for the meal then it is within their natural right to expect something from you in return.
    By removing their ability to demand anything – you make yourself more neutral.
    You could tell them to bugger off but in return might find no one wants to advertise with your website anymore.
    It’s a ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ mentality which you are letting yourself in for.
    DVD screeners and Game samples are part of our job. i need to attend screeners, be sent dozens of DVD’s and other material if I’m going to do my job. It’s up to my editor and I to decide onthe coverage given to anything based on what our content will be focusing on that month. There is no such things as a ‘free’ game or a ‘free’ dvd – and whether you choose to review them or not should make zero concession on whether you paid for them or not. You write what your site’s about. You cover the movies you know matters to your audience.
    Letting the reader know in advance you were paid to write something is only honesty. If you gush about a game and I find out a month later that Namco paid you £1000 pounds for it, I’ll never believe your integrity ever again. Ever. Because even though you might have honestly written your beliefs, I can’t tell that from here. I don’t personally know the writer, nor can I be expected to. So the logical solution is to have a clear ethical board.

    Whether you agree with a writer’s views or not , it’s your right as the audience to at least know the article was written under clear ethical guidelines. you might agree with my reviews or not – but you still know that that’s my opinion – not the opinion of some puppetmaster PR for the studio whose hand is up my bum. When you see me call a film great, you know that I genuinely think the film is great. If you hate it, it’s my opinion you disagree with. In the other scenario I’m just lying to you to make money.

    evrimersoy

    5 January, 2011 at 4:02 pm

  2. Thanks Evrim. I agree on the £1000 thing – I’ve done a couple of sponsored posts myself and they’re always disclosed. I like to think that merely stating the fact that I’ve talked extensively about how much I love Dance Central on Twitter is enough to placate those who are uppity about sponsorship but to be honest? If I lose a few readers who can’t get past that, I’m not that bothered.

    By removing their ability to demand anything – you make yourself more neutral.
    You could tell them to bugger off but in return might find no one wants to advertise with your website anymore.

    I still find it tricky to square that with the whole free DVDs/screenings thing – not about advertising but about PR provision in general. I guess it’s self-managed by a whole cultural aspect within PR that says you should keep inviting people who don’t like your stuff?

    Maybe I should go plop an ethical stance page on my site. I do have boundaries – just not felt the need to make them explicit until now.

    Weefz

    5 January, 2011 at 4:30 pm


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