Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another story about bloggers and ethics - but there's a surprise!

Yes, bloggers and ethics have been discussed ad nauseum over the last few days. I recently blogged about Frédéric Filloux's "soft corruption" post which demanded that bloggers (but no one else) institute a code of ethics. Steven Hodson has also written about it at Medacity. And both of us have been involved in a Google+ discussion of the topic.

And I just ran across a story (h/t The Future Buzz) in which bloggers and ethics figure prominently.

Let me cut to the chase and quote the relevant piece of the New York Times article (warning: this is a New York Times article):

The promotion was “unfortunate” and “struck me as being not quite where they should be in terms of honesty,” said Deborah A. Silverman, who heads the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards at the Public Relations Society of America.

Now some of you are probably wondering what outrage we in the blogging community have committed now. And I'm sure that a few of you are wondering if Izea (you remember them?) were involved.

Well, I hate to disappoint you, but the ethical violation that occurred was committed AGAINST bloggers, not BY.

You see, some food bloggers and mommy bloggers were invited to an oh-so-exclusive restaurant, advertised as being run by George Duran of TLC fame, to talk about healthy foods, and were served a dinner during their visit. Then - surprise! - it was revealed that the bloggers and their guests had been served frozen Marie Callender's dinners.

What the Ketchum public relations group thought would happen, and what they probably told the Marie Callender's frozen dinner maker, a company with the delightfully friendly name of ConAgra Foods, was that if we do this neat fun thing with the bloggers, we'll get all sorts of positive press. (And heck, these bloggers love freebies anyway, so we'll buy their love.)

Well, the bloggers weren't the only ones who were surprised. Let's look at some of what Mom Confessionals wrote after the experience:

The other evening I was invited to attend an intimate dinner at an exclusive underground restaurant called Sotto Terra hosted by Food Network chef George Duran and Supermarket Guru Phillip Lempert. We were promised a delicious Italian 4-course meal and scintillating conversation on the latest food trends with other foodies. I was salivating at the thought of this meal and it was long due for a date night with my husband. He doesn’t often partake in my Blogger perks but he was definitely interested in this one.

Even more exciting was that I was allowed to offer this same amazing experience to one of my readers and their guest. My excitement was palpable. I was tweeting away, getting my friends to share and spread the news. When it was time to draw the winner, I was pleasantly surprised to see the entrant and winner (out of 119 entries) was none other than my children’s pediatrician and his wife (who is a loyal Mom Confessionals reader)!

And after the surprise was revealed?

Our entire meal was a SHAM! We were unwilling participants in a bait-and-switch for Marie Callender’s new frozen three cheese lasagna and there were cameras watching our reactions. I’ve got a sense of humor so I was okay with it and I had been enjoying myself up until that point, but I could tell that the rest of the participants were not. Everyone feigned weak shock and faked approval of the frozen meal. My guests were eager to leave all of a sudden and refused to sign the release. I felt awful! The conversation had fallen to an awkward silence as our hosts tried to fill in the empty air. When suggested we move the conversation back upstairs, everyone took themselves upstairs and out the door, include myself, my husband and our guests. I must have been still somewhat hopeful when my guest asked me so is Sotto Terra real or not? I said I thought it still might be a project that chef George and Phil were working on. I realize how stupid and gullible I must have sounded later.

The first thing out of my husband’s mouth was waste of time and I was reduced to tears. Not only had I been duped but now my husband was mad at me and my guests/pediatrician must of thought of me terribly. Its even crossed my mind that I may need to find a new pediatrician, I was that embarrassed. My only comfort was as we left, his wife said to me, Thank God he at least cooked the rest of the meal. But that also hinted at the major disappointment.

By the way, be sure to take a look at the comments such as this one. The blogger in question is transparent and ethical - and is STILL criticized as a whiner.

However, the commenter in question didn't realize that Mom Confessional's reaction would be the lead reaction in a New York Times article. In the middle of the article, it was revealed that ConAgra had made a decision:

As negative comments on blogs, Twitter and Facebook grew, ConAgra canceled the fifth evening and vowed not to use the hidden-camera footage for promotional purposes.

That's so noble of ConAgra to voluntarily abstain from using the hidden-camera footage. Frankly, I suspect a lot of people would like to see it - especially the part where the Mom Confessional guests refuse to sign the release.

In closing this post, however, I want to shift gears and ask a question - is this story validated because Mom Confessional blogged about it, or is this story validated because the New York Times reported it? (This same question arose during the 1960s and 1970s, but in that case it was the upstart television that dared to report things that hadn't been on the front page of the New York Times yet. And television got no respect, even though it had a code at the time.)
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