The Associated Press recently published a report about how the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may begin regulating blogs, possibly as early as later this summer. This news has the blogosphere talking, with folks chiming in both for and against the likely development. The FTC felt compelled to make this move because of apparent conflicts on interest, undisclosed commercial/business relationships, and other actions that give the appearance (and in some cases, the reality) of impropriety on the part of a blogger.
More specifically, the FTC is concerned about instances in which bloggers who are reviewing or promoting products have accepted large free gifts (expensive products, trips to Europe) or substantial financial compensation from the companies who make those very products. It doesn't take a graduate of Ethics 101 to see where this scenario quickly runs into trouble, all the more so when a blogger doesn't disclose this information or relationship to his or her readers, who may be under the impression that a blog is fully impartial and unbiased.
Part of the challenge with blogs is that anyone can have one - it's an open, organic, viral, democratic sort of community in which anyone who wants to have a voice can have one. That's not really where the difficulty is. The challenge, rather, is that there are essentially no regulations governing blogs, and no standard code of conduct or ethics about how bloggers should maintain their blogs and relate to their readers. An additional challenge, I think, is that blogs sit across a spectrum, serving one (or several) of many purposes. They can be personal, like a diary. They can be editorial, as a form of journalism. Or they can be business-oriented. Each of these perspectives may have vastly different motives behind the content they provide, and to whom.
No Gluten, No Problem has a foot in each of the three categories, I think. We're personal, in the sense that we use personal anecdotes and stories to share insights into gluten-free living. We're business-oriented, in the sense that we do have some ads on the blog, and earlier this year, we plugged our forthcoming cookbook in a post. But primarily, I view NGNP as a form of gluten-free journalism. Our primary mission is to share practical information about gluten-free living, recipes, and product, restaurant and bakery reviews.
As a professional journalist outside the world of NGNP, editorial integrity and transparency are things I take very seriously. What's more, blogging is a unique form of media that builds relationships between the blogger and a blog's readers. That relationship, especially where GF information and reviews are concerned, is one built upon trust. And maintaining that trust is paramount. To that end, I thought it very worthwhile to establish a clear set of guidelines pertaining to NGNP, so that you know exactly where we're coming from.
We frequently review a variety of GF products, and we do accept complimentary product samples from companies that would like to see their product featured on NGNP. However, our acceptance of product samples is not a guarantee that a product will be reviewed on NGNP. (For example, one company sent us quite a large package of product samples, but upon inspecting the ingredients label, the "gluten-free" products were also listed as "may contain wheat." This doesn't conform to our strict standards for gluten-free foods, and so we declined to review the product.) Further, whether we have purchased a product to review or accepted a free product sample from a company, our ultimate loyalty is to you, the reader. If we like or love a product, we'll say. But if we dislike a product, we will also say so plainly (and we're not shy about recommending an alternative that we think is better...whether a competitor's product or our own recipe). Finally, we never accept additional "gifts" from a company - we limit freebies to product samples that we review on this blog.
Unless otherwise specified, whenever we review a restaurant, we have eaten their anonymously and paid for the meal (see, for example, our review of Beau Jo's Pizza or Maggiano's Little Italy). This is standard practice in conducting restaurant reviews. In a minority of cases, however, a restaurant may ask us to come in and sample their gluten-free menu. In these instances, we will clearly indicate this with language such as "XYZ restaurant invited us to sample their menu..." (see our review of The Corner Office, and the opening line of the third paragraph, for an example)
Sponsors, Affiliates, and other ads
Blogs can make money in a variety of ways. Just three examples are: paid advertising, click-through ads (if you click on a linked ad and navigate to the advertiser's website, the blogger gets a small kickback), or profit sharing (if you navigate to a sponsor's site and buy a product, the blogger receives a percentage of the sale). Sometimes, those relationships between advertiser and blogger aren't always clear, and you don't know whether you're simply following a link, or following some form of an ad. The content of our posts are always content, pure and simple. Any links we include in a post are merely hyperlinks that navigate to other posts or other websites. There's nothing more to it.
We do, though, carry some advertising (i.e. Foodbuzz). Advertisers are clearly identified in the right-hand column of our blog, and we don't accept just any ad indiscriminately. We only accept ads that we feel are consistent with the core mission of NGNP. We'll likely experiment with adding a select number of additional advertisers. However, if in the future we find that ads are distracting from the central message of NGNP, are compromising our objectivity or impartiality, or if they're causing you, our readers, to question the site's integrity, then we'll pull the ads down and return to a pure NGNP format.
And that's really all there is to it. No gluten. No problem. No secrets.