Posting a Blogging Code of Ethics

Admin

Ethics has been a hot topic in the world of blogging lately, and after a recent discussion in the comment section on a post, I thought it was time for me to put things in writing.

See, I’ve always had what I consider to be a strong code of ethics when it comes to the blog (and in life as well, but that’s a different story), but I’ve never bothered to put it out there in writing. Why? No reason. I just didn’t do it. But now that I’ve seen more interest in this subject, and the feds have started to regulate disclosures, I thought it was a good to put this out there. I’ve also decided to strengthen it a bit, so if you’re looking to get me to write about your product, I’d recommend reading this first.

But before I put it up, I want to discuss it with you guys, my readers. Take a look at what I have so far, and please share your ideas in the comments section. I’d like to have this up with a link from the homepage within the next week. So here’s what I have:

For the purpose of this code, “free and/or discounted products and services” refers to anything offered to me for free or for a discount simply because of my status as a blogger.

  • I will never trade favorable press for free and/or discounted products and services. I will always write the truth, and that may or may not be good for your product/service.
  • I will only accept free and/or discounted products and services if they come from someone with whom I have an existing relationship. I can only feel comfortable accepting free and/or discounted products and services from organizations which I know understand the rules that I’ve set. If they haven’t spent time building a relationship, then there isn’t enough trust built up for me to accept anything.
  • Providing me with free and/or discounted products and services doesn’t mean I will write about them. If you ask before giving anything, I will do my best to let you know if I think I will write about it or not, but that’s still not a guarantee.
  • Please do not provide unsolicited free and/or discounted products and services. Contact me first to avoid wasting your time.
  • I will not accept free or discounted transportation for a personal trip.
  • When I write about free and/or discounted products and services, I will always disclose who gave them to me, what the discount was, and when they were given to me.

That’s what I have so far. Now let’s hear what you have to say.

Please keep in mind that I am going for something realistic here. Would I like to turn away every offer of something free and/or discounted? Absolutely, but nobody is paying to read this site, and the ad revenue hardly covers the cost of a ticket. Without these opportunities, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to cover things that I want to cover for you.

So, let’s try and create a good, solid code of ethics that is also realistic. Leave your comments below.

Get Posts via Email When They Go Live or in a Weekly Digest

26 comments on “Posting a Blogging Code of Ethics

  1. For me, as blog reader and passenger “I will always write the truth” is the most important aspect of the code and I like the disclosure about discounts and freebies too. How many you accept and under what conditions is (IMO) your discretion; I visit this site because I think you show good taste in that.

    Secondly, I don’t mind when you write about your “concierge” experiences, if you have something interesting to tell. (I am still waiting for your first “failure” story.) It is unlikely that you’ll have more than one interesting concierge story per week, so let’s keep that as “rule of the thumb”.

  2. The first thing people would say is ‘why accept anything at all’. Even Doctor’s now a days don’t permit staff to accept those free pens and coffee mugs drug reps would hand out.

    If something is a media event and you are invited to it, then it’s ok to eat the free food, drink the free drink, and right in the new plane. As long as it’s something not just for you alone then there shouldn’t be a problem.

    But everyone likes to get something for nothing and/or be treated special, so it’s hard to say no. And if you are just Mr/Ms Average you don’t have to say no, but if you have built a name for yourself people will look at you and say you are being ‘bought’.

    Working in a job that sales reps would come in and give things or invite you to events or give you tickets to events, I can say I was never ‘bought’. I treated every one the same and didn’t just deal with whomever gave something better. But I and my coworkers were just average people so no one cared. And what reps did for us, they did for the other people down the street so to speak.

    But look at it this way, you are not the president of the United States, so your life is not an open book to the public. You do what you think is best and if anyone wants to give you anything it’s because they’ve heard about you and I would think have checked you out (ie this blog) and can see that you’ve said the good and bad about someone, an airline, etc so they will see you are not bias.

    I know someone brought up about that gift basket for your brother (was it your brother???), well you didn’t have to write about it, but you did. Seems you don’t have anything to hide, and we wouldn’t know if you did.

    The one thing as you know will always happen when you have a ‘known’ blog like this, and that’s there will always be people who will talk ‘trash’ about what you say and do no matter what it is.

    So just stick with accepting only things offered to the general media population and you should be fine.

  3. The typical “just after I’ve posted” idea, a suggestion:
    I will not accept payment for writing a blog post
    You could combine that with your point 5 about personal transportation.

    As a clarification: I am perfectly fine with you earning money writing stories for other websites.

  4. I once dated someone who worked for a national retailer that shall remain nameless. Her job was to pick what products ended up in aportion of their Sunday newspaper ads. Now that is a job that gets plenty of outside attention. I didn’t even work at the company but joined in at box seats at NFL games and ate at all the 5 star restaurants in town on the vendors dime. Things ended prior to being able to use free access to a condo in Vail, but that’s just an example of the freebies showered upon someone with the power to make a company a lot of money. Can only imagine what it’s like for Washington politicians.

    The so-called “honest” journalists are biased too. Not accepting a free lunch doesn’t change a thing IMO. Just read a newspaper or magazine and it’s pretty evident. At least the Fox News hosts don’t try to hide their bias and probably has at least something to do with their ratings success.

    Point is, as long as everything is disclosed freely I have no ethical problems with it. If you have a personal bias or got some freebie perk, no big deal, just be honest about it.

    And yes, I’m jealous of the perks Cranky gets, then again I don’t invest the time and money into a blog about the air travel business.

  5. Always publishing the truth is not the same thing as publishing the whole story. You promise to publish the truth but that does not mean you will publish all aspects, including the negative sides, of a product or travel experience.

    It goes the same with the Cranky’s Concierge Service. I mean, we hear all the success stories, but how many stories are there when either nothing could be done or, worse, what was proposed made things worse.

    I say either turn down all free offers and live like the rest of us do or 100% disclosure of all offers regardless of whether or not something was written up. Hell, tell the airlines to buy ad space on the blog rather than donating something. That, at least, is transparent.

    On the Concierge Service, let others try out the service and post their experience – good or bad. I take more value in a service when I see the good and the bad and not just the good coming from the vendor.

  6. > I will not accept free or discounted transportation for a personal trip.

    I am curious about this rule. So let’s say you want to visit your family back in Indy (that’s where you have family, right?) — you won’t accept discounts or freebie tickets from airline X to get there, right? Makes sense.

    Let’s say airline B launches a new A318 service from, oh, London City to JFK, and they invite you to an all-expenses-paid trip to try out that new business class service. Three wonderful days in rainy London included.

    Do those three days in London turn this into a “personal trip”, or is it a necessary “inconvenience” while “reviewing a product”? ;)

    For me the most important part is honest disclosure. I don’t care if someone who you haven’t previously had a business relationship with offers you something for review, as long as I still receive a fair assessment and as long as it is relevant to the audience (if Sony sent you a flat screen TV and you reviewed it, I’d start wondering…)

    Keep up the good work!

  7. Brent, as a fellow writer, I always look to professional societies in order to develop my own personal and professional code of ethics and conduct. In that regard, the most recent updated code of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists might be worthy of your attention:

    Act Independently
    Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.

    Journalists should:

    —Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
    — Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
    — Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
    — Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
    — Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
    — Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
    — Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

    Be Accountable
    Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

    Journalists should:

    — Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
    — Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
    — Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
    — Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
    — Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

    I applaud you for your efforts to develop such a code! And I congratulate you on all of your achievements with Cranky Flier and Cranky Concierge — keep it up, for all of our sakes!

  8. Brett: If it isn’t free travel, what are some examples of the goodies that you’re referencing? I wouldn’t be particularly concerned if an airline sent you a goodie bag with a few pens, scratch pads and the like and you didn’t disclose it; I’d be more concerned about things like free clubroom access, hotel rooms and other “big ticket” items.

  9. Full Disclosure is the real Key for me. I have to think you will do a better job for us un-paying readers if you DO accept some visits, tickets, tours of facilities, use of club rooms, etc. How else (given your limited resources) could you get access and report, after all! Beyond Full Disclosure, I have to simply trust your judgement and integrity, and when I don’t I stop reading-that’s my responsibility. Keep up your good work and the independent thinking and reporting-it is appreciated.

  10. J Westcott wrote:

    I have to simply trust your judgement and integrity, and when I don’t I stop reading-that’s my responsibility.

    I completely agree! Transparency is the issue. You can accept whatever allows you to experience more of the air travel world and as long as there is full disclosure, it’s fine by me. That includes a discount or freebie on a trip to see your family in Indy, or from a company you haven’t heard of, or even if Alitalia hires you to do PR, as long as you explain it I put whatever value I want to on any given post. You have a track record of insightful, full-disclosure posts. As long as you keep doing that, I’m interested to see what you have to say. You’ve also proven in your posts “you know your way around the system” and so when I need some help on an itinerary, I’ll use the Concierge.
    As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that would damage your credibility would be a series of favorable posts on a company or product and then finding out later from another source that you were employed or given favors from that company. As long as you tell me up front, you make it interesting and informative, then I’ll keep reading!
    By the way, thanks for doing it. I love reading it each day!!!

  11. I will write the whole truth which may or may not be good for your product/service.

    I will accept free and/or discounted products and services if they come from an company with whom I have an existing (disclosed) relationship.

    I will not accept free or discounted transportation for a personal trip.

    Does that sum it up?

  12. Cranky, I enjoy reading your posts. We, latins are more relaxed, our culture is less “strict” and this may lead to several problems we currently have in our countries (off-topic).
    Nonetheless I think you should continue doing what you do, with passion and loving it. It´s fun, you like it, we like it, we follow you. Don´t change, don´t be so strict, take pens, free tickets, vips, coupons, etc.
    This blog may be a “live creature” and change, readers can change, it can move around, have different aspects. You are the onewho will have to keep it alive doing what you think is best. Publishing a code of ethics or not, accepting free gifts or not or simply saying in a good and educated way “trust me”, and we (at least I) will do so.
    Saludos.

  13. “Please do not provide unsolicited free and/or discounted products and services. Contact me first to avoid wasting your time”

    Does this mean under these rules you would not have accepted the offer of free access to the lounge in MKE when you arrived?

    I have read your blog daily for several years. I read it for your insite into the industry, not for you trip reports. I trust what you write.

    It seems to me that you should either stop doing trip reports (which I am sure most readers would object to) or go all in, accept free trips, lounge access, etc. and in return for this, produce fair, balanced trip reports.

    As several others have said, Full Disclosure is the key. Keep up the great work, I look foward to your next post.

  14. A lot of good ideas above already. Two further suggestions:

    1. Separation of work and life.

    You’ve already said you would turn down a free personal trip. What if you separate out your work vs personal experiences. Without overcomplicating, something like you accept no freebies (lounge, etc) on personal trips but only on work trips. You could turn down companion benefits (eg. for anyone traveling with you). Or, you only blog about work trips but not personal trips. I don’t have the answer, and some of these ideas are not practical and will cost you traffic and money, so you have to set your own boundaries, but you can see where you might go with something like this.

    2. Disclosure

    A lot of people have suggested disclosure and I agree. Most journalists (and most companies) have written policies on what they can accept. Typically in a non-work context its no more than $25-75, in a work-context it is higher but there are limits. In your circumstances, maybe you choose a personal threshold above which you disclose what you’ve received. But you need to consult with your accountant because if you start to document these things on your website the taxman may want to tax you on the ‘value’ of these benefits – which would particularly not be right if the only reason you accepted those benefits was for the blog, not for any personal value.

    I think the idea that you’re doing this voluntarily is great. Not all bloggers – let alone journalists – would be willing to voluntarily provide any of this disclosure.

  15. I can appreciate what you’re trying to do. But, I would be careful trying to have something that looks nice, but only raises more questions. To me, a blog need not be held to the same standard of full disclosure that one would expect from a paid, professional writer or a public official.

    All I ask is that the blog have topics that are of interest to me, include statements that appear to be based on facts, or at least personal expericnce or observations or well-developed opinions, and something as to “what’s the point!” Being well written and entertaining adds to the experience, and you’ve done a very good job on all accounts. If I see bias (what I think that may be), unsupported facts, poorly formed conclusions, stupid opinions, or anything else I don’t like, I’ll let you know, or quit reading you.

    If I were to clarify anything with your blog, perhaps I would clearly stipulate what this blog is about, who decides on what topics are being discussed, and who is responsible for what is being said, be it a conclusion or an opinion. [I assume this is you in all instances.] Furthermore, you might make it very clear that while you want readers to make comments about the topics discussed, you will decide what is inappropriate and will bar commenters who you believe acted inappriapriate.

  16. It is goo to know there are still a few of you around! It has gotten really difficult to refer to blogs for reviews and advice now days. Or at least at some point in the past, I used to look at blogs for reviews all the time – perhaps I was just being naive. However, people have to be very skeptical about taking in everything they read on a blog now days. People with high page rank and traffic, like you, are attracting more and more companies who are willing to offer the big bucks for favorable reviews linking back to their site. Thanks for the Code, as it is something we should all follow. I am considering putting up one of my own.

  17. I like your column. I, however, have little use for PR people. I appreciate your honesty but would like to hear more from industry leaders and not their paid to be upbeat lap dogs. Keep up the good work.

  18. Cranky,

    I applaud you for this, but I think you may be going too far in your pursuit of ethical purity.

    I, for one, want you to take advantage of all the different freebies thrown your way. I want your reporting on different airlines, their lounges, their different products (eg, first, biz, premium economy). I want you to get access to strange new things I haven’t heard of and tell me all about them so I’m better informed. Given what I assume are the measley profits of this blog, do I expect you to do it on your own nickle or as a strict business expense — hell no, and nor do I think other reveiwers and magazines/ newspapers do.

    Further, I don’t think you need to separate biz and personal. You should totally use discounts, etc. on personal trips (or make personal trips out of them). This will both make your experiences more ‘real’ from a reporting perspective (rather than you taking flights for no reason), but it will also not force undue hardship on you (and your way too understanding wife). Fact is, you are a blogger and by your very nature your personal and professional lives are mixed. Don’t make things even harder — we’ll all suffer the result.

    I think, as has been mentioned before, you should focus 100% on disclosure, rather than all the rest. If we know the situation (ie free night, discounted rate), we’ll be able to make our own assessment as to whether or not your being fair. If you really want to go one step beyond others, make your disclosure richer rather than taking less stuff. For those of us who want to monitor you over time, you could keep a log of ‘freebies’ you’ve received so that we can tell if any one airline is trying to ‘buy’ you (and, if so, whether or not it has been successful!).

    Anyway, you do great reporting and I know you don’t give two sh*ts if someone paid for your ticket — you’ll still tell them their sh*t stinks if it really does.

    Ps – Post as much about the concierge as you want. As a user, it is great. As a reader, if it is something I don’t eant to read, I won’t. Just don’t let it curtail your other ‘real’ content.

  19. This is a classic case of “Cranky being cranky”. Your time is valuable. Set a price to your time- if someone offers you a free something- take it! Write about it though- the good and the bad, that’s the best form of advertisement. Take whatever you can and run with it- you only live once and for the amount of time you spend writing, it’s great to see you getting something for it. Just do so with integrity. That’s all anyone can ask. We don’t even care if you have your own “Monica Lewinski” under your desk while your writing- just continue as you have set forth and all will work out well. Good Luck!

  20. Steve wrote:

    f someone offers you a free something- take it!

    For sure. No problems if an airline tries to “bribe” you, just right about it, and always make sure to include negatives. It might mess up your relations with said airline’s PR people, but hey, if they give it to you, they want you to write about it…

  21. I’m also of the opinion that by using freebies you can better report on the products as long as any report carries a disclosure. As an example, it is highly unlikely that you would ever fly Alitalia. However, I would have no issue with you taking a freebie from them to try a change in their product.

    Your readers will make their own assessment of your integrity regardless of a code of ethics. We will always judge by our own standards anyway. Ultimately we can choose not to read if we don’t like your material and/or methods of production.

    As for concierge – promote away. It was your IP that got a following and you can make whatever you want out of your own IP.

  22. Thank you everyone for your comments on the code. I think I got the message here. The most important thing is that I disclose everything and I write the complete truth. So, that’s the plan. You can see the updated code at http://crankyflier.com/ethics. I have also linked to it from the menu bar at the top of every page.

    You will see that I have even listed out the free and/or discounted products and services I’ve received to date. (If I’m missing something, let me know.) Feedback is always welcome. Now, to address some of your comments . . .

    David SFeastbay wrote:

    The first thing people would say is ‘why accept anything at all’. Even Doctor’s now a days don’t permit staff to accept those free pens and coffee mugs drug reps would hand out.

    The difference here is that doctors and their staff get paid to do their jobs while I don’t. With that in mind, is there anything that a doctor can’t do by turning down a pad of paper or stress ball? No. But for me, since I can’t afford to try some of these new products on my own, I have to rely on offers so that I can review them. Otherwise, I won’t get to try them.

    Juan Carlos wrote:

    I say either turn down all free offers and live like the rest of us do or 100% disclosure of all offers regardless of whether or not something was written up.

    Works for me. You’ll now see the complete list at crankyflier.com/ethics.

    Jim Brown wrote:

    I always look to professional societies in order to develop my own personal and professional code of ethics and conduct. In that regard, the most recent updated code of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists might be worthy of your attention:

    Thanks, Jim. The problem here is one I’ve addressed before. If I turn down everything, then I won’t be able to experience some of these things. I did go through that code to see what else is out there. Thanks again.

    Potcake wrote:

    Brett: If it isn’t free travel, what are some examples of the goodies that you’re referencing?

    Oh, I guess the pass to the Best Care Club in Milwaukee is one example. I’m not going to bother disclosing free pens or stress balls that I get at a conference, because that is available to anyone who walks by the table, not just journalists. You can see the full list at crankyflier.com/ethics.

    John wrote:

    Does this mean under these rules you would not have accepted the offer of free access to the lounge in MKE when you arrived?

    No, because that was offered to me in advance. I received an email a couple weeks before our trip with the offer. It’s not like I arrived at the airport and was directed to the club without me knowing what was going on. This is more in reference to products that may end up being sent to me through the mail.

    John wrote:

    It seems to me that you should either stop doing trip reports (which I am sure most readers would object to) or go all in, accept free trips, lounge access, etc. and in return for this, produce fair, balanced trip reports.

    I actually brought that point up awhile ago and the overwhelming feedback was that a lot of people wanted me to keep doing the reports. So I will, and I definitely understand that there is a segment of my readership that couldn’t care less about the reports while there are others who live for it. I’ll just try to keep the reports at a minimum.

    Gary E wrote:

    I, however, have little use for PR people. I appreciate your honesty but would like to hear more from industry leaders and not their paid to be upbeat lap dogs. Keep up the good work.

    PR people can be an excellent gateway for me to reach the people that have the information I need. So, while it’s rare that anything that comes directly from an external PR person is going to be a centerpiece for a post, they can get answers for me.

    In general, however, I am amazed at the amount of garbage I receive from PR people who have clearly never bothered to read my blog. Unfortunately, it sometimes means that good emails get sent to spam because of all the garbage that careless PR agencies send.

  23. Hello, my name is Dan. I am into Internet Marketing and I travel a lot, work is mainly on developing internet marketing products and everything is doing great so far.

    Big thanks to the Admin, I enjoy reading for a long time, thanks guys.. Beaty at it’s best and keep the good work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!