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The wine blogger kerfuffle

11 January 2013 One Comment

The issue of blogging ethics came to the fore recently when prominent Canadian wine blogger, Natalie MacLean was accused of copyright infringement by the US wine magazine, Palate Press.

Natalie is a much respected blogger and her reviews have been features in wine books and several top-tier mainstream media outlets; the Ottawa Citizen and The Guardian are among these.

The magazine contended that Natalie had included the work of wine journalists on her website with little or no attribution and that none of these authors had given their consent for their materials to be used.

She defended herself by saying that she had taken the content from Vintages, the retail magazine of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and that this publication had been adequately credited.

MacLean left a comment on the Palate Press story: “I am in the process of adding the information, including names and publications, beside the quotes that has been requested, beginning with the most recent reviews and going backwards… I welcome and listen to feedback from both colleagues and readers and make changes as a result, including all that has been requested in this case”.  She added, “I have had a thorough discussion with a legal expert on copyright and know that what I am doing now and what I will be doing in the future is not only legal, but right”.

This incident was followed by further allegations that Natalie asked wine producers to pay to have their products reviewed, a practice known as ‘pay for play’. She admitted that she does ask wine producers to buy a monthly subscription to her website, but maintains that this does not guarantee that their wines will be reviewed or that any reviews will be positive.

Trusting bloggers as journalists

When we read a newspaper article or watch a story on the TV news we expect that the reporting to come from a solid base of ethical journalism.  We trust that the information is accurate and the report is fair and balanced and done without conflict of interest.  These are the normal standards of modern journalism and they play an important role in western democracy.

But should these rules apply to the millions of ‘citizen journalists’?  Bloggers may be talented writers and enthusiastic about their subjects, but they are not professional journalists.
Can we realistically expect bloggers to live up the same standards?

Networks like BlogHer, and the YummyMummy Club go some way towards bridging this gap. Their main purpose is add value for advertisers by grouping properties under one banner but participating bloggers are required to follow certain standards, such as never plagiarizing and always disclosing commercial and other interests on their blogs.  The Blog with Integrity campaign encourages bloggers to be above-board and transparent about all dealings with sponsors and provides clear guidelines for best ethical practices.

The US Security and Exchanges Commission (SEC) and the UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) have both imposed disclosure requirements on bloggers. In Canada, there’s nothing similar yet, but more and more, brands are working with bloggers to reach online audiences, so this could change.  Incidences like the recent wine blogger kerfuffle could spur government action against Canadian bloggers.

This post originally ran on thornleyfallis.ca.

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