First of all, thank you to those who e-mailed me their congratulations on my new food column. I’m curious though. Why the e-mails when posting comments is just as easy? And I’m wondering whether there are people who do not want to announce publicly that they read my blogs. LOL It’s okay, really. I know my blogs aren’t allowed past the firewalls of some offices in this country. I swear I don’t see the logic but, you know, I understand that some people feel my ideas are too unconventional for comfort.
(Update @2.29 p.m. Now, I get a congratulations comment with a request that it be kept private. Okay… thank you, Mr. Commenter, for the kudos and all the other juicy information. I deleted your comment after reading.)
Anyway, one of those e-mails contained a question that really surprised me. The sender wanted to know why I agreed to do the food column in Manila Standard Today when I turned down a similar offer in another publication less than two months ago. I was shocked, really. I didn’t know the other offer was (semi) public knowledge. I don’t know how many others know about the other offer so before the wrong rumors start circulating, let me say my piece.
The other offer was made by a glossy magazine — a rather high end publication. And I was asked to write food articles from a business angle. I declined because I didn’t want to pretend to be knowledgeable about something I’m not. I know about food — but business? The thing is, some offers I feel are just right for me while some others I feel are best given to other people. It’s an acknowledgment of my own limitations and, at the same time, a policy of transparency because I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not. I have nothing against the magazine, I think it’s a great publication, but it just isn’t for me.
Some things you feel good about; some things, you don’t. Some things you feel comfortable about; others, not.
Which now brings me to a very related issue. I was reading an article in BlogHer entitled Are Mommybloggers Misunderstanding the Marketing Game? which, in a nutshell, is about mommy bloggers accepting compensation, in cash or in kind, from companies in exchange for write-ups whether in the form of paid posts, sponsored reviews or outright sponsored content.
I have to admit that this is a sore topic with me already. I have been accused of being too high handed and high minded with my stand against paid posts and accepting freebies with the implicit understanding that a positive review will follow. And I will admit to the high handed and high minded part — without apologies — because that is the right cut for me. And I won’t go into the ethics part anymore because ethics are an individual thing. So, without being judgmental about the issue, let me tell you a story that adds another dimension to this compensation and freebies issue.
Over a year ago… if you’re a long time reader, you might remember that time when a TV crew was in my house to shoot a noche buena cooking segment and, among other things, the video was defective, the episode never got shown and I got royally pissed and made it a public issue and the TV producer apologized with wine and roses and a teddy bear. I’m not bitching about it anymore, just to be clear. I’ve put that behind me and I’ve learned to say NO to every invitation to guest on TV after that.
That day when the noche buena segment was being shot, the TV crew was in my house from noon until dinner time. I cooked, they shot, there was an interview then we ate the food. Cooking doesn’t get done in five minutes especially when you’re cooking 3 or 4 dishes. During the lull (waiting for the soup to boil or the pork to get tender), we were chatting. We were swapping stories and jokes. The crew were fun people, really, and I had a great afternoon with them.
Now, I’m not a reporter but, sometimes, I get nosy. So, we were talking about dealing with businesses and keeping the integrity of journalism. And I asked if they’ve ever experienced being offered “goods” and how they dealt with the situation. One journalist I was talking to — a she — said, sometimes, especially in the provinces and with common folk, it’s so hard to say no because they get offended and feel that you’re snubbing their genuine and honest intention to share something.
And I was taken aback, honestly, because I never really saw things from that perspective. All this talk about freebies, it’s easy to say no to company publicists and marketers because it’s a totally impersonal situation. But when you’re face to face with someone and this someone is not some big company trying to push some agenda via the media but simply showing some form of… I don’t know what to call it. Perhaps, just trying to be nice. And, well, I understood the context of the getting offended part.
It’s very Filipino, actually. Very Asian. Like attending a fiesta and despite the fact that you already ate for free, the hostess packs something for you to say thank you for coming. Like she should be grateful. But she shouldn’t really. It is the guest who should show some appreciation by bringing her a gift or some token. Or sending a thank you note. But, you know, you’re in that situation where a package is being given to you and you know the food will probably never get eaten but how do you say no without hurting the hostess’s feelings?
And I try to think about that in terms of the freebies issue and, well, I find myself where I started. I like paying for my meals, I like paying for my purchases, I like paying for my vacations. Because as a paying customer, I don’t need to feel beholden. I stay in control over whatever write-up follows. But how do you deal with tokens of appreciation after the write-up has been published? When is a token a genuine token and when is it something else? When does a thank you gift become an implicit promise of more goodies to come if the positive write-ups keep on coming?
Is it the monetary value of the gift? Is it the manner in which it is given? Is it the regularity by which a company sends gifts? Is it a sustained friendliness with a business?