Tuesday, January 25, 2011

THE BIG BAD BLOGGER THEORY



   
    When I first started "The Pickiest Eater In The World" Blog, I never once thought about making it into anything more than me, giving my honest opinion of places to eat, to anyone willing to listen. 

       I'll be honest with you.. I was initially hesitant to tell people I have a blog, simply because.. well.. in movies and TV, having a blog is always depicted as being so geeky. Whenever Rina would mention it to someone, I would get slightly embarrassed. Then friends started telling me how much they enjoy reading what I write. It made them laugh, and more importantly, it made them hungry. I decided to embrace my inner (and outer) geek and just say, "What the hell, I'm doing this." 





        Since I've started, I've been offered to go to certain places for free, but I've turned them all down, because i didn't want to feel compelled to give an insincere review. The only exception would be Gustavus Steak Lounge, a place that I had already tried before and loved, but was way out of my price range for me to go back to. So when the owner, who happens to be my boss, offered to take me out for a Steak lunch on the house, I politely said "HELL YEAH" (That was as polite as I could get). Another time that I've eaten at a place for free, would be something like "John And Yoko", where I was treated by my cousin Paolo, who is not connected with the restaurant in any way, but his father is a big fan of the Beatles. (Does that count?) But was just being a good Kuya. hehe..

   I did I review of a restaurant I enjoyed once, and the manager of the said restaurant read it. He wrote me an email, inviting me to try a  dish of theirs, that he felt I would enjoy, which coincidentally, I wanted to try too (I'm so easy) That was my first invitation, ever. Of course a "Kilig" factor came into play, that a manager of a restaurant wanted me to try their food. There was no discussion of payment, but he did urge me to invite my wife and my kids (But they're still in the process of being made, so that wouldn't be possible) which made me think that at the very least, that particular dish would be on the house.  So what did I do? I went back to the restaurant.. with TEN OTHER FRIENDS.. but I didn't inform the Mr. GM. I ordered the dish, but they were out of stock, AND this time, I didn't have a very good experience. Our waitress had the pleasant demeanor of a CD-R King Sales Lady, and given that, she even FORGOT to list down one of my friends' order, so he was waiting for over 30 minutes for it. The food was still excellent though, and I paid for my order.

    I wrote a personal email to the Manager the next day to tell him about my experience. Excellent food as always, but our night was nearly ruined by a cranky waitress. He wrote me back apologizing, and once again, asked me to set a schedule to go back, this time he said, he'll make sure that the dish is in stock (It's a very popular dish) I said that I'll definitely come back for the food, but I just hope the waitress has learned a thing or two about hospitality (because we all seriously felt like we were intruders, instead of guests or even paying customers). I haven't been back since, but that was more because of time constraints. I'd go back in a heart beat.

      By no means do I have an illusions that I'm a "Journalist" with what I'm doing, but I'd like the believe there's a sense of integrity in what I write - even if it is just for fun. How can I have any credibility if I go to a place and say their burger is great when it's not? What if someone tries that exact same burger based on what I wrote and discovers it tastes like a turd in between two buns? He'll never go back to my blog again! 

      Sadly, that's how entertainment writers work here. Everyone in a movie press conference is paid to be there. If you want them to cover an event, or mention it in their column, you gotta pony up the dough. The funny part is, a lot of times, they just reprint the Press release given to them, maybe adding a few lines in the start and in the end, but more often than not, it's re-printed verbatim. How do I know? You're looking at a press release writer, so I've seen my work in some columns in the past. 

     I'm not going to be hypocrite. Don't get me wrong, I do want to be able to earn from my blog some day and do this full time. Eating and writing.. working from Home.. travelling.. That's the life I want.

    But.. This article really pissed me off. It wasn't about earning a living. It was about extortion. Pay us, or face a bad review from a Big Time Blogger. That's not what blogging is about.

     Don't know what I'm talking about? Read this first:
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MENU : Please Don’t Give Blogging a Bad Name 

By Margaux Salcedo
Contributor
Philippine Daily Inquirer


Posted date: January 22, 2011

GEORGIA opened a restaurant sometime between 2000 and 2010. It was received well by the public. It quickly gained popularity by word of mouth. Before long, the country’s most read newspaper (“balanced news, fearless views”) wrote about her, expanding her restaurant’s clientele even further.

One day, The (PR) Firm approached Georgia, telling her that she could increase her sales by three if she hired them. Georgia gently declined, saying that she had been lucky in receiving good reviews from the press. “But we can also help you through social media,” The Firm’s representative said. “We call this service ‘buzz creation’ or word-of-mouth generation,” the rep explained.

The Firm said that if hired for this service, they would invite bloggers to eat at Georgia’s restaurant and blog rave reviews. They would also create a restaurant Facebook page and make sure that a significant number would “Like” the resto’s page. When the resto would be featured in a blog, they would make sure that there are positive comments on that post.

To the dear readers who don’t blog, let me give a briefer. A blog is one’s online page. For example, I have a blog where I talk about my restaurant experiences; its URL (site address) is www.margauxlicious.blogspot.com. A blog works like a personal diary or notebook (you could name yours Minnie’s Musings or Trina’s Travels) but it is instantly published for the whole world to see (or not, i.e. you can also opt to keep your posts private).

Posts could be as mundane as snippets of a lazy day, as heavy as Manolo Quezon’s take on the Arroyo Administration, as hurtful as attacks on a woman’s Belo’d boobs. But soon enough blogs became so popular that otherwise private personalities became public figures and personal posts became practically public sites. Some food bloggers have become quite powerful in the sense that a post could draw a crowd to an otherwise neglected restaurant or drive customers away by ranting that the service, the soup or some such thing was terrible.

Food bloggers, especially, were revered as reliable sources because they were perceived to be independent of any influence, paying for their own meals and untouched by PR firms. Certain bloggers, like the Marketman (www.marketmanila.com) or Lori Baltazar (www.dessertcomesfirst.com) have worked hard to maintain this integrity.

But PR firms have caught on. Marketing is no longer limited to tri-media or traditional media, i.e., TV, radio and print. It now also extends to social or new media: a website, a Facebook page, mentions on Twitter, online directories and blogs. The Firm that approached Georgia told her that if she was willing, they would make sure that her restaurant got positive reviews on the Net. Still, Georgia declined, believing that she would succeed on her own merits.

A few days later, Big Bad Blogger ate at her restaurant. He smiled, ate like a regular blogger, took pictures with his ginormous SLR, and paid for his meal. He wrote a raving review about the restaurant. She thought it was a sincere review.

However, a few days after THAT, The Firm called Georgia again. “Have you seen Big Bad Blogger’s post?” they asked. Of course she had. “He works with us. We have an arrangement with him. We can make sure that more bloggers write about your restaurant the same way if you hire us.”

How much? Georgia asked. The price demanded: P120,000 a month for a year. “What?!” Georgia thought. “These guys are crazy.” And again she gently declined. They lowered the offer to P80,000. (That’s P80,000 per month x 12 months or P960,000; almost a million bucks.) Georgia still declined.

Cut to a year later when Georgia opened another restaurant. Big Bad Blogger visits. Again, he smiled, ate like a regular blogger, took pictures with his ginormous SLR, and paid for his meal. This time, though, he wrote a scathing review. A few days after that, The Firm called Georgia again. “Have you seen Big Bad Blogger’s post?” they asked. Of course she had. “He works with us. We can make sure he retracts his comments and clarifies that your restaurant is not bad but really good after all.” For the same price.

One can draw one’s own conclusions from this. Maybe Georgia is overreacting to a negative review. Maybe The Firm was only claiming to have relations with Big Bad Blogger for their own sinister purposes, unbeknownst to Big Bad Blogger. Or maybe the suspicions are true and Big Bad Blogger bows to the highest bidder. Whatever the case, one thing’s for sure: Georgia is now afraid of the blogging community. And this fear resonates among other restaurateurs who have had the same experience.

In fact, when I asked Georgia if I could name her, she pleaded not to be named, afraid that the blogger might retaliate: “They pretend to be unbiased and unpaid but they are now being used by PR firms.” She shared that for the launch of a dessert product, the PR firm invited bloggers and gave away Lomo cameras. “But they’re worse than traditional media,” Georgia continued, “because we never experienced that kind of extortion from food writers. What happens now is you have to pay the PR firm for your protection from these bloggers. The thing about blogs is that not a lot of people know that they are already becoming a PR arm.”

This is sad because the blogging community was that one last community that we could rely on for the truth (aside from the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, of course *wink*). Now while this is solely Georgia’s story, resonated by others who have likewise been approached by The Firm, for us writers, and especially for bloggers, it is likewise tragic, because it gives writing, in general, and blogging, in particular, a bad name.

There’s nothing wrong with expressing one’s opinion. Just make sure it is indeed your own. There is also nothing wrong with trying to get a free meal. Just please don’t make the rest of us writers and bloggers pay for it. Certainly neither writers nor restaurateurs have the right to tell the Big Bad Blogger or The Firm to stop doing business. This is just a little request to please not give blogging a bad name. We’re watching you.


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    Let's face it, we all thought of the same person when we heard the term "Big Bad Blogger", right? I have no clue if it's really him. Almost by default Anton Diaz is pictured as the "Big Bad Blogger", based on the popularity of his blog, which he has now turned into a lucrative enterprise for himself. It would be easy for me to say something like, "Oh, thats why my blog isn't as popular as his.. Because he's been doing this sort of thing all along, and I would never accept money for a good, but insincere review.", but that wouldn't be fair. Only Mr. Diaz himself knows the hard work that went behind making his blog a success. To accuse him of letting whatever clout it is that he carries get to his head and begin putting a price on his reviews without any substantial evidence, wouldn't be right - especially when it was based on a blind item. 

   All I know is this. Anton Diaz posted a review of my Aunt's famous Paella, based on a tip from my cousin Patty, who follows his blog. He paid for it himself, and he gave a glowing review of the Paella, but not without a few negative comments here and there, which of course my aunt took in graciously, and as "constructive criticism". And this was just last year. My Aunt, however, is just a work from home entrepreneur, not a big time restaurant owner. But If a PR firm tried to shake her down for P120,000.00 a month, just for good reviews? They'd find themselves with a extra larger Paellera up their asses, I kid you not. You don't piss off a Spanish woman. EVER. (I've gotten too many slippers thrown at me with the precision of Ninja Stars to know that this is true. Hi Mom!)

   I'm not trying to pretend I know him, and how he works, mind you. All I'm saying is, based on first hand knowledge from someone I know personally, nothing unethical happened in THIS transaction. The only payment made was when he bought the Paella as a customer. But from the blogger to the.. umm.. "bloggee" (is that right?)? A good review was not promised or even insinuated, in exchange for anything.

  All I can say to restaurant owners, is that yes, Social Media is a very powerful thing. But if you're product is good, the truth will always win out in the end. Your responsibility to your customers is to give them the best dining experience that can imagine. If your dish suck, then you're screwed, because no blogger in the world can turn a steaming pile of crap into the world's most delectable Foie Gras. I'd like to think I spoke for majority of the food bloggers such as I when I say, don't fear food bloggers, because all they're looking for is a great meal, fantastic pictures, and something to write about.

      This PR Group should be ashamed of themselves, terrorizing hard working restaurant owners into giving them "protection money" or face the wrath of the "Big Bad Blogger". 

     If they were truly sincere in wanting to help a business, they would write to the owner personally, and give them their comments on what could be improved on. Perhaps come back a month or so later and see if they listened to their input. Trust me, I've eaten at a lot of places that I wasn't happy with. But I've never torn them down out of spite. 

Oh and Big Bad Blogger? You're gonna choke on your next meal with what you're doing.

Punk. 


    Thank you Ms. Margaux Salcedo for the expose', although i really do wish you revealed the parties involved, but I understand you withheld the info for "Georgia's" sake.  

   Thank you to Rain De Guzman for the heads up :)

10 comments:

  1. I seriously can't believe that Margaux Salcedo's article passed the editorial standards of PDI. I'm not against the 'expose' per se, but readers deserve more than blind items from a newspaper like PDI. For a moment there, PDI seemed no better than our local tabloids.

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  2. I get what you mean about the "Blind Item" part.. I really do wish she would divulge the name of the Big Bad Blogger and the PR firm at the very least, just to end all speculation.

    :)

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  3. stumbled onto your blog cause i was searching for more information about the big bad blogger. then i started reading the other posts and i think (after an hour of reading back posts) i am hooked to this blog. not really good now that i'm one of the participants in the biggest loser at work, but maybe if i just "feed" myself happy thoughts reading your posts, i'd be fine. or i could just be telling myself that.
    thank you for a lovely blog! your blog is better (especially when it comes to writing) than this other food blog i used to read. and you and your wife look like really fun people (i like to pretend to "know" the people i'm reading, so i read only those who i think are nice and fun and "talk" to me on their posts).
    so this is already getting too long :) great job!!!

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  4. Roxy, thank you so much for your kind words.. It really warms my heart to hear comments like that! I'm doing this blog out of sheer love for food and making people laugh, so to hear someone compliment my blog in that way, tells me that I've been doing something right :)

    My wife and I are goofy at times, (more me than her), but I'd like to think that we're pretty fun people! (my friends who i forced to join my boggle tournament would probably politely disagree though)

    Don't worry, I've got alot more posts coming up, and I don't intend to stop anytime soon :)

    Please do come back every now and then! I try to post at least twice a week if my schedule permits :)

    Thank you again!

    Your comments really made my day..

    Now THIS is getting too long..

    Take care!

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  5. Hi Rich! To add to my tipping Anton about my mom's paella, I don't know Anton personally, but since he's open to comments and suggestions, I took the liberty to suggest that he try it.
    For the record, he didn't order right away. He said he would try it the next time he had a family gathering, which he did. He didn't email me to inform me about his order or anything. I got surprised to see the post nalang one day.
    He was very discreet about it and didn't hype it up at all with me. I thought he was pretty professional.

    -Pats

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  6. i also read that article from margaux salcedo and it got me wondering who she was talking about! hmmm! anyway, i stumbled upon your blog from topblogs! great food blog you got here! =)

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  7. Thanks for the first hand info, Pat!

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  8. Thank you sooo much Hazel :)

    I saw your site and totally agree with you about KFC's Cheesy Bacon Twister!

    I think you and I will be getting along just fine :)

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  9. This is the second entry from your blog that I have read. The first one was about Ukkokei Ramen. Both times, I stumbled upon your blog through other links.

    I know this is an old entry, but I just have to say this. Please don't generalize that all entertainment writers are paid to cover a press con ("Sadly, that's how entertainment writers work here. Everyone in a movie press conference is paid to be there."). I worked for a reputable entertainment magazine for three years and I never received a single centavo for what I wrote. The magazine doesn't publish press releases either. Yes, I was paid. Paid by the publishing company I worked for. I'm not saying that there are no hao shiao entertainnment writers, because there are. But please don't say every one is.

    Peace!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Roan!

      I sincerely applaud you and the magazine you worked for, and in that case, I stand corrected.

      Prior to your comment, that is honestly what i believed was "the norm". I've worked with a PR person and I've seen list of reporters and their corresponding "token fee" that they are given for attending an event.

      I'm glad to hear that not all showbiz writers here operate that way, and I'm glad that you proved me wrong! Thank you! :)

      Delete

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