Why One Food Writers Group Updated Its Ethics Guidelines

Facing changes in the industry and advances in technology, the Association of Food Journalists recently unveiled a new set of ethics and guidelines for those in the culinary review business.

With all the advantages the internet has brought, it’s also created a few ethical hiccups for some industries, including the specialty trade of food journalism.

We wanted to make sure that our guidelines took into account today’s technology and trends in food writing.

Once culinary critics were free to revere or revile chefs and their restaurants under cover of anonymity, but now these reviewers are being “outed” on the internet, leaving their reputations and craft at stake.

Instances such as the posting of L.A. Times food critic S. Irene Virbila’s photo on Tumblr by an angry restaurateur a couple of years ago in part spurred the Association of Food Journalists to updates its code of ethics and guidelines, recently.

“One of the main reasons that AFJ was founded in 1974 was to promote ethics in food journalism, and it’s important that we continue to advance ethical standards in a changing world of food journalism,” AFJ president Debbie Moose said in a statement reported by the media blog Jim Romenesko.com. “We wanted to make sure that our guidelines took into account today’s technology and trends in food writing.”

The revised guidelines address the issue of veiled critiques, stating that “true anonymity is often no longer possible.” They advise critics to keep their social media profiles photo-free and limit public appearances, and they state that critics “should make every attempt to arrive at restaurants unannounced and maintain as low a profile as possible during their visits.”

Food journalists are not the only professionals seeing a need to update their practice standards. After a three-year development process, the American Anthropological Association recently released a revised set of ethics and found that a methodical and inclusive approach helped bring a successful outcome.

“It is never easy to reach consensus about what belongs in a profession’s formal ethics code,” Lise M. Dobrin, chair of AAA’s Committee on Ethics, and Dena Plemmons, who chaired AAA’s Code Review Task Force, wrote in a recent article published by ASAE (paywall). “But, by listening to practitioners in the field along with other stakeholders, relying on a collaborative process, and taking the time needed to ensure that all relevant viewpoints have been carefully considered, associations can determine what will be most helpful in enabling their members to practice their discipline in accordance with the highest ethical standards.”


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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