Warning: This is a bit of a rant.
Blogging is a curious thing. Ethics in blogging, especially with regard to travel blogging, is an especially interesting topic. Over the years, my list of the blogs I read has dwindled considerably. The list of ones whose advice I truly trust has gone down even more. Honesty and integrity are big things to me. If I can’t trust what someone writes to be an accurate reflection, then why would I continue reading their blog?
Here are some examples of things that concern me both as a blogger and a reader:
- A blogger had told me in a private message that they couldn’t wait to get out of a specific area, how they were hassled constantly, etc., yet their post about the city was glowing. There was little to no mention of the things they had complained to me about. Our private discussion had confirmed my feelings to not go to this location because of the things they encountered (which paired up with many other people’s experiences). Why would that not be important information to share with their readers? Because the stay at the hotel had been comped (she promoted the place in exchange for not having to pay for her room, meals, etc.).This has actually happened frequently, where information given to me directly was different from what was written, and in all of those situations it was because they had been comped or paid to promote something.
- I have seen some writers encourage others to write negative posts “because it will make your post go viral.” Now, if you truly had a negative experience, yes you should write about it if you think it will add value for your readers. If your main motivation is simply to boost your traffic, I take exception to that.
- A blogger I admire wrote about an experience she had been comped for, and in her review she noted that she did a similar activity on her own and enjoyed it much more. So her final recommendation was to not do the tour and instead explore this particular attraction on your own. Sounds great, no? Well, she received several messages from bloggers telling her she should not write that information and be more positive about the tour.Now, I’m not going to begrudge someone from taking a comped tour or stay. We have done so several times; however, I don’t include giving up my integrity as part of the package. Writing glowingly about something and leaving off the real things that weren’t so great is dishonest to me.
- When a blog is full of sunshine and rainbows with no mention of the occasional dark cloud. This paints a false reality. Life isn’t perfect, and neither is travel. Granted, I wouldn’t want to read a blog whose every post was filled with whining and complaining, but when all someone shares is perfection, I have a hard time feeling they have credibility.I think it’s also a disservice to one’s readers. If getting to a location was difficult, shouldn’t they know that? If the crowds were ridiculous and you had to stand in line for 3 hours, why wouldn’t you share that information?
- I have heard of (and witnessed) too many instances of bloggers bullying companies and acting like complete primadonnas. Honey, having 50,000 monthly visitors does not make you a powerful celebrity. And bullying by anyone is never okay.
- Don’t mention hotels, Airbnb places, etc., that were wonderful “because they wouldn’t pay me [or give a discount].” Why wouldn’t I share a great place with my readers? Yeah, I like to get paid as well, but if a place was really great I’ll share that info.
- Blogs that are heavily laden with promotional posts. Yeah, I get it’s a business for many people, but when one previously really interesting and fun blogger started taking tons of trips their posts and social media accounts were practically overrun by trips probably none of their readers could ever afford (especially since their blog was currently directed at backpackers), promotional hashtags, and mostly sponsored content, I completely stopped following them. I didn’t start reading their site because they were taking all these trips and being paid. I read them because they were funny, adventurous, did crazy things I would never dream of, etc.Just because your blog has become a business doesn’t mean your site has to become purely promotional.
- I recently read a “top 10” places to visit and things to do list when we were looking at going to an area that hasn’t been written about a lot. I was a bit torqued when I got to the bottom of the post and read that every single place they had recommended had sponsored them in some form. Not one place was mentioned that hadn’t contributed financially in some manner. WTF!
It’s interesting to me that on one hand bloggers want to be recognized as being a bonafide part of the media, but at the same time many don’t want to bother doing things like fact checking, place ridiculous expectations on things, and write with the mindset of how it will affect their ability to get future comps/clients. “I felt like since I got it for free, I had to write positively.”
If you had to work to get it, it wasn’t “free” anyway.
They are nice perks to have, but at the end of the day I’d rather know that I represented something honestly and that I haven’t recommended or glossed-up something that I don’t really agree with. What if a reader took your falsely positive advice, paid for the tour/hotel, and had a similarly awful experience? Does that potential not matter?
Again, I’m not “indicting” press trips, sponsorship/collaborations, etc. Just, please, have some integrity about it. And maybe, just maybe, how about writing things that aren’t strictly for viral potential.
This attitude is exactly why I’ll never be a “big” blogger. And I’m perfectly okay with that.