I couldn’t decide whether to write this post or not, or to just quietly make a few changes under the radar. But I decided that perhaps a hasty explanation on Insta-stories wasn’t quite enough, plus not everyone indulges in the delights of good old Instagram, so here we go.
I’m making a few changes. Nothing huge but since they’re related to transparency, it seems to make sense to be transparent about them. Once upon a time, I started this blog for several simple reasons. I like writing. I like eating. And after spending my whole career as a journalist writing what editors and bosses told me to write in the way they told me to write it, I decided I wanted a place where I could write exactly what I wanted to write, about what I wanted to write about, in the way I wanted to write it.
And so Eat with Ellen was born. A hobby where I could share wonderful meals, foodie adventures, and practice my writing. Nothing more, nothing less.
That was a few years ago. Since then it’s changed quite a bit. I’ve written about food – a LOT. I’ve also written about holiday adventures, had a few rants about food-related stuff, met lots of lovely people, been to some great events and even won an award (which I clearly didn’t deserve).
I’ve also eaten a lot of free food. It comes with the territory. You start blogging and people start offering you stuff. Free meals at restaurants, hotel stays, stuff in the post. I’ve never actually asked for anything for free, I’ve made a point not to, but when it’s been offered I’ve happily accepted on plenty of occasions. Thanks to this, I’ve had some wonderful experiences, eaten in some great places I may not otherwise have got to, and consumed a fair bit of free wine.
I’ve always been clear in my blog when I’ve accepted something for free. Look through any post and it’ll tell you if I paid in full or whether I was given a complimentary meal. I’ve also tried my hardest not to let the fact something was free influence my opinion on it. Perhaps I haven’t always been successful, but I have always tried.
But now I’ve decided to change stuff. In a nutshell, I’m not going to accept free stuff anymore. Instead I’m going to go back to how this started. Documenting the places I find myself eating without invitation, or maybe even the stuff that I manage to cook at home that doesn’t end up raw or burnt.
I’m guessing most of you won’t care much about this, but for those who do, here’s why. It’s not one big reason, it’s not ‘me on my high horse judging everyone else who accepts freebies (how could I when I have for so long)’. It’s just a combination of things, some bigger than others, but all mixed together they have got me to this point.
New ASA guidelines
If you’re not in the blogging community, you probably don’t care about this. Basically, there’s a push for ‘influencers’ – bloggers, celebs, the people with a gazillion instagram followers – to be a bit more transparent about what they get for free or are paid to talk about.
The idea, in essence, is that if you’re telling someone that a particular product, restaurant or even chocolate bar is great then you should probably own up if you got it for free or got paid. It makes sense – there’s a chance those looking for recommendations might want to know you’re plugging something because that company paid you big bucks or gave you a free outfit. Yes, they might still want to buy it, but they should do it with their eyes wide open, not with wool pulled over them.
I think I’ve been paid once as a blogger, and I certainly don’t pretend that any of my posts actually ‘influence’ anyone (if they do, tell me, because that would be nice if I’ve helped you find somewhere you enjoyed). But I do get free stuff. As I said, I always declare stuff on my blog, but new guidelines demand a more stringent approach (again, probably quite rightly). That covers social media to, which I’m not great at at the best of times and now as well as remembering to post at all, I’d have to remember to carefully add #ad or #gifted or #complimentary, with explanations of what was free, what was paid for, what was a collaboration.
I agree with that, I think it’s right. But I just can’t be doing with it. If you look at my Instagram or Twitter, I don’t want it to be littered with hashtags and explanations, I don’t want to stress over each post. I just want to share pictures of food and wonderful experiences. So the easiest way to deal with that without flouting the rules is to remove the problem. Say no thanks.
Being lucky enough to get free stuff does funny things to people. It causes no end of disagreements among bloggers, but worse for me has been some things that have been said about me as a consequence of this from other quarters.
Suggestions that this blog means I don’t actually have to work very hard elsewhere at life because I get ‘everything for free’ (I don’t, just food and nowhere near the large amount I consume on a regular basis). Or that when I share blog meals with friends and family it’s nothing to do with the fact I want to share the experience with them, but because it’s free and I’m too tight to spend my own money. Yep, stuff like that.
That objectivity stuff
A lot has been said about objectivity and free stuff in all sorts of places. I’m not going to rehash the debate. Everyone does this stuff differently and everyone has their own view. Loads of bloggers accept free stuff and produce paid-for content and do it very well. Hat’s off to them. I’m not sure I’m one of them, and it’s something I’ve always worried a bit about.
As I say, I’ve always tried my damnedest to be 100% honest no matter whether I’ve paid for something or it’s free. But sometimes I question myself and whether I’ve been a bit too worried about being negative about somewhere because they entertained me so generously. Or that maybe because I was invited for a meal, I was treated slightly differently than if I’d just rocked up. Maybe it’s all in my head, maybe it’s not. But I can’t face stressing about it anymore.
So again, the easiest way to solve that is to take it back to basics. I’ll just go back to writing about meals we’ve gone out for and paid for. No judgement on anybody else, no big rants, it’s just what I’m going to do. It’s where I started and it’s where I want to get back to.
So what does it actually mean for Eat with Ellen?
Not much really. I’m still going to post about yummy meals. I’ll still disclose everything, which will mainly be: “I paid for this, they didn’t know I was a blogger” – though at the time of writing I’ve got one more free meal to go to, which I had already committed to before this decision.
I’ll still adhere to ASA guidelines which means if someone previously gave me something free or paid me within the last year or so, then even if I go back and pay in full, I’ll tell you about our previous relationship.
I still don’t believe in cheap takedowns or easy wins at the expense of hard-working independent businesses. Places make mistakes – even the best restaurants – and I’m not going to beat them down for that, paid for meal or not. I’ll still rave about the great places and find positives in places that are working hard, even if they miss the mark in some ways. And yes, if somewhere is consistently pants or – worse – just doesn’t give a shit then I will tell you. And most importantly, I hope this will still be somewhere you can look to for some ideas of where to go to eat.
So there you have it. This blog’s changing a bit, but not much and hopefully you’ll still enjoy reading it (to anyone out there who actually does read it). None of this is about anyone, or anything, except me and the fact that I started this blog so I could be in charge and do things the way I want to. This is it.