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#BloggerBlackmail - The Ugly Side of Web Journalism


Video game reviewer Yahtzee Croshaw once described the term blog as sounding like "something that lives on a riverbed and communicates through farts". Speaking purely of the word, I tend to agree, but it also often gets used as a catch-all term for DIY web journalism that lacks any real sense of legitimacy, which is viciously unfair. There are some aspects to it though that very much support those claims. Blogger blackmail is most certainly one of them.

Recently Reshimi Bennett, owner and proprietor of a sweet shop in Kensington, was contacted by a blogger who wanted to come to the shop and get some free samples in exchange for a review. It's fairly standard practise, but it gets worse. Upon arrival, the blogger tried to order £100 worth of goods for free. The staff shot her down and she began to threaten them with a negative review.

She left, but not before buying a small clutch of sweets, which she then took home and used as ammo for that very bad review she'd tried to hold over them like the sword of Damocles. She then posted some images of the food on Instagram steeped with angry sentiment. I don't think it's any kind of controversial statement to say that this is an utterly unacceptable way to behave.

I've been writing in a professional context for about 2 years and as that has progressed, I've gotten used to getting offered free things. Press passes to events and screenings, albums and yes, complimentary food and drink from time to time. You get used to it after a while but it's important never to lose sight of why you're there, or let it go to your head. I would never dream of demanding anything from the people that I work with, much less using a bad review as a threat, not only because it's anti-journalism but because it would severely harm my own credibility, something this particular blogger clearly didn't take into consideration.

The problem with modern journalism is that it's not even really about positive feedback any more as much as it's about SEO. What this blogger was offering, more than kind words, was an article which would have repeatedly used the name of the shop and bumped it up the Google rankings. That was the spirit of the arrangement, in essence - free sweets for SEO. Depressed yet? With that in mind, it's less about taking the time out to offer a writer the best service possible in the hopes of leaving a good impression and more about goods and services, you have to decide for yourself how much you think your services are actually worth, based on the amount of time and effort spent on each new piece. Complimentary handouts, however, are neither a form of commission, nor pay. Negotiating them as such is out of order.

The anger-fuelled Instagram images that the blogger posted at first have since been taken down and the post she ultimately wrote certainly paints the shop as the antagonist, but she freely admits that she overreacted by threatening a bad review. What she doesn't back down on though is that £100 worth of goods is not unreasonable to expect in exchange for the write-up and photographs.

The low-paying nature of blogging is the main thing she uses to back this claim up and while it's true that a small free sample isn't much in exchange for what she claims to be 8 hours of solid work, it isn't the shop's job to make sure she's appropriately compensated. The sad truth is that in the early stages of online journalism, you have to get used to working for little-to-no money, and the establishments you review have no obligation to compensate for that.

The backlash against the writer has also been disproportionately nasty, as per usual. Once the story (via the hashtag) emerged on Twitter, the hate started pouring in, leaving us once again with a heated, but civil disagreement which has been reduced to a hellish nightmare cocktail of swearing and misogyny. Perhaps if Bennet hadn't responded so angrily to the situation, it wouldn't have blown up like this, but it's painfully obvious that communication is the only real culprit here.

It's not OK to demand things from places you're reviewing and it's certainly not OK to use negative press as a threat, but blogging is a cut-throat world which is very difficult to earn a living from. People don't take bloggers seriously. Much of the time, it's regarded as a kind of hobbyist journalism in such a way that even if the writing (and photography) is of an extremely high standard, it won't be held in the same regard as a larger, more heavily staffed website and that's just not fair. Should reviews be fuelled by handouts? Absolutely not, but bloggers deserve to be held in the same regard as any other kind of journalist for the work that they do. It's not easy, I'll tell you that first hand.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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#BloggerBlackmail - The Ugly Side of Web Journalism Reviewed by Unknown on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 Rating: 5

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