As most of you know, I was a food reviewer for eight years or so. Before that, I was a cook, not a professional journalist and I had only vague ideas about journalistic ethics and standards.
Sometime early into my stint I spoke with my editor at the time about just this thing. I wondered if I should be asking for payment if a restaurant posted it—after all, it was as good as an advertisement, served the same purpose, so wouldn’t I get paid for doing that?
My editor patiently explained ethics, and bias, and I quickly understood that if I was to emulate the food writers that I admired, I would not ever take anything other than my freelance fee from the paper—and I never, ever did. I wrote the reviews, I put them out there, and let the restaurants do what they wished. And honestly, for a newly published writer, seeing my words up on the door of a restaurant or in the window was exciting—it meant someone was reading. I still see an occasional review posted and I still get a kick out of it, and I’ve still never said “Hey, that was me, can I get a deal on dinner?”
And then, a few years later, I had a conversation with Bill Spurr himself about it. By now, I’d had the chance to meet Bill and chat with him, and every now and then we’d call each other about something food related. He told me that this was his plan, to ask for payment once things were posted publicly, and so I have some first-hand knowledge of his course of action. I don’t believe for a minute that Bill was looking for anything other than what he says he was—payment for his intellectual property.
Unfortunately, his motivation and intent is moot. The story is still unfolding, so it remains to be seen how this will affect his readership. Do I agree with what he did? No. Am I defending him? No. But in the age of social media, when Yelpers and Chowhounders and TripAdvisors abound (and that stinking pile is best left for another post), when the masses beget alchemy to turn uneducated, biased opinions into fact with no accountability, does one guy reselling his reviews really matter?

Advertisements