I've got a date to impress next week and he likes steak. I don't know a lot about steak, not being much of a steak-eater. So instead of just asking my friends, who also don't know much about steak, being waist line watching girls who peck at salads, or Twitter (which would rumble my surprise to my date), I decided to turn to the press. Because that's what you do right? You consult the help of people who know about such things.
Now, who would know about London restaurants? I know, The Evening Standard. Because they're a well-renowned newspaper, right?, They've been going for years, their reviewers are trustworthy. They're not like chancer bloggers, because they've already got loads of influence, and they've probably got a budget to comp their journalists for meals eaten out, right?
So I went on @ESgoingout's Twitter feed to see if they had any articles on steak. Imagine my surprise when I saw that they had tweeted Goodman, the steak restaurant, this:
Erm, what? Are my eyes deceiving me? The Standard have just publicly announced on Twitter that they want to 'arrange a review' (ie. they don't want to pay for an expensive steak). I don't know what shocked me more: That they'd be so stupid as to be blatant that they would actually ask for a freebie, or they would basically admit to the world, that their so-called 'top ten best' lists are nothing more than a list of the places with which most ease they manage to get a free meal based on their press credential? Call me a little innocent bunny, wet behind the ears and blinking my dopey eyes in the headlamps of the London PR machine about to flatten me, but surely these lists are supposed to be…unbiased? When I read these lists, I assume that the journalists have gone out incognito and eaten at all of these places. I mean, it's important, right? Shouldn't there be a disclaimer at the bottom saying 'I blagged this meal.'? That's what food bloggers have to do. Should a paper not be transparent?
As it stands, now I am fully aware that the Evening Standard try and get freebies as much as the now notorious @londonlarder tweet gate back in May:
(LondonLarder sent this tweet to a large number of London restaurants. Some of them actually allowed them to review for free and LondonLarder's tepid reviews were laughed out of the Food Twitterati as a result, including this brilliant, shaming tweet from @TheThatched:)
The ES clearly didn't take this as a lesson.
A friend at a restaurant (who wishes to remain anonymous) also sent me this, an email from a well known food blog and magazine London Larder (I've blurred the sender because frankly I don't need the death threats).
I am also now aware of all the back-scratching, back-slapping and arse-kissing that goes on in such publications. Ever wondered why the same people are always in these lists? Well, now you know why. Because they help each other out, these chummy restaurants and papers. Not that I'm saying all, of course. But this tweet is objective evidence that it does happen in some Proper Newspapers. The lists are PR-, matey- and How many do it? What's the point of these lists? They're obviously not objective. If it's unbiased, why not go in unannounced and make your mind up by yourself instead of seeing who'll give you the biggest bar tab to drink craft beer whilst you shovel down £50 worth of steak?
It's completely corrupt. One person provides a free meal, the other person gives them publicity, all under the guise of an unbiased independent review, or guide. It's like the classic movie Serpico, about corrupt police, where no criminals are imprisoned because they pay off the policemen with favours and money. With all the newspaper-restaurant schmoozing, who can be sure who's doing who a favour?
I think it also depends on the person as well. Not everyone can give an objective review if they haven't paid for it. It's a lot more difficult to be truthful and say something was bad when you know that they've provided you with an entire meal. These 'top 10' lists are full of fawning praise and, conveniently, in a Top 10 list, you don't have to include any negatives.
|We need more of this|
But come on. Don't they have a budget for this kind of thing? Is it ok to use their connections like that? Are they just trying their luck, or was this just a misguided intern left to his or her own devices?
We'll never know, because despite CCing them into my tweet shameing them for being such blaggers, shortly after I posted, it was deleted. And they didn't reply to me. I've always found it weird when businesses try to brush mistakes under the carpet, because it's quite clearly happened, but then, what is their defence? I can't think of a single possible answer they could come up with to justify it.
What I would like to see is this:
All newspapers critics and bloggers should publish the exact circumstances of their review, as some honest ones do. Because without it, all 'reviews', not just Evening Standard ones, are a sham.