I know my weaknesses as a human. I occasionally crave a Reese’s peanut butter cup. (No, Newman’s will not do.) When I get in a bad mood–it’s rare, but it happens–you had better move off to another block until I calm down. And when people give me free stuff, I feel beholden to them, journalistic integrity be damned.
It’s the truth, OK? My mother would be appalled at the variety of items piled on the only nice piece of furniture in this apartment: the antique ice box she lent me. On its wooden surface, there are tonics and t-shirts, oils and skin scrubs, lotions and bitters, and a big fat reusable zippy bag full of business cards.
The thing is, I am afflicted by the need not to “be a bitch.” When a person sends over something free to try, they know and I know that my telling them my mailing address about 90% guarantees I will write up a review, and a positive one at that. They gave me something for free!
I struggle with this, because I was drilled in my journalism school on objectivity. And yet, I was also drilled since preschool on being nice to people, and reciprocity. And I’ve even developed personal relationships with many in the industry, and I hate to be like, “Look, you’re heart is in the right place, but this … is not good. I mean, it’s good in the social good sense, but your logo sucks and I would never wear it. Feel me?”
Sometimes I’m offered something free and I really don’t like it, or it’s just OK, or it doesn’t seem to fit in with EcoCult’s aesthetic and style. About 70% of the time, if I hadn’t been offered a free sample, I wouldn’t have cared. I have come up with a few ways to address this.
- I “forget” about it and hope it never comes up again. That sometimes works, but good PR people have the nudge down to a fine art. “Did you get the item? Any idea when your review will go up?” It’s annoying, but I know they’re just doing their job.
- I decline to review it. I tell the PR person that it’s just not right for EcoCult. Sometimes they push back, but most of the time they understand.
- I massage it. This is an industry term for making something not-so-great seem awesome through a slight of writing. If you’ve got a modicum of reading comprehensive and critical thinking skills, you might have noticed these posts–where I highlight the good parts, highlight the bad parts, and then spend the rest of the post subtly making fun of it. I can remember two times when I’ve done this. And I don’t like doing it, because I would rather just not waste your time and not review it at all.
- I never give a “bad” review. If it sucks, I doesn’t deserve the tippity tap of my fingers on this keyboard.
Still, how do you know you can trust me, now that I’ve laid this out on the table? I wouldn’t trust me, knowing this. It’s not like I have nefarious purposes. I’m not even making money off of this stuff! (Not yet. Like, $20 a month.) The whole thing makes me feel icky.
So moving forward, I’m going to change things a bit:
- Every item that I received for free gets an asterisk in the article, with the word, “I received this item for free for review” at the bottom.
- I will carefully review all a products ingredients, credentials, background and aesthetic and decide that I am genuinely excited before agreeing to receive a sample for review.
- In communications with PR and brand people, I will state that, “You should know that my accepting your free product does not guarantee a positive review.”
- I will promptly inform any brand or PR person if a product does not meet my standards for EcoCult, and I will stand by that position. My standards being: beautiful, useful, sustainably made, and ethically produced.
- If and when I start running paid content, it will be clearly labeled as sponsored.
Look, no mean comments or emails prompted this post. But I figured that I needed to clear my conscience. I take my blogging duties very seriously (if you don’t consider that sentence oxymoronic) and I want to do right by you readers.
If you have any suggestions or thoughts on this, please do let me know in the comments. xo