How to Accept Free Stuff, or Not, and Write About It

Ethical eating has become a buzzword, and we're not talking about whether your sea bass is Chilean. The dirty truth is that some people are given stuff for free, then feel beholden to say nice things about it—whether it's a product to review or a restaurant meal.

Once there was the idea that even the impression of impropriety would be a detriment to journalism. But then, those people had expense accounts. Now that Yelpers and bloggers have had a whiff of the power of the media, and know that they can manipulate business owners by merely promising good coverage, impropriety is the name of the game.

But not for everyone: CHOW, for example, has a policy on not accepting gifts. We pay for the stuff we write about. And most mainstream media, for all their problems, are still operating under the umbrella of journalistic ethics. So how do you know how to trust what you're reading?

That's the subject of a panel at SXSW Interactive on March 14, called "Bite Me—Are Ethics Gone in Food Criticism?" Moderated by CHOW's editor in chief, Jane Goldman (who has written about her issues with criticizing food), the panel features some superstars of mainstream and new media: Marcia Gagliardi of Tablehopper; James Holmes, chef and owner of Austin restaurant Olivia; Robert Sietsema, food critic for the Village Voice; and Ben Leventhal, executive editor of The Feast and cofounder of Eater.

There will be some masks, and some full facials. Sietsema, for example, is an anonymous reviewer (he did a video for us in which he was masked the entire time). It'll be a lively crew, and if you're at SXSW it'll definitely be worth a visit. Freebies may be handed out, and you will be required to write favorably about them. Make sure you use the #biteme hashtag when you do!

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