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#1 brendiver

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 11:52 PM

I've been chit chatting with another wetpixel member outside of the forum who asked me an interesting question in respect of writing stuff for magazines:

"Would you or any of your colleagues write a negative critique about a dive resort/area or give an as objective as possible cost/value rating if you're staying for free?"

I know what my stance is on this, but where do you draw the line?

Here's an ethical tester for you:

You enter an underwater photography competition sponsored by a diving magazine and dive travel company. The prize? A one week all expenses trip to Suval Benkeh island. The magazine's expectation, you'll write an article to go with your photographs, and if the piece is good, they'll consider you for further assignments.

You are aware that Suval Benkeh advertises in the magazine with a one page ad every month.

You win the competition and you are more than excited - your first assignement!

Once you arrive you find the rooms to be shabby, the hotel to be under the flight path, the beach to be full of cigarette ends, half the guests have food poisoning, the dive boats could do with being replaced, the dive sites are just OK, there's one or two really good ones, but they are a bit further out and the boat rarely visits them as they have to be back at lunch to run the try dive classes.

Before you leave, the manager invites you to come back and stay at their sister resort as their guest, the more upmarket Punal Membe island spa resort. You've been there before, you loved it and always promised you'd go back one day - this time you'd only have to pay for the flights.

So - what next? What would you do? Where is your ethical line?

Edited by brendiver, 30 April 2008 - 11:58 PM.

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#2 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 12:07 AM

Surely you write the article related to your trip, Brendan. Good and bad. And it is up to the Editor to decide how his publication runs the piece relating to their big advertiser. I don't see it as a writer's problem. If the editor subs your work to a level that you are not happy with then I would imagine that you would not want a second assignment from such a magazine that prefers to serve its advertisers more than its readers.

Alex

p.s. Or you submit it to Tauchen. Their rates are better than English speaking magz and the guys at Suval Benkeh can't speak German!

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#3 PRC

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 12:28 AM

For my money you have to write it as you see it - unless you are being paid at PR exec rates where your job is a very different one as your clients representative, in that case you are being paid to spin.

We have on this forum a writer ( John B ) for a UK mag that reviews a lot of equipment and has fallen out with some manufacturers over his words. I would guess that his editors sometimes would prefer to see different words used as there are advertising budgets to consider.

Thankfully he was fairly complementary about the one piece of my design that was reviewed.

Bottom line - if you are selling your soul maybe you had better be taking home PR payment rates for it.

Paul C

Edited by PRC, 01 May 2008 - 12:28 AM.

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#4 Halabriel

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 01:25 AM

For my money you have to write it as you see it...

I agree. I subscribe to a number of SCUBA magazines, and read the travel sections avidly. In my experience there is rarely a duff review of any resort or dive outfit. I feel that advertising budgets impact significantly on what gets printed, so write what you feel and if the magazine doesn't like it - well they won't print it, instead they'll contract another writer to give them what they want to hear. I always check out any resort, that I've read about, online before I consider booking anyway.

Before you leave, the manager invites you to come back and stay at their sister resort as their guest...

Get this in writing before you leave, then write what you want. The magazine probably won't use you again, but you will get a free holiday out of it!

We have on this forum a writer ( John B ) for a UK mag that reviews a lot of equipment and has fallen out with some manufacturers over his words. I would guess that his editors sometimes would prefer to see different words used as there are advertising budgets to consider.

I love John's reviews, however he seems to be the exception to the general rule. He is a bit like the "shock jock" of the dive equipment world. I wonder sometimes if he is given suspect equipment just to see what he will say.

Cheers

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#5 PRC

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 01:52 AM

I love John's reviews, however he seems to be the exception to the general rule. He is a bit like the "shock jock" of the dive equipment world. I wonder sometimes if he is given suspect equipment just to see what he will say.


Nah, they are just giving him the dodgey gear in the hope that it will finish him off.

Trouble is, he keeps coming back!

Just kidding John ;)

As an aside John (as I am sure you will be reading this) how many really bad reviews just get dropped rather than published?

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#6 John Bantin

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 02:23 AM

Nah, they are just giving him the dodgey gear in the hope that it will finish him off.

Trouble is, he keeps coming back!

Just kidding John ;)

As an aside John (as I am sure you will be reading this) how many really bad reviews just get dropped rather than published?

Paul C


Our advertising manager hates me. (but then a lot of people do!) Alas, a lot of distributors and manufacturers are getting wise to me and testing stuff before they send it! One (naive) manufacturer refused to send a regulator once but later said that they shot themselves in the foot by letting me go and buy one from a shop. He said I obviously didn't get a good one!

I also do trip stories. Here's the start of one. (Writers from American magazines travelling with me on this occasion chose not to write at all.)

"Layang Layang stinks - literally! As you disembark from the little Twin Otter of Trans Pacific Airways (a rather grand title for such a small operator), the caustic smell of guano assaults your senses, scouring your nasal passages with its acrid ammonia. It is all-pervading.
Layang Layang is a man-made island with just an aircraft runway and the few buildings that constitute the hotel set on top of a submerged coral atoll.
It is a lonely outpost of the Malaysian Navy, and a political solution to the problem of increasing Malaysia's territorial waters further out into the South China Sea. Viewed from the air, the effect is rather like a marooned aircraft carrier waiting for its flyers to return.
Millions of birds roost here. But it is not just Twin Otter flights from Kota Kinabalu that arrive here. The island is a magnet for all manner of migrating birds, offering them a welcome respite from miles of empty ocean. It also has a huge permanent population of sooty terns and brown noddys, which use this convenient platform as a breeding colony. Millions of birds roost here. The Australian manager affectionately calls his uninvited cohabitants "shite hawks".
With average temperatures around 40°C and humidity approaching 100 per cent, the smell on Layang Layang is something akin to putting your head down the lavatory after your mother has gone mad with hot water and a bottle of Domestos...."
(http://www.divernetx...el/layan998.htm)

Lawrence Lee, the manager was very upset that I was so rude but after three years he invited me back because he realised more people read my stuff than any other (and I did go on to be complementary about the diving).

Tarmac Island Cleans Up Its Act.
http://www.divernetx.../0901layang.htm

Edited by John Bantin, 01 May 2008 - 02:26 AM.

I buy my own photographic kit. Diving equipment manufacturers and diving services suppliers get even-handed treatment from me whether they choose to advertise in the publications I write for or not. All the equipment I get on loan is returned as soon as it is finished with. Did you know you can now get Diver Mag as an iPad/Android app?

 

#7 DavidScubadiver

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 06:17 AM

"Once you arrive you find the rooms to be shabby [adequate], the hotel to be under the flight path [near airport!], the beach to be full of cigarette ends [ideal for smokers!], half the guests have food poisoning [mysterious ailment strikes island], the dive boats could do with being replaced [adequate dive boats], the dive sites are just OK, there's one or two really good ones [some stellar dive sites, just ask your boat captain!], but they are a bit further out and the boat rarely visits them as they have to be back at lunch to run the try dive classes [scuba opportunities for your non-diving friends!].

Before you leave, the manager invites you to come back and stay at their sister resort as their guest, the more upmarket Punal Membe island spa resort [more expensive sister resorts available if you are not budget conscious]. You've been there before, you loved it and always promised you'd go back one day - this time you'd only have to pay for the flights. [Wahoo!]"
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#8 ChrisJ

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 06:30 AM

The way I see it, we are all dive buddies in the grand sense.

IF I ever came across a diving operation that was haphazardly dangerous, I would tell every single diver I know to avoid that operation.

Same for resorts...we all pay ALOT of money to travel for our hobby. The last thing I want is to have someone pay tons of cash for the same shabby experience.

I read dive magazines and forums PRIMARILY for destinations/resort/live aboard reviews and experiences.

Edited by ChrisJ, 01 May 2008 - 06:30 AM.

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#9 AMW

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 08:31 AM

I have recently stopped subscribing to Sport Diver magazine. The articles are interesting and overall it is a quality magazine, but I have never read a negative review about ANY dive operation they cover. I don't think I even have read a neutral review. Obviously, they are funded by advertising which in itself is not a bad thing. But, they also can not bite the hand that feeds, thus they could not run a less flattering review on a resort that pays their bills. I still subscribe to Undercurrent because they tell it as they see it!

#10 John Bantin

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 08:48 AM

I have recently stopped subscribing to Sport Diver magazine . The articles are interesting and overall it is a quality magazine, but I have never read a negative review about ANY dive operation they cover. I don't think I even have read a neutral review. Obviously, they are funded by advertising which in itself is not a bad thing. But, they also can not bite the hand that feeds, thus they could not run a less flattering review on a resort that pays their bills. I still subscribe to Undercurrent because they tell it as they see it!


Culture varies from country to country. Evidently, in the USA a writer/publisher can be successfully sued if the plaintiff can prove that the writing reduced the plaintiff's ability to make money even if what was written was true. There the USDollar is king and the one with the most wins.
In Italy, they see no problem with what I would call corruption. If I do a less than positive test of an item of Italian equipment, they will actually try to pressure me to test it again and write a different review because they see publications as being in league with them against the consumer. It probably explains how Berlusconi got voted back in.
Thankfully, in the UK the libel law is such that if you tell the truth it is not actionable. (You may need the evidence to prove it was the truth.) However, advertisers sometimes withdraw their advertising revenue in retaliation. It's just that when their sales fall, they have to come back because the British consumer is very savvy and knows when he is being lied to and knows which publications to trust.
If I worked for a publicly quoted company I would have to toe the advertising manager's line. As it is, I write for a small family owned business with a patriarchal owner who is richer than he ever expected to be and thinks his honour is more important than quick cash. For myself, I made my money telling expert lies in the advertising business and if I am going to tell convenient lies in this business I'll want the same remuneration!
If you want to read honest equipment/destination reviews, go to divernet.com. (Am I allowed to say that?)
(PS. You might have noticed I now regularly contribute to Undercurrent!)

I buy my own photographic kit. Diving equipment manufacturers and diving services suppliers get even-handed treatment from me whether they choose to advertise in the publications I write for or not. All the equipment I get on loan is returned as soon as it is finished with. Did you know you can now get Diver Mag as an iPad/Android app?

 

#11 Halabriel

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 09:07 AM

...I subscribe to a number of SCUBA magazines, and read the travel sections avidly. In my experience there is rarely a duff review of any resort or dive outfit...

I have recently stopped subscribing to Sport Diver magazine. The articles are interesting and overall it is a quality magazine, but I have never read a negative review about ANY dive operation they cover...


This is in fact exactly one of the magazines I was talking about; Scuba Diving also suffers from a similar ailment and is due to be culled. I currently subscribe to Fathoms and... Wetpixel Quarterly ;)

Cheers

Hal
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#12 Nakedwithoutcamera

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 05:55 PM

Fathoms is awesome. John, could you come over to the U.S. and run for President? ;)
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#13 John Bantin

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 01:32 AM

Fathoms is awesome. John, could you come over to the U.S. and run for President? ;)


You already experimented with an honest president and it didn't work out. Ask Jimmy Carter!

By the way, Bret (who started Fathoms) is a good pal. He shoots from the hip too.

Edited by John Bantin, 02 May 2008 - 01:34 AM.

I buy my own photographic kit. Diving equipment manufacturers and diving services suppliers get even-handed treatment from me whether they choose to advertise in the publications I write for or not. All the equipment I get on loan is returned as soon as it is finished with. Did you know you can now get Diver Mag as an iPad/Android app?

 

#14 fdog

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 06:40 PM

I notice that your signature line includes "diving photojournalism".

Hmmm.

Okay. Assignments are made by your employer. If your employer is a magazine, they and it's readers are your employer. You represent them. If you shade your review so you can get more goodies, you've breached your trust with your employer.

I can get fired for that.


OTOH, if you are a freelancer, then your employer is you. You decide what's more important: a biased review for short-term gain, or a long term series of sales to a magazine because they have come to trust you. In this framework, neither is "more right", it's a decision you make.


As for me? You'll find my ethics here: NPPA Ethics. ...I think #8 is applicable here.


All the best, James

Edited by fdog, 02 May 2008 - 06:44 PM.


#15 John Bantin

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 10:54 PM

I notice that your signature line includes "diving photojournalism".

Hmmm.

Okay. Assignments are made by your employer. If your employer is a magazine, they and it's readers are your employer. You represent them. If you shade your review so you can get more goodies, you've breached your trust with your employer.

I can get fired for that.
OTOH, if you are a freelancer, then your employer is you. You decide what's more important: a biased review for short-term gain, or a long term series of sales to a magazine because they have come to trust you. In this framework, neither is "more right", it's a decision you make.
As for me? You'll find my ethics here: NPPA Ethics. ...I think #8 is applicable here.
All the best, James


I am a freelance with who works as a consultant to mainly one publisher and have been doing that since before 1989. A few years ago I received a coffee mug and a T-shirt as a Christmas present from a grateful distributor - but I promise I didn't let it influence me!

At the moment I have 24 drysuits in my possession. Does anyone really think I get to keep them and what would I do with them? I'd have to start a dive equipment store, and then I would no longer be able to be a writer. It's a self-defeating proposition.

As I continually review diving equipment I don't need to own any. I bought my own camera kit. You might say I get free holidays but these are working trips. A holiday is when I take my family and have a rest. What are these goodies you mention? (...and how can I get some?)

Edited by John Bantin, 02 May 2008 - 11:17 PM.

I buy my own photographic kit. Diving equipment manufacturers and diving services suppliers get even-handed treatment from me whether they choose to advertise in the publications I write for or not. All the equipment I get on loan is returned as soon as it is finished with. Did you know you can now get Diver Mag as an iPad/Android app?

 

#16 brendiver

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 11:02 PM

I notice that your signature line includes "diving photojournalism".

Hmmm.

Okay. Assignments are made by your employer. If your employer is a magazine, they and it's readers are your employer. You represent them. If you shade your review so you can get more goodies, you've breached your trust with your employer.

I can get fired for that.
OTOH, if you are a freelancer, then your employer is you. You decide what's more important: a biased review for short-term gain, or a long term series of sales to a magazine because they have come to trust you. In this framework, neither is "more right", it's a decision you make.
As for me? You'll find my ethics here: NPPA Ethics. ...I think #8 is applicable here.
All the best, James


Hi James,

I like your reply - and #8, in case anyone is wondering is:

"Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage"

Just to keep the debate going, as this is a really grey area:

If you are employed by a magazine / newspaper, the readers don't have too much to do with what goes in their pages, I believe the editor has the final say so, and if they don't like your copy, they won't publish it. Over the years, talking to other photojournalists, I've found a different approach / standards for each one of them.

One photographer I met in the Caribbean, who was on assignment for Conde Nast Traveller, refused to meet up with the tourism rep as it was contrary to Conde Nast's policy, he didn't even want to appear verbally influenced.

Others - well, they've accepted whatever comes their way if it means they can get their copy published and as a result, do what their editor has asked of them. And although it might be hard to beleive, I have met photojournalists who have been heavily influenced by their own advertising dept. For them it's just a job, and all truths are just shades of grey.

The fact is - most titles would not survive without press trips, it's the approach the editorial team has towards advertising that makes the difference.

Which is why I am quite happy to freelance for a magzine where the editor encourages you not to discuss advertising while on assignment.

I like the NPPA ethical guidelines - but the reality out there, unless you are that chap from Conde Nast, is far from this.

Like John B - press trips can be enjoyable, like your job is meant to be. Holidays are when there is no pressure to do anything, you are the boss, you decide what you will do with your time. It's a wierd fine line, I've enjoyed some press trips more than I have a holiday, does that make that element of my work a vaction?

Edited by brendiver, 02 May 2008 - 11:37 PM.

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