Xiaxue VS Gushcloud: Who’s the real loser?

I interrupt my regular programming of food, travel and more food to offer my two cents’ worth on the Xiaxue VS Gushcloud saga. I realise that most of us sane folks who don’t spend our time obsessing over the lives of a few bloggers couldn’t care less. But since this kinda affects my ricebowls — I’m a journalist, I blog here at my company website AND I’m a poly lecturer who teaches Writing for the Web (amongst other modules) — I decided to pen down my thoughts.

Not because I want to kaypoh (a little bit lah, I admit) but mostly because this is an excellent case study for my students. #hardworkingteacher

So here’s what I posted on my company’s Facebook account.

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Effective comm: If you have been following the very ugly online spat between blogger Xiaxue and rival online advertising company Gushcloud, you may be shocked to know that there’s such a thing as masked advertising. Yes, you have been advertised to, and gasp! You never even realised it! What is interesting is how much the public seems to trust bloggers more than professional traditional journalists / ad copywriters, who are more upfront.

Organic reviews VS advertorials are treated differently in traditional media, down to the template used, colours, even font type or size in some instances. As a freelance journalist AND ad copywriter, I have read and done my fair share of both. Both are jobs, done by trained professionals, and when done well, can be entertaining, informative and make good reading.

The greatest difference I see between traditionally trained journalists and the new breed of ‘I have a blog and I can’t spell properly but that makes me a blogger and therefore, a legit member of the media, so SHOW ME RESPECT dammit!’ is this — many (not all) bloggers simply are not educated about ethical issues. Many don’t see any problem writing whatever the advertiser wants (even if it is blatantly untrue) because these bloggers either honestly feel that ‘the advertisers are paying so they get to say what they want’, or they simply want the easy money, OR they are not brave enough to have some editorial integrity.

Yes, my little blogger friends. There is such a thing as editorial integrity, which you may not have heard of because you were not taught it as you didn’t go to journalism school. That, however, does not excuse you from blatantly lying because honesty is a virtue that your parents would have taught you — no need for journalism school to do so.

As for the new generation of readers who proudly say they don’t read newspapers and spend more time obsessing about bloggers’ spats instead of what’s going on in the world, please read this article below about how our Singapore Tourism Board is pissing off some readers of The Guardian because of our over enthu advertorials.

The saddest part? The readers of The Guardian seem a lot sharper and more savvy about media literacy. They are quick to note and protest against the rosy pro-Singapore stories because they recognize that it is not all truthful.

Judging from the many stupid comments I’ve read from rabid fans blindly supporting both the Xiaxue and Gushcloud camps, this media literacy skill is clearly sorely lacking in both our local bloggers and their readers. Epic face palm moment
here. So you see, many people prefer to talk without reading and UNDERSTANDING what they read. And worse, comment viciously without thinking.

Disclaimer: I have no beef with any of the bloggers and I think Xiaxue is one tenacious lady who deserves props for this piece of investigative reporting. (Though some of her methods are questionable.)

Also, this bit is very important: By sharing this article from The Real Singapore, this does not mean I approve of them or vouch for their credibility. They are as crap as Stomp.

#faithinxiaxue #faithingushcloud #nofaithinxiaxue #nofaithingushcloud #medialiteracy

It pains me to give The Real Singapore any publicity at all, but here is the link to the article I mentioned, if you want more info. http://therealsingapore.com/content/singapore-tourism-board-advertises-guardian-fails-miserably

Editorial integrity?! What’s that? Don’t know, don’t care.
In a nutshell, it is about having integrity about what you are writing. Meaning, if I do a food review and I think the chicken rice is too oily and the chilli is not shiok, I should write exactly that. I should not fake it and say the food is super yummy just because someone paid me to say so, or because I got a free plate of chicken rice. Yay, saved $3.

For the record, when I write food reviews for 8days, yes, I do get paid by 8days, which is hiring me for my journalism/eating/food critiqueing services. NOT by the restaurants — never. I have never been paid by any chicken rice stall etc for praising their excellent chilli or the perfectly oiled rice, I swear. Here’s a random pic of chicken rice. I can’t remember where I ate this, but it was not bad.

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More often than not, I have received angry phone calls from shop owners who mistakenly think that just because I did a food review on them, they are entitled to dictate exactly what I should write. Nope, you don’t.

It’s weird. You know it’s a food review and therefore I WILL review your food. If it is not up to standard (eg clams not fresh and sandy, food too salty, service was crap etc) I should tell the truth because my readers are expecting that from me. As my regular readers and friends know, when I genuinely like your food, I often do a shout-out for you on my own company’s FB and Instagram, and even my personal FB — free of charge. Because lobangs about good food is meant to be shared.

Yet, some really weird business owners can actually tell me “I did not give you permission to write negative things about me”. Ahahahaha! Look, are you going to go after every disgruntled customer who told their friends not to eat your food, that “I did not give you permission to complain about my sucky food”? Seriously, the nerve of some people.

Another random pic of this gorgeous Crispy Pork Belly burger from Hambaobao (which I loved). In the same review, I also said I didn’t quite like their Ayam Buah Keluak burger, ‘cos it was messy to eat and not as shiok as the actual nonya dish (inspired by grandma’s recipe). No complaints from Hambaobao — these guys understand that a review is a review.

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I have been in the publishing business for over 20 years. I had my first article published when I was 15. I was a writer and eventually, an editor, with MediaCorp for 12 years and I’m still a practising journalist. So Honey, I’ve been around the block and back, don’t try to threaten me that I’m not allowed to write something negative about your food.

However, a younger, inexperienced blogger who can barely spell or string a coherent sentence together, and whose only training in media ethics is… zilch (meaning ‘zero’ or no training at all, for said bloggers’ sake), CAN easily succumb to pressure.

Perhaps they are excited newbies super chuffed to be invited to events and free food tastings. For the record, real journos like me have too many deadlines to meet and seldom go to events and press conferences (we prefer one-to-one interviews where possible).

When I do attend events, I often see a new phenomenon: Bloggers, some of them self-claimed “social media influencers” and “online personalities” that I don’t recognize, sometimes ridiculously dressed to catch everyone’s attention, snapping selfies and Instagramming them.

If I’m in the media and I teach Writing for the Web and I don’t recognize you, I’m sorry, you can’t be that famous. Also, the truth is you (the not-famous blogger, not referring to the legit famous ones) are probably there to make up the numbers because the PR company or the client is afraid that not enough traditional media people turn up even if they have RSVPed, and their press conference will look damn sad. Once upon a time, before bloggers were invented, it was the sales people (account servicing people) who would turn up at their clients’ events if their editor/writer refused to go, because they die die must show their clients face. Now, you get both the sales people AND the pretty bloggers!! So much win!

And that’s just the bloggers who are in it for the freebies (food, shopping vouchers, goodie bags.)

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If the bloggers are actually paid money to claim that they like a product even if they don’t, it can be tempting to give in to the client, especially since it is their rice bowl at stake. Unlike me, I am already paid by 8days to write the review anyways. I don’t need to pander to the restaurant because you not my boss yo. And even my boss (8days) is not expecting a glowing review unless it really is v good — they just want my honest opinion.

Client asked me to lie, what choice do I have?

Actually, you do have a choice. Put editorial integrity first and simply say ‘No’.

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So. Who is the real loser in the Xiaxue VS Gushcloud saga?

Answer: The bloggers and blogging industry.

And here’s why. Unlike magazines or newspapers where the readers buy to read the entire publication and not because of a particular writer, YOU, bloggers, are your entire brand and product. You are the reason your readers come back to read your blog. If you fake it so that you can make it, readers ain’t stupid. They can tell. And they won’t come back. So no readers’ traffic means no figures to show your client (unless you outright inflate and bluff, as Xiaxue painstakingly pointed out). Eventually, you will have no clients too because which client is stupid enough to pay a blogger, even an obliging and unethical one, to blog if there is no one there to read it? Think about that.

When you throw out reasons like “it’s just marketing”, “blogger ABC also did that” and “I was busy then so I neglected my blog and so the figures ‘naturally’ dipped”, these make you look worse than ever. They DO NOT make it okay to mask your ads, inflate your figures and assume that because others do it, you should follow suit. Like my mother used to say, “Other people jump down a building, you also jump ah?!”

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So think about that the next time your client / company tells you “not to write it like an ad”. Sure, you can exercise your creative license and insist that it just means your client / company wants you to write it more “lifestyle, not so “hard sell” etc. It does not change the fact that some bloggers pretended that they stumbled upon the product or service when it is NOT true. Or that some figures are ridiculously inflated.

The recent Big Instagram Clean-up, which saw some popular bloggers lose thousands of followers, should be a good indication of how karma can turn around and bite your butt.

Did my own Instagram figures dip? Naaaah… My organically gained readers, all 200 of them since I started my company’s Stellar_comms_consult account in Aug, are still there.

There, go ahead and laugh at my sad 200 followers, I don’t mind. Really, I don’t. Unlike some fly-by-night bloggers, I actually have a real job — educating the next generation of online journalism writers who hopefully won’t succumb to such nonsense. And I hope, in my own little ‘teacher’ way, you have learned something from this post.

Since everyone is into ending their blogposts with inspirational quotes and hashtags these days, Imma gonna do the same.

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#faithinxiaxue #faithingushcloud #nofaithinxiaxue #nofaithingushcloud

There. Now I look like a legit blogger too. Seriously, keep calm, bloggers. This spat is less interesting to the world than you think.

A final word of advice to bloggers and readers, alike:

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Stella

*All images, except the last one which I created and the food pics, are from Goggle Images.

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