Thursday, August 13, 2015

Food Blogging. Quo Vadis?

Another popular food blogger got caught plagiarising.

A beautifully styled blog, well written posts, lots of attractive photographs, a wide variety of recipes and cuisines, and of course, a new post every couple of days - it isn't surprising that this blog caught the attention of many. 

A new blogger, just a year into blogging, she was under so much pressure she said, that she did the unthinkable. But it wasn't a single instance. There was so much plagiarised content on her blog we got tired of looking. Stolen content that spanned recipes, food styling on her photographs, 'How To' posts, quotes, and even a personal story from another blogger - and not a hint of credit anywhere. The thievery was not limited to the confines of the blog. A magazine was given plagiarised content, a DIY dessert kit was being sold using someone else's recipe. The rot was so deep it was appalling. 

Predictably, once she was caught there was a severe backlash and this blogger is now in a lot of trouble. As she should be. 

Many bloggers debated and outraged over this incident on a closed group on Facebook and over private messages that blazed for two days, as the plagiarist tried desperately to save her self, her blog, and her reputation. 

We all know plagiarism is wrong, we all frown on it, we all outrage loudly when someone is caught but most of us also wait for someone else to blow the whistle. We also look the other way because we don't want to be the one to make a scene. We worry about the plagiarist's reputation, family, children, and everything else. Sometimes I wonder if we're looking for excuses for the plagiarist. But no, we're not. We're just not motivated enough to get off the couch and do something about it, just like we are lazy about a million other things that should be changed but we rather someone else did the changing. 

In all the debate one question kept coming up - what's the hurry? Many of us have been blogging for several years and we see the blog as a personal diary or chronicle that we allow the world to read. It's all about passion, and dedication, and love, and warm fuzzy feelings. Because when we started blogging, that was all there was to it. You wrote what you liked and felt happy if anyone stopped by and actually read what you wrote. There was no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or StumbleUpon, and if they existed they were nothing like what they all are today. There was nowhere to broadcast the fact that you had written something on your blog. Your blog was not accessible to a zillion people at the click of a mouse. 

Today the scene is very different. Blogs earn incomes. They are marketing tools. They are platforms for selling opinions, information, advice, anything! A blog is supported with a myriad social networking tools to give it a larger audience. If you're successful at leveraging all this to your advantage and your blog begins to get noticed the fame and the followers grow, invitations to events, restaurant launches, product launches, etc., start pouring in. And let's be honest, it's bloody hard to resist all this seduction. You might even land some paid writing or photography gigs if you're good.

And this is where the temptation to grow fast comes in. You see others who have made it big and you want the same for yourself. And you want it fast. But for that you need the numbers. Followers on your blog, on the Facebook Fan page, on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, G+, and every other platform you can think of, and you have to write keeping SEO in mind. The pressure to post more builds up because you're worried about Google and Alexa ranks. And your worry is justified because you are looking at numbers, numbers which will convert to income eventually. Or a whole lot of fame, fans and freebies if not real cash. 

But all this takes dogged hard work, sometimes of impossible proportions. Let's take that Google ranking thing - you have to put up 200 posts in a year to get a good site rank. (See Addendum) That translates to four posts a week. If you're a recipe blogger that means you have to select what recipes you're going to blog, shop for all ingredients, cook the dish, sort out props and styling for the photographs, set up the shots, take photos, edit photos, write the post, add photos, publish the post, clean up your kitchen, put away your photo equipment and props, promote your latest post out there on social media which means Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, at the minimum, and as many food groups and blogger groups on Facebook that you can find that allow you to share your blog links. All this, at least four times a week.  And you still have a regular job, a family to look after, a life to live. 

Is it any wonder that you soon start looking for ways to make it easier? And before you know it you are stealing content. Blogging has changed from a personal hobby tool to an industry. Maybe it's not a job for one person anymore. And certainly not if you have a full time job. 

Think about why you blog. If like me, you blog because you like to and are not too concerned about followers and income, that's great. But you should consider growing and not stagnating. I've worn my refusal to grow like a badge of honour and I am ashamed of it. If you're blogging because you want the bigger things then think it through, plan how will go about it, think of the resources you can use (and no, I don't mean other blogs or sites you can copy from), and be realistic about how much you can do and how long you can sustain it. There's nothing wrong with earning money through your blog. But it is wrong if you are doing it by stealing someone else's work. 

We all have responsibilities as bloggers. There are many things wrong with food blogging today and they need to be set right. New bloggers need guidance and mentoring and older bloggers need to accept and learn the new ways. We need a community and a support system. We need to deal with the rot. Ignoring it makes us equally responsible for it. 

*** Addendum - I misunderstood Google ranking criteria to some extent. So it's not 200 posts literally but you have to really populate your blog with a ton of content so 200 posts a year is the sort of goal many bloggers blindly set themselves in a bid to get that high Google ranking. But prolific posting on your blog is not enough by itself. There are many other factors that in combination with prolific posting will get a blog a high Google rating. 


Kurush F Dalal said...

So well said. Kudos for belling the cat and that too responsibily with constructive points on what to do and how to do it. Ultimately in the writing game nothing is a greater crime than plagiarism and it'll haunt you all your life once (not if) you get caught.

Garima Sarolia Narera said...

It couldn't have been expressed better Rhea. Applause!!
Very valid points made.

Amsie’s Kitchen said...

WOW!!! what a post.. every word of it is well said...

Charul @ Tadka Masala said...

So well put. It is really very easy to go the plagiarism lane, especially with the million blogs around you. But as you said, a post is not just a 200 word recipe, there is lot that goes into it, and we should respect the fact that someone has given that to their blog. That's the least you can do as a blogger.

Charul @ Tadka Masala said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Rhea, there is no rule about 200 posts! What i meant to say, these newbie bloggers try to put as much content as they can in short period of time. They think having a large number posts will increase their page rank drastically! But no where it's written you have to do 200 posts to get into google's eye! There are many other factors to increase page rank.

Pritam Roy said...

Rhea, Such a great post. And, what you have written is not only true about food blogging. It's about many other spheres of life. There is no substitute to hard work and originality. I knew someone who had sent me the link to a management article, he had authored, which was published by a reputed magazine. It didn't take me long to understand, that he has picked entire paragraphs from different sources and created a copy-paste masterpiece. When I pointed it out, he obviously refused to acknowledge and that was the last time I heard from him. I was also thinking about the magazine, who are too eager to publish articles without checking antecedents.

Rhea Mitra Dalal said...

@Storyof Cooks Thanks for clarifying! I have added an addendum to the post hoping to explain better.

sangeeta said...

Very unfortunate to see this happening. But yes something needs to be done to prevent this. I hope this crazy mess will level out in a few years on it's own? Bloggers and their capability as a social influence is a new tool in the market, may be everyone gets wiser in some time? I just hope it happens.

Pinku said...

such a well written post Rhea and so valid.

Hoping for a better blogging future!!