Whisky Advocate

A Whisky Blogging “Code of Ethics”?

February 19th, 2010

I was thinking about this the past few days. The dozens of whisky blogs out there provide a great service to the whisky industry and to whisky enthusiasts. This is the main reason why they received Malt Advocate magazine’s “Pioneer of the Year” award.

But the downside to blogging (in general) is that it is essentially unsupervised. People can basically say whatever they want. I established brief etiquette guidelines on WDJK here  last year  which focused on comments. I wonder if something like this should be fleshed out, expanded, and (hopefully) adopted by all my fellow whisky bloggers?

Do you think this is a good idea? If we did try to create some sort of “Code of Ethics”, what do you think it should include?

28 Responses to “A Whisky Blogging “Code of Ethics”?”

  1. John Hansell says:

    I’ll start this thread with one item I would like to see. I think that if a commenter works for a whisky company, they should disclose this information in their post.

  2. Jacob Halbrooks says:

    Your blog is your property and you can supervise it as you please. I think it is a great idea to post your guidelines for such supervision.

    On the other hand, I don’t think there is anything to be gained by trying to push such guidelines out to other bloggers. That might even cause resentment from others. But if you didn’t “push” but just make it available, then other bloggers might like it and adopt it too.

    • John Hansell says:

      Jacob, maybe you’re right. Maybe I should just work on one for WDJK. I just thought it would be nice if we could get all the whisky bloggers and commenters to agree to a minimum level of ethical behavior that we could all embrace.

  3. Call me cynical, but a code of ethics is like a mission statement … a crutch for those that don’t inately have one. In any event, who will bother to read it ? And how can one trust it’s being adhered to ? Did you ever read the constitution of the Soviet Union ? Reading it made you want to move there … all those freedoms and rights. Surely it was paradise to live in the USSR. When reading stuff online, one just has to exercise good judgement.

  4. Luke says:


    Your Blog.

    Your Rules.

    End of Discussion.

  5. Chef! says:

    I second working on one just for WDJK and leaving the door open for those that want to adopt it on other blogs. It’s sad that you feel the need to promote a code of ethics. I never thought the need would arise when adults cannot appreciate others tastes or views for something as elegant, sophisticated and diverse as whisk(e)y. It’s behavior I would suspect from a light beer forum/blog frequented by fraternity boys.

  6. Not to generalize, but the whisky fans I’ve encountered have been generous, friendly, and upstanding in their approach to the hobby.

    I don’t visit EVERY site, but I haven’t really seen an issue with disclosure, personal attacks, or unfounded disparaging commentary.

    So while I think the creation of, and voluntary adoption of, a blogging code of ethics is a nice idea, I think that it is, by-and-large, already in effect.

  7. Chef! says:

    I’d also like to mention that I’ve seen this movie before and it did end well, at least on a business approach. A respected authority for a certain type of business transaction made a similar set of ethics. It was cut, dry, short, sweet and specific to the industry. In fact, it became a brand for the man that people could adopt but was never forced onto anyone.

  8. Mark says:

    John, that would be good, but I think Jacob probably is correct. It seems to me what you can do is set a standard others find not only commendable but also worth adopting for themselves.

    Your idea of having commenters disclose their industry connections is clearly appropriate; it would be good for WDJK to be a blog that requires such honesty. The WDJK “community” is a fairly complex group, and who knows who just lurks. Even those who comment cover a range from relatively new whisk(e)y drinkers to collectors to industry professionals, with the wide spectrum of knowledge one would expect from such a cross section. Plausibly, members of the community deserve to know, for instance, the source of “advocacy comments.”

    Regarding the ethos of WDJK, I think you’ve already set a standard of open, enthusiastic exchanges within a framework of mutual respect. Some of the exchanges about the awards showed the standard at work, as you honestly and clearly responded to criticisms. It was good.

    Best wishes on further developing your ethical point of view as a whisky blogger. It’s worth the effort, as blogs become yet more prominent and influential. So, thanks for thinking about a dimension of the work that matters and is not easy.

  9. two-bit cowboy says:

    Here, here, Chef! @ 5

    John, last year you went to un-moderated posts. I applauded you then, and I hope you would agree that it’s working. You occasionally ask folks to “move on,” and I’ve seen a few responders hop on a seemingly inappropriate post.

    I enjoy looking at the wide variety of links that I find when one of your responders includes their Web site link (underlined name). I’ve stopped including my Web site because my personal ethic kept nagging at me about using your blog to promote my commercial interests.

    While I can appreciate your thought about industry insiders identifying themselves, I’m not sure I’d want to see you mandate that. It’s obvious when somebody is pushing the company line amid a sea of naysayers. And even they (tongue in cheek) are intitled to their personal opinions.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Fact is, the ethics of everyday life already cover situations like this– But considering the complex and potentially fragile relationship between whisky blogs and the whisky industry, perhaps “sock-puppetry” should be particularly discouraged on the whisky blogs.

  10. Ted says:

    “code of ethics’ for your blog is an excellent idea, as you set a standard, lead by example, and hold others accountable. my only suggestion is keep it simple (your “etiquitte guidelines” signal such). you are a professional, the blog professional, and those commenting herein should respect the format. as for a industry standard, well, free speech in any format must tolerate the less mature, and the internet is a free format; that said, however, your blog is not, and professionals in the industry will honor your set standard.

  11. John Hansell says:

    Based on your comments so far, and giving it further thought, here’s what I am going to do. I am going to establish one for WDJK. I think it is important. I only suggested that other bloggers consider it because I want the whisky blogging community as a whole to be taken more legitimately.

    Here’s a reprint of what Robin Robinson said on the thread of Whisky Bloggers receiving the “Pioneer of the Year” Award, which I thought was interesting:

    “John, a timely, well thought-out and deserving award, an up-to-date acknowledgment of the influence of the web and the viral spread of information. There is however a major caveat that follows it: the threat of mis-information, legend over facts, myths over knowledge and a possible dilution of real tradition, sacrificed at the altar of expediency.

    As a long-time advocate and promoter of technology, I’m well versed in the dual nature of information on the web, as it doesn’t necessarily follow the traditional “market place of ideas” approach of free speech, which emanated from a top-down, more authoritative position. Real time, speed of thought publishing cannot be carefully monitored and with the next generation working more from a peer review knowledge base, it can pose problems to an industry that uses terms like “tradition”, “artful”, and “time-honored” as an arbiter of quality.

    As you know, the act of physically publishing information carries with it a series of decisions, most based on anticipated consequences and realities. Not so with the web, where both you (with years of experience) and the next guy (starting yesterday) can have equal stature and effect with the right SEO. With all that, the award was a courageous call.”

    I suppose maybe I view my blog differently than others do. For me, it is part of my business. An important (and growing) part. Because of this, I try to be very professional about how I run WDJK, and I think a code of ethics is appropriate to establish the proper framework and setting–even if everyone already is adhering to it.

  12. JWC says:

    John, I think it is a great idea but the problem lies in adoption and enforceability. I agree with the others – if someone like you sets an example, I think others would be tempted (but not forced) to follow. While not a blog per se, I know at least one forum devoted to bourbon that does a pretty good job of having its members and moderators enforce the rules that you posted last year. Also, from what I’ve seen, at least on the internet, whisk(e)y enthusiasts tend to be a devoted but mellow lot (I’m sure the alcohol helps). The disclosures would definitely help. However, there are certain things like ethics that cannot be controlled. For example, there is one fairly prominent publisher/writer that I swear keeps rating almost everything as good, excellent or classic just for the purpose of ingratiating himself to the distillers and ensuring that he stays in their good graces (and keeps getting the free samples). In my opinion, his credibility will suffer for it and as a result, even the distillers that benefit from his favorable reviews will no longer value them.

  13. G Llaguno says:


    I think it is a great idea to have an “ethics code”, it will help prevent misinformation. My personal thought is that if you create a good ethic code, every other blog will follow this code. I think that in this time the ethics cannot be put away, and it would be a great start to at least create an ethics code to keep the ideas and expressions of this blog in a healthy good mood. I appreciate all the freedom of expression and it can be kept as far as it has a good and healthy mood and a polite participation between the readers.

  14. Seth Nadel says:

    I think it only makes sense for someone to disclose they work for a whisky company. I see nothing wrong with it. It’s “social networking.” Maybe they have more insight into the product and can offer information that would increase sales. Isn’t that part of the point?

    • two-bit cowboy says:


      I use John’s blog as a source of info to help me decide which whisky(ies) to buy, yes. But I don’t want anybody “selling” me something here. I don’t think this is the place for anyone to attempt to “increase sales.” That is taking advantage of a wonderful venue.

      • Seth Nadel says:

        I understand what you are saying, but I think someone can contribute without ramming something down our throats. I think John Glaser’s contribution was informative and added to the discussion. I would rather someone announce that they work for a distillery. If they get out of line, they will know about it. I would rather have that than some recent college grad who’s first job is “social networking” for Bacardi.

  15. ralfy says:

    … this is something that’s time is yet to come !
    Currently the majority of Bloggers are genuine and supportive of Whisky-stuff, even when criticising ! it’s this autonomy of many commentators which makes the internet post-marketing, vital, and refreshing.
    … but the time will come when cynical mischief makers will see the opportunity to get ‘nasty’ for their own reasons, (i.e. professional guerilla anti-marketing) and Whisky is about jobs, economics, culture, being civilised, international accord, and having a better life of smell and flavour for all e.t.c.
    At some point, an ethical (but not neutered) Policy should be presented on-line and the response carefully analysed, … for everyones benefit.

    …. keep up the good work John.

  16. Red_Arremer says:

    Codes of ethics are frequently ignored or manipulatively invoked for unethical purposes.

    What there should be is an on going discussion of whisky blogging ethics– a discussion that comes up often enough that ethics feels important to all whisky bloggers.

  17. Sku says:

    Sorry to be late commenting. I missed this entry somehow and just saw it on WhiskyNotes. Several years ago, a group of bloggers, including, I believe, Kevin from ScotchBlog and Chris from Nonjatta came up with this Code, that addresses some of the issues you discuss. It’s pretty bare bones, but I thought you might find it interesting:

    One of the things I think would be most important in any such code (internal or otherwise) is a disclosure of any industry ties as well as a disclosure of when samples have been provided for free. Indeed, in the US, based on new FTC regulations, a disclosure of free samples is probably legally required.

  18. rjdinkel says:

    The Germans aren’t know for whiskey, but they do have some virtues. One of my favorites is an old German expression that roughly translates to “any rule without enforcement capability isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”. And that’s what you would be facing. I think the idea of anyone that has an industry connection would in fact disclose that, and that may be a reasonable ‘request’ to make of site users. But even that would be unenforceable. The ‘freedom’ of blogging by nature carries with it the risks.

  19. Jason says:

    Code of ethics? I do not think so, nor advisable in a free and democratic society. Impossible to impose on other independent bloggers like myself, plus your notion of ethical blogging and mine would conflict as it would with others. For example, I do not believe that I can be truly impartial in my review of whiskies if it was supplied free of charge by the distiller. Pretty hard to rate poorly a dram that came for free. I do not know how others do it. Moreover, I think this is a conflict of interest that needs to be at the very least disclosed to readers. Many bloggers (not you) conceal the fact that the whisky they review was supplied for free. There are lots of terrible whiskies/scotch out there (ie. Drumguish) but hardly any negative reviews. Doesn’t compute and there is a reason for that, as I alluded to above.

    I don’t accpet free samples of any kind, just because I want to rate the dram solely based on my judgment without outside factors. My code of ethics with respect to blogging does not permit me to accept samples. Your code would obviously differ from mine.

  20. John Hansell says:

    Jason, I can see how you would find it hard to rate poorly “a dram that came for free.” It’s not easy to do, but it can be done.

    Let’s take this one step further (actually more like 1,000 or 10,000 steps further), and put it in my perspective:

    Imagine rating poorly a free dram from one of the biggest whiskey companies in the world–one which advertises regularly in my magazine and participates in all my WhiskyFests. A company that I respect and have many friends wo work there. That would be REALLY hard, wouldn’t it?

    Just check out my review here today of Old Crow Reserve. I did just that.

    One CAN be unbiased and impartial. You just have to be willing to take the punches and accept the concequences. In the long run, it will earn you more respect than if you never took the free review sample in the first place. It’s so much easier to just not accept the free sample than to accept it and still be impartial.

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