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Blog Advice II: Rules & Disclosure

Q. Hi Jordan,

I’d like to ask you about the rules and legal issues that come with having a blog, especially when you are recommending places to go or writing opinions about certain products. For example, If I go to a really great restaurant and want to share it, do I have to get permission from the owner of the restaurant?

I know that if you’re getting paid to write about something, that has to be disclosed, but if I just have an opinion on a restaurant or really great bridal shop can I just put that out there? I know that I may be over thinking all of this, but I would rather be safe than sorry!

– Shaunna

A. Hi Shaunna,

So excited to hear that you started a blog. It’s an amazing outlet – try pushing yourself to put up at least one post a day, and it’ll start coming so easily to you. I feel like having a blog helps me see the world differently; I study things more closely, always looking for interesting details in the commonplace.

Re: rules and legal issues, I’d recommend taking a look through this Legal Guide for Bloggers and the FTC Blogger Guidelines. So for legal advice go there, because I’m obviously not a lawyer, but here’s my personal take on things:

Blogger “rules” are fairly straightforward: the most important thing to remember is that, as you know, you need to disclose if you get free items or are paid to write about something. Beyond the FTC guidelines it’s more courtesy than anything else – if you snag an image from somewhere, make sure to credit the source (I just put “Image via” with a link at the bottom of the post), and the same goes for info, recipes…anything that you find elsewhere on the internet.

Now, when you go out to places I think it’s nice to ask proprietors if they mind if you take a photo, but you certainly aren’t under any obligation to tell them where the photo is going (although if I’ve had a favorable experience I often leave my card at the end and tell the owner to keep an eye out for a good review).

With regards to reviews, it’s more or less up to you to say what you will about a business, although to me it feels more worthwhile to write about places I’ve enjoyed than places I haven’t, and I usually skew towards the former. It’s OK to express a negative opinion, but try and give reasons for why you arrived at your opinion (e.g. not just “Restaurant X sucked,” but rather “I didn’t like Restaurant X because the waiters were inattentive and the pasta was overcooked”). Factual statements and opinions don’t constitute defamation, although the waters here can get murky, so use your common sense and choose your words with care.

One note: I know I harp on this, but I advise letting your friends and family know that you’ve started a blog and encouraging them to feel free to tell you if they want to stay out of it. I did this right when I started, and you’ve never seen or heard of any friends of mine who said they’d rather not be a part of RG. And even when a friend says they don’t mind, I show them the photo and get their approval before putting it up – again, just as a courtesy. The blogosphere can be fairly Wild West at times, so I think that politeness is a nice touch that will be appreciated more than you can imagine.

Good luck!

– Jordan

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  • Catherine Gilmore

    Jordan, thank you for this post and for the two links! This is a topic I’ve wondered about as I’ve started blogging. I often post about local businesses- only ones I like as I don’t want to do the negative thing- and I know pictures are important but asking owners is SO hard! I’m a bit of an introvert and am always afraid they’ll flat out say no. Do you tell them you’re a blogger?

    • Anonymous

      If i’m writing them up, i just say “hey, I have a website, here’s my card, look out for a positive review, thanks for the great experience.” re: pics, it’s rare for store owners to say no – they’re usually somewhere between not-caring and happy – but some places do have a no-photos policy, so i just say no problem and grab one off their website, if possible.