trust no one

If you can’t trust a local blogger, who CAN you trust?

Scandal rocked two or three people in Vancouver last week, as news broke that the editor and main voice behind the Vancouver is Awesome blog isn’t just really really enthusiastic about living in Olympic Village, but rather gets paid to write about it (to the tune of almost $30,000 a year). 

The main issue and subsequent what the fuck lies with the lack of transparency. Bob (as VIA on Twitter, Instagram, and the blog) sings the praises of Olympic Village non-stop, to the point where it should have been obvious that he gets paid to gush like a prostitute with a specialty – but what Bob claims as his being “totally transparent” about the fact that his family is getting a suite deal (get it) on rent plus a salary in exchange for his extreme enthusiasm is anything but. There’s an unwritten (it may be written somewhere; I don’t have time to search the entire internet) “Blogger Code” that says those getting paid for their words or free goods/services in exchange for positive reviews put a disclaimer in their posts – hell, it’s such an issue that some are pushing for bloggers to be required to declare all freebies as income (I rue the day I have to pay taxes on those toothbrushes I got that one time). Bob’s version “totally transparent” comes in the form of a very vague mention that he partnered with the marketing company that pays him in May of last year, and nothing since then (except the constant glorification of the yuppie paradise that is Olympic Village to the tune of 58 write-ups to date). He took to Twitter when the story broke, and directed people to this one post as “proof” of his open disclosure multiple times.

I’m really disheartened by this. I, like many other people, thought Vancouver is Awesome was run by people who really love this city, and used the site as a resource to find cool going-ons. And yeah, I was taken in by the hype surrounding Olympic Village; overlooking the fact that the City of Vancouver had to borrow $460 million dollars to complete the project when things went south in a big way – it sounds like an awesome place to live. I suppose it still is, if you can afford it – the suite Bob’s family lives in rents for $2500/m, and retails for somewhere between $750K – $1.1M (so much for that “affordable social housing” Vancouver was supposed to get out of the Olympics).

The fact that I don’t really know how to explain WHY this story makes me feel many feelings is why I never really “made it” as a blogger. I could attribute my feels to jealousy, but I know that isn’t it – I don’t *want* to answer to anyone in exchange for things, so my distaste has nothing to do with that. I guess I just feel like a chump – thinking that Bob and Vancouver is Awesome was performing a service for this city because of a genuine love for all that Vancouver has to offer, instead of  just another marketing tool paid for a great review. It makes me feel dirty, and like no one can be trusted – the social media I’ve come to know and love, that delivers news within seconds of happening, that lets me know when taking the Lions Gate Bridge would be a terrible idea, that tells me when the McRib is back – like none of it is real. How do you know that I really love Diet Coke and that I’m not being paid to ingest dangerous amounts of it on a daily basis to try and fool you into being awesome like me? Well, you can trust me – but I’m just a nobody who writes words for fun, and apparently we’re a dying breed.

From the Vancouver is Awesome blog:

Vancouver Is Awesome, and we are dedicated to everything that makes it that way.

If you want to read ugly, bad news about this beautiful city of ours, you’re going to have to look to traditional media and other blogs; V.I.A. promotes everything that makes our city awesome, from old to new and everything inbetween. We’re like the human interest piece on the news… only different.

.. in that they can be bought.

Internet, I am disillusioned with you.

UPDATE: This morning, Bob’s 59th “Olympic Village was built on angel farts and baby smiles” post seems a little different than the previous 58:

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than ten months since we launched a campaign to share the experience of living in the Village on False Creek (Vancouver’s former Olympic Village). It seems like just yesterday I was pitching our friends at Rennie Marketing Systems on a creative way of showcasing the awesomeness of this place, in the spirit of similar projects like Live@YVR and 365 Days of Dining. My wife and I had been thinking of a move from our previous place in Mount Pleasant for months and on the weekends had been coming down to the Village to hang out. We fell in love with the neighbourhood even before we launched this sponsored series, and what makes the project so much fun for me is that it comes from a place of truly wanting to show off my neighbourhood – one of the bonuses is that I get to explore it for myself and find the gems. As I mentioned in our PRINT MAGAZINE, we’ll be staying here after our year-long project is up, as I believe Southeast False Creek is the most exciting neighbourhood in the city right now – and it’s the neighbourhood we call home. Other developments and businesses are opening up all around this little Village, and as you can tell from my previous 58 posts, it’s an incredible place to place raise a family.

(bolded emphasis mine)

That is more openness about the fact that Bob’s life is paid for by a marketing company than has ever appeared in that blog. Is he feeling the heat from the backlash over his “totally transparent” dealings that took everyone by surprise? It reads an awful lot of too little too late for me, but it’ll be interesting to see if future posts about the double-rainbow-glory that is Olympic Village will be as consistently forthcoming, or if this is all we’re going to get on the matter.




9 thoughts on “trust no one

  1. Oh, Vancouver. Is there anything about you that doesn’t boil down to taking something pretty decent but not without flaws, and then marketing the shit out of it to make people believe it’s amazing and trendy (and, also, to want to purchase it)?

  2. This kind of stuff is rampant here and with local blogs, I always had issues with V.I.A. I was not sure why, but I know to trust my journalist’s mind on these issues. I personally would like to see on the mastheads of blogs or in the beginning of stories that they are paid for or they provided services or product in return for posts. There are personal blogs and what I wrote about in 2010 Blogfomercials.

  3. I’m torn on this. On one hand, I appreciate that Bob started VIA as a fun idea & side project, and am happy for him that he has turned it into a successful commercial venture. I also like that he’s got a media background, and so is charging a realistic rate for his advertising, which is sorely needed as blogs become a more trusted venue.

    But I think the media landscape as a whole (producers and consumers) is fraught with peril when it comes to sourcing and disclosure. We used to believe what we read in print, journalists had integrity, fact-checkers were still a very real and important role, and while advertising and editorial were never truly church & state, the relationships were a lot more obvious; and the writers/reviewers were at least third parties from the advertising & editorial owners.

    I sometimes giggle at the lengths bloggers go through to holler about disclosure and when they paid for something their! own! self! like a kid who’s purchased his own candy at the corner store with his allowance nickel. But I do prefer it to the alternative; having to dig for a story’s source, or be blindsided when the background relationships & financial backers float to the forefront.

  4. Somehow I managed to miss this story last week…but I’m not surprised at the outcome/backlash you’ve described.

    It’s definitely a thin line when dealing with marketing companies as to how you disclose that relationship in posts. I don’t regularly read VIA other than seeing the occasional tweet or posts by friends who write there….so I assumed that there was some form of clear disclosure/mention of the relationship in the posts extolling the virtues of the Village.

    I’ve certainly had to seriously consider offers that have come my way (not nearly as many as others get locally, but then my site is more niche) because of amount of influence or editorial those companies have asked for. I assume most people use common sense when engaging in ‘partnerships’ that have a potential for conflict of interest as well.

    I always turn down those ‘offers’ that want to review/reword my posts before publishing….that becomes a blatant ad and no longer my thoughts on the matter. But then again, I’m not using my personal blog as a (significant) source of income either…which is always a red flag on content to me.

    The line is definitely blurring as companies try to find new ways for their messages to be heard…and sometimes that line gets crossed – whether it’s intentional or not, it’s the optics of the situation that need to be considered.

  5. Oh boy oh boy. The lady doth protest too much. And then the lady goes out and guilt-blogs word vomit that boils down to SPONSORED I WAS SPONSORED I TOLD YOU THAT BEFORE NO REALLY ALL OF YOU CAN’T READ SPONSORED YOU’RE ALL WRONG.
    I’m always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt, and am willing to believe the “Whoops, I thought I’d been clear, guess I haven’t, sorry, look I’ve added disclosure headers to the previous 58 posts, will be clearer in future, thanks guys!” reaction. But this … isn’t that.
    What a pity.

  6. Bob as VIA was Vision vancouver’s official tweeter at their West End Town Hall last fall. He was sitting prominently at the front, left of the stage with lots; of ‘e’quipment and wires, where all the Vision Van Councillors and Mayor were speaking from. They introduced him as such.

    One can only assume he was paid to provide this service. Would you like to tell us how much Bob, and by whom? Perhaps in the interest of transparency and honesty, you might disclose all other Vision Van related scopes of work and income.

    • This isn’t a witch hunt – I was only pointing the inconsistent disclosure about paid content vs opinion on the VIA blog. I do not care that he was getting paid, only that it was not made crystal clear from the getgo. No one is claiming any other shady dealings, or denying that VIA hasn’t done good in the city – this is simply a (significant, to some) blow to their credibility.

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