[em]Times[/em] Staffers' Guidelines for Travel Site: "The worst steak in Gstaad" is Not Appropriate

Today, New York Times‘ staffers received an email from Deputy Managing Editor Jonathan Landman and Standards Editor Craig Whitney, outlining ethical concerns about posting to the new Travel web site.

Righ now, readers–and Times reporters–can comment on London, Paris and Los Angeles.

After the jump is the full memo with guidelines, such as no anonymous posting in the comments section. Take that “sprezzatura!”

To: The Staff
From: Jonathan Landman and Craig Whitney

January 12, 2007

The launch of our new Travel web site has raised some ethical and practical questions to think about concerning Times staffers’participation in rating hotels, reviewing restaurants and otherwise joining the public conversation on the site.

Times people bring much to these forums. Some of us are among the most experienced travelers on earth, and readers benefit greatly from our expertise. Times authority is one of the things that distinguishes our site from others, so we do want Times people to participate.

But there are some potential pitfalls. Hotel chains could go to great, even corrupt lengths to try to get positive reviews from our people once they see we’re posting on our site. We could undermine our authority by going beyond our expertise. No doubt there are other issues we haven’t thought of.

With this in mind, we offer some guidelines that staffers should observe when posting comments on the Travel site. They are meant to apply to editorial people, whose views readers may take to be conveying the authority of The New York Times. For now the guidelines are aimed at the Travel section alone; there may be other issues that come up in the context of Movies, Books, Theater, Dining and so on.

1. Please do not post anonymously or by using a screen name. Identify yourself by name and include “The New York Times” ­ and, if relevant, a job title or description ­ after your review or suggestion. This will help the editors of the site keep us all from inadvertently getting into trouble.

2. Avoid superlatives and judgments beyond the reach of personal experience and expertise. “I ordered the steak medium rare but it came overcooked,” is fine. “The worst steak in Gstaad” isn’t.Nor is “the stew had too much turmeric,” unless you’re Amanda Hesser or Frank Bruni or are really, really sure you know what you’re talking about. “The only restaurant in town with two Michelin stars,” is great. “The best restaurant in town” is not. (Please DO use the rating widget at the top of the page to vote your own stars; these ratings are anonymous.)

3. Try not to let hotels, restaurants, or other establishments give you a misleading picture of themselves. The easiest way to ensure this is to keep your identity as a member of the newsroom to yourself if at all possible (of course we understand that your name is on the reservation and credit card and that many hotels will know perfectly well who you are). Of course we never exchange favorable reviews for special treatment.

No doubt these guidelines will need refining as time passes. Please tell us what you think and how things go. None of this should be interpreted to discourage participation; quite the opposite.

We hope a common understanding of how to participate will encourage more of us to join the conversation.