So the Leveson Inquiry rumbles on, with Tony Blair throwing his two cents’ worth into the investigation into press standards. Scale this down quite considerably and this week I was offered the chance to review restaurants and hotels for a soon-to-launch website. The brief sounded reasonable – until I reached the bit declaring ‘all reviews must be positive’ and a loud alarm bell started sounding.
I’ve written travel pieces for more than a decade, staying in places from the most cheerful Hi-de-hi campsite to some seriously swanky hotels. The ‘freebie’ has long been seen as one of the perks of a pretty low-paid profession and of course a week writing about things to do in Interlaken is preferable to creating ad copy for your local accountants. But whilst reaching for our passports, we need to hang on to our integrity too.
One of the least comfortable weeks of my life was spent in a British holiday lodge with rickety furniture and a grubby bath, which I had to tackle with the only available weapon to hand; washing up liquid. Possibly the most sumptuous hotel I’ve visited was a five-star spa in north Wales (but then maybe any bed would have seemed inviting after that climb up Tryfan). But even the best places can get the little – and sometimes the big – things wrong, and readers have the right to know, whether they’re booking a £10 pitch or a £300-a-night suite. They need to know that the glistening swimming pool is actually below freezing, and they need to know that there’s nowhere to plug in a set of straighteners (so they can go armed with a large hat, at the very least).
Ok, so this is a very long way from routine phone hacking and politicians courting omnipotent media owners. Journalism is in a tight spot in several ways, and of course publications have to find ways to bring in revenue in the age of free content, hence the glossy new website’s desire to keep their advertisers satisfied. But I won’t be jumping into bed with them. Or a grimy bath, for that matter.