I have posed the title of this post purely with reference to my own writing about pens — a genuine question as to whether I should be considered a “reviewer”. My immediate answer is no, however I realise that is perhaps incorrect.
The Oxford Dictionary definition (insert “pens” if you will):
a person who writes critical appraisals of books, plays, films, etc. for publication
For publication – I guess writing on a blog satisfies that. Where I originally thought I differed slightly is that I do not set out to “critically appraise” pens — rather, I write about the pens I own and what I like or perhaps dislike about them. The reality is though, that is probably a reasonable definition of what it is to “critically appraise”.
First though — a little background. The stimulus for posing this question (mainly to myself — albeit now aloud through this site), was a post on Fountain Pen Economics (FPE) calling on reviewers to review bad pens. Although I have had some thoughts on this numerous times before — mainly when deciding how I want to write or what my “style” should be when writing about pens — now seems a good time to put them down.
A couple of prominent pen bloggers or reviewers were mentioned in the FPE post, which coincidentally came at a time when there has been a little — shall we say — “unrest” in the pen community regarding negative YouTube/blog commenting or online “trolling” – which is absolutely appalling and should be (and thankfully often is) widely condemned.
That said, I wonder if there is ever really a time where behaviour of such a nature is not occurring to some degree. I do applaud those who push on in the face of it, and add my encouragement for them to continue doing so.
Objectively based opinion and discussion — even of the “robust” variety — I believe, is valuable for the growth and maturity of any industry, community or even small working team. Of course not everyone has to agree, but if we are all working from roughly the same set of rules and respect each other, then theoretically there will be no problems — right. Right?
I simply want to say here that I do not think there is anyone in the pen community who would disagree with the sentiment that reviewers should be honest and transparent, and as a whole, I am comfortable with the current landscape relating to this. To be fair in relation to the FPE post, it is also made clear the author believes this to be the case. Speaking in broad terms, regarding the possibility of false positive reviews for “product”, FPE notes:
Now, I’m not saying that any reviewer in the community does this at the moment, simply that the potential exists.
Here is where I believe things are a little less clear. Not simply in reviewers neutrality, but in what constitutes a “reviewer” in the first place. Back to what I mentioned above — all working from the same set of rules.
Here I am very much referring to myself, however perhaps there are others who see themselves in the same light. The very site you are reading was not set up to “review” pens — nor anything else for that matter. My About page indicates I started this blog for two reasons:
to share some experiences and ideas, and to continue further down the road of personal development and knowledge acquisition
Although the page probably requires some updating, I believe the above remains accurate today. I must admit though, at times I still don’t know exactly what this blog is for to be honest, but I do enjoy writing here. Therein lies the point. I enjoy writing here, and I enjoy the things I write about — one of which is the subject of pens.
So in relation to pens, does that make me a reviewer?
I say no — but is that simply because I say I’m not? Conversely, what if I do describe myself as a pen reviewer? Back to the Oxford Definition above — do I not critically appraise my own pens in some way?
Further, is there really any meaningful distinction?
To officially be classed as a reviewer, would I need to receive products for free — specifically for the purposes of a review. Would I get to keep them, return them, hold giveaways or on-sell them? Must they be from a manufacturer or a retailer — does it matter? Is my site reliant on page views and ads, and/or affiliate links or sponsors to generate some form of income? Do these relate to the suppliers or products I am also reviewing?
If it is reliant on one or all of these factors, when do I become a fully accredited reviewer — when my monetary return from the blog reaches a certain level? If so, what is that level?
Further, at what point do I then seek out pens to review which I know I am not likely to enjoy writing with, to ensure a balance of good and bad pen reviews appear on my site? That is, at what point do my responsibilities to readers outweigh the responsibility to myself to buy the things I enjoy — and perhaps write about them along the way. Do I have an obligation to review every pen I buy?
Or – more simply, as is often the case — am I one of the large number of people on the internet who buy pens with money from their own pocket, and write about their experiences, joys and excitement associated with their hobby? Simply someone who bought their first fountain pen 18 years ago — then not another for 15 years — only to again become hooked in the past three? Who, due to this renewed interest, stumbled onto a massive online community who write and share information about these things, and felt the urge to do the same.
I’d say this is exactly what I am — however does it really stop there?
What are my responsibilities?
Do I even have a responsibility that is defined by a certain set of parameters when I write about pens? I believe I probably do.
What exactly are those responsibilities?
I probably need to understand that anyone reading what I write might be influenced in some way by my opinion. In re-reading that statement it is hard not to laugh — from the point of view of: who do I think I am that my opinion counts enough to sway someone’s purchasing choices. Therein lies the very point doesn’t it. How is any first time reader of this site to know if I have absolutely any idea what I am talking about?1 Even if I do, how are they to know whether I know enough to warrant them taking heed of any of it.
Should my about page have a pen bio:
- Year of first fountain pen;
- Number of pens owned;
- Number of forums active in;
- Pen blogs regularly read;
- Syringe experience;
- Nib preference;
- Number of custom nib grinds;
- Pen shows attended etc
Of course not (well — at least I don’t think so), but you get what I mean. So, at first glance, or perhaps coming in at a random post on my site, none of the above will necessarily be obvious to a first time reader. Nor will it — in actual fact — to long time readers necessarily.
Therefore, I need to make sure each post or opinion is well written enough (hopefully) to get my point across clearly and concisely, with good, objective reasoning — again a difficult proposition in what I find to be such a subjective topic area2. I’m a firm believer in the theory that if you give someone enough information, they can at least make their own mind up from what you have provided.
Facts and opinion — with one the basis for the other, regardless of the pen or where it came from. Beholden to no-one other than myself to write honestly about what sits in front of me.
So what on earth am I trying to say here?
When I sat down to write this post I had several key points in my mind that have somehow blurred, bleeding out like De Atramentis Permanent Blue on the cheapest recycled office notepad.
A few things to finish if I might ask for a fraction more of your time.
I wholeheartedly agree that transparency and honest reviews are a vital part of the pen community. Where I find things a little more difficult, is in suggesting fellow bloggers (particularly those who buy the products they write about) get their hands on some bad pens to review. I say this, mainly because with so many items on my wish list, I’m not about to waste a cent on something I am probably going to dislike. Again, in fairness the FPE post, I think the perspective there was perhaps related more so (I think) to items specifically received “to review” from sellers.
After all, in doing so, I would then be left with something I rated poorly, didn’t like, and would either have to accept the monetary loss or try to sell it. But to whom? “Here, this is a really bad pen — please buy it from me, and then when you hate it — see if you can then flog it to someone else”.
Let’s not even start on how you might review a pen you may not like that was given by a family member as a gift for example. To avoid offending the giver, there is every likelihood the review would either overlook some of the negatives, or perhaps not be done at all. In this particular case we are back where we started aren’t we.
That’s it – I’m done.
I fear that in highlighting some of the difficulties in actually coming to a definitive conclusion about all of this, I may have simply come across as being argumentative or a bit of a contrarian. This is not my intention.
To those who love writing about their pens — be they bloggers or reviewers or both — please continue. We love reading about this great hobby of ours. While you’re at it, make sure you remain transparent and objective — but you already do that, so here I’d also simply say — please continue.
- Of course there are the usual criteria of blog longevity, update frequency, number of ads and overall style to go by – but again – how does that make me any more knowledgable about pens? ↩
- I highlight the subjectivity of pens thinking of one of my favourites, which I never would have bought if I had read a couple of reviews prior to clicking “checkout”. ↩