BellaOnline Ethics and Review Policy
BellaOnline is a supportive organization whose aim is to nurture editors who wish to write weekly. Our core focus is to help our writers hone their skills in writing honest, personal, valuable content for their readers. BellaOnline does not pay its writers for what they write. Nor do third parties pay for any content. Every article written by a BellaOnline editor is completely from that editor's heart, without bias or influence. The editor chooses what to write about and the content is in her own words from start to finish.
Any review a BellaOnline editor chooses to write is her honest, from the soul opinion. Our writers strive to provide rounded, critical reviews of products, books, and DVDs. They explain what they liked and what they were not fond of in a product. A book might be perfect for its target audience of adult women but inappropriate for girls aged 9-12. A movie might be fine for most audiences but have scenes that Christians might find offensive. We help alert readers to any issues to watch for, and inform them of other similar products which might suit them better.
BellaOnline editors never accept money for writing reviews. We do not run press releases, we do not write press releases. We do not write advertising. All content we write is how we feel about an item after personally using it. Our sole purpose is to provide reliable information and guidance for our visitors.
Review Copies - Low Cost Items
There are certain industries in which a review copy of the item is considered standard. This would include books and DVDs. Book publishers send out thousands and thousands of review copies, hoping that at least a few of the recipients will read, enjoy, and review the book. The flood of outgoing books is sent to reviewers at all levels. After a great deal of thought, we do accept review copies.
- Reviews Written Before December 2009 - Books and DVDs are cheap commodity products. Thousands of these show up on our editors' doorsteps each year - unasked for - as part of the publisher flood. Libraries readily stock free copies of the latest books and DVDs for instant access and review. Friends and family have copies which can easily be borrowed. Because of this ubiquitous, ready availability, we did not necessarily disclose with any book or DVD review how we acquired it. Reviews you find on the site which were written before 2009 will fall into this category.
- Reviews Written After December 1, 2009 - Because of the new FTC rules in December 2009, which require disclosure even in the case of free $3 paperback books, we now indicate the source of every review item including books and DVDs. 2009 FTC Endorsement Guidelines.
Review Copies - Higher Cost Items
BellaOnline has always had a policy that any review item of a value of $50 or more had to be preapproved by BellaOnline management before it was accepted. All reviews anywhere on our site follow very strict guidelines that they must be comprehensive reviews, examining all aspects of the product, and must always be a fully rounded, honest write-up. We do not run press releases or advertisements. Any item over $50 which was provided by the manufacturer is always clearly indicated as such.
Travel and Events
BellaOnline has a very strict policy on any travel, lodging and events reviewed by BellaOnline editors. Any item of a value of $50 or more must be approved by BellaOnline management before it is accepted. All free items and tickets are clearly indicated on the review as having been provided on a complimentary basis. Our use of free items is reserved for situations where press would normally receive access for ease of photography and interviews, such as museums, music festivals, and so on.
Our purpose at BellaOnline is always to write up the experience or situation exactly as any other person would experience it. So, for example, if we read the latest Harry Potter book, we read the exact same book that everybody else reads. We experience the same things our readers would experience. If we were to go to a hotel and announce ourselves as a BellaOnline editor, and receive special treatment, then our write-up of the weekend would not be a valid one. What we experienced would not be what most other people would experience. For that reason, if anything, we err on the side of anonymity and caution when performing reviews.
A new mystery novel comes out, and 2,000 copies are sent out by the publisher to reviewers around the globe. As a known reviewer of mystery novels, we receive a copy. We write up our review discussing both the good and bad parts of the book. The book we read is exactly the same book as all other readers will read; the experience is the same. However, because the book was received directly from the publisher for free, we note that in our review.
Our herbs editor owns a well used, dog-eared copy of a Basics of Herbs book, which she bought years ago. She writes a review explaining why this book is such an invaluable resource for her, sharing her love of the book with her readers. She will disclose that she bought the book herself. She does this so there is no confusion about if she DID receive it for free and forgot to mention that free status.
Our spas editor takes a trip to Pennsylvania and visits a country spa for the weekend, trying out a treatment or two. She does not inform the spa who she is or that she is going to review the experience. She therefore receives "normal" treatment - having an experience that any other guest should expect to receive. She can write up exactly what a typical visitor should expect to see. Since many women's magazines go on "press release" junkets where they are comped for their travel and subsequently write glowing reviews (promotions) of what they experience, we HAVE ALWAYS disclosed on our review that we did not receive any special consideration. This helps to make more clear how BellaOnline differs from those other publications. It is also good to keep in mind that these current FTC rules do NOT apply to print publications. So while it is crystal clear and transparent how BellaOnline handles every review you read, you will often have no idea, when reading a woman's magazine, if they were paid for their opinions or not.
Our weddings editor visits a winery in Napa Valley which is well known for offering wedding services. She announces herself as a wedding writer and sets up an interview with the wedding planner to take a tour of the facility and learn more about its offerings. Here it is necessary for her to "reveal" her purpose in order to properly conduct the interview. This does not affect the review, since any information given to her would be the same information given to any other bride-to-be who came to make the visit. The weddings editor is in essence "touring for the bride", learning what is good and not-so-good about the location. Maybe the winery is perfect for smaller parties but not sized well for larger groups. The wedding editor would write up all aspects of the location - not a press release, but an honest, full review.
A folk music festival is running for the weekend, and they offer 50 press passes for journalists to be able to have access to interviewing the various musicians and participating in properly staged photo opportunities. Our folk music editor applies for and receives one of those press passes so that she can talk with the musicians, get their backgrounds and information, and acquire some photos to accompany her article. The folk music editor would note her free pass in her article.
BellaOnline strives to be a "Consumer Reports" of the web - reporting with accuracy on the products we use, revealing both their good aspects and the parts which might not be a perfect fit for some of our visitors. If we review a restaurant, we do so as a "Phantom Gourmet", experiencing it as any other visitor would. We make clear on all write-ups and reviews when we have received any special treatment.
Other women's magazines write product reviews to push and promote those products, more of a "look at this cool purse!" than an actual review. Those same magazines publish travel reviews which are sponsored by the hotels and regions - they are brochures for the resorts, not a rounded coverage of its benefits and flaws. In comparison, here at BellaOnline we receive praise and maintain a strong reputation for our critically honest reviews. When we write about a book, product, movie or location, visitors can rely that we are providing a rounded view which can be trusted. We don't just praise the hotel's beautiful ocean view - we also warn that the bar can get raucous after dark.
BellaOnline takes full transparency in reviews very seriously. This is not because of the Nov 2009 FTC ruling. It is because of something far more valuable to us - the reputation and respect and faith that our visitors have entrusted us with for almost ten years.
Each editor provides any additional information about her personal review policy in her bio area, and within each specific article.
If you have any questions at all about BellaOnline's review policy or a specific write-up, please do not hesitate to Contact BellaOnline.
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