I was tempted to leave this Derek Blasberg situation alone, but given the issues it brings up about the way fashion publishing works, I think it would be wrong not to address it.
For those of you who haven't heard the story, here it goes: An editor over at Jezebel received a tip that fashion writer Blasberg asked YSL to pay him $2,500 to cover a party for Style.com, where he's Editor-at-Large (usually a title that comes with a retainer).
According to our sources, Style.com's freelancers receive, on average, around $100 for covering a party (and $25 for regular posts), but we're assuming Blasberg's retainer affords him a bit more. He is a fairly big name, after all, with a recently-published book and steady gigs with Harper's Bazaar and V.
Blasberg told Jezebel that he was hired to consult on the party's guest list. He covered the event the next day for Style.com. (And he hasn't been paid--and will not be paid, according to our inside sources.) Did he promise coverage to YSL? I'm doubtful. No. Why would he? They assume he's going to cover it. No bribery needed in this situation.
Besides, I'm highly doubtful that YSL would pay for coverage on Style.com, regardless of prestige. So here's what it (presumably) comes down to: Blasberg gave tips on who to invite to the party, and was told he'd be paid for his knowledge.
Is this wrong? Well, it depends on how you look at it.
If this were any other industry--tech, oil, biochemicals--it would not be okay for a journalist to consult for a company that they also write about.
But this isn't any other industry, it's fashion. And in fashion, advertising and editorial content are more closely related than anywhere else. If you've ever been on a fashion shoot for any major magazine, there's always a rack of clothes marked "advertisers." It consists of the pieces stylists and editors must include in spreads due to advertising commitments. And I know plenty of writers, editors, stylists who regularly consult for big luxury brands.
However, because Derek's writing was published online, not in a magazine, he's--rightly or not--upheld to a different set of rules. He can thank the FCC for that.
(For the record, anytime I write about something I receive for free, I disclose that it was a gift. As does the rest of the staff. Not only because it's the law, but because it makes me feel icky if I don't say something. Do I think magazines should be upheld to the same standards? I'm not sure. I just think whatever the standards are, they should be the same for everyone.)
I've asked Derek, Alison Brod, and Style.com editor-in-chief Dirk Standen for statements. Alison Brod--who told Jezebel yesterday that she has not paid Derek anything, and never pays journos for coverage--said that she had further no comment, since it's "Not a story." As more statements trickle in, I'll update. Update: Derek says, via email: "No, coverage was never for sale. Ever. That's ridiculous to even insinuate, and one of the reasons I'm so upset by this whole debacle. I wouldn't have a career if that were ever the case."
Update #2: A source lose to the situation confirms what Derek has already said. "He never did the consultancy in the end and didn't get anything from Alison Brod or YSL!"
And finally, I'll turn it over to you, dear reader: What do you think? Do you care that Derek may or may not have been paid by YSL to sometimes gets paid to "consult"? Or is it just another "non-story" written on a slow news day?