Time Inc.-owned XOJane published an article that essentially came across as an ad for a Louisiana boutique.
The XOJane piece by Brenna Phares promoted Rodeo Boutique’s “breakup box,” essentially a box of things that are supposed to make you feel better after a break up, or what Phares called “the end-all, be-all of breakup-recovery gifts.”
But, it didn’t disclose that Phares works for Rodeo Boutique, which is in Baton Rouge and Ruston, Louisiana. Phares’ LinkedIn biography said she is the boutique’s marketing and web coordinator.
Phares has since apologized in a lengthy statement sent to iMediaEthics. Time Inc.’s Reid Myers told iMediaEthics by e-mail, “xoJane will not be publishing the apology.” Myers didn’t respond to iMediaEthics’ other questions including whether Phares was paid or will write again for the site.
The boutique’s Carol Meche, who said she helps the boutique’s owner with marketing and the website and worked with the owner on the responses to iMediaEthics, told iMediaEthics the boutique learned of the article on July 13. Further, Meche said Phares actually doesn’t do marketing for the boutique. “To be clear, she does not hold a marketing position with us,” Meche told iMediaEthics. “It is simply an hourly job to help with inventory and uploading product to our website.” Phares has only worked for the boutique since last month, she told iMediaEthics.
When asked if the boutique knew Phares listed herself as marketing and web coordinator, Meche said
“We never gave her a specific job title as it was such a small job. She did not put this job on her professional resume, only added a pre-made title on her Linked-in which we were unaware of. She has since changed her title to match her given role here at Rodeo.”
“We are so saddened to hear of the way this escalated,” Meche wrote to iMediaEthics, calling Phares “a dear friend and a very sweet person, who never would have meant to write something to be a misleading advertisement.”
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Meche added, “Just to be absolutely clear, there was never any form of compensation for Brenna for writing this article and no talk of writing one about our products.”
In a lengthy apology statement sent to iMediaEthics, Phares confirmed she wasn’t “paid to market this product” or asked by the boutique to promote it. She said she never meant for the article to end up “reading like a sales pitch.”
In her statement, Phares confirmed she wrote the article before she worked for the boutique, so there was no disclosure. Acording to Phares, the boutique offered her a hourly job “logging online inventory and nothing more” . She said on LinkedIn she was a marketing and web coordinator since she didn’t have a job title and hoped having a marketing title in her LinkedIn would help her get a marketing job.
According to Phares, her XOJane editor asked her to flush out more about the break up box for her article, so she did. She said she wasn’t working for the boutique yet but had been offered part time hours. “That is how what should have been an inspiring article about heartache and friendship turned into me gushing over a product I accidentally ended up over- promoting. I was not even aware the article had been published until today, neither was Rodéo Boutique, and I had written and submitted the article weeks ago.”
Phares apologized for “miscommunication” and “poorly timed series of events” and said she is learning from this experience about “serious ethical boundaries of writing.”
Phares’ July 12 article appears to be her only article for XOJane.
Phares’ article now carries an editor’s note that reads: “During the submission process, the author was not transparent about her relationship with the company that she promotes in this story.”
Earlier this year, XOJane.com deleted a first person article in which the author said she thought it was good that her former friend died, as iMediaEthics reported. In 2014, XOJane.com stirred controversy with its article about a “skinny white woman” who spent her yoga class thinking about a “heavy set” black woman in her class. The article, “It Happened to Me: There are No Black People in my Yoga Classes and I’m suddenly feeling uncomfortable with it,” needed “more work,” XOJane’s editor said.
Hat Tip: Jezebel