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I give this blog 100 points


How do you judge a wine blog? This question was posed on wine blogger by Gabriella Opaz, of catavino, who was part of a panel judging 18 Catalan wine blogs, in the Catalunya Wine Blog Competition. She pointed out the ambiguities and gray areas involved in such judgings. Here are the money quotes: “…the process of judging is not as black and white as we might want it, or imagine it, to be” and “Is there an impartial measure, or is it all subjective?”

When I read that, I thought, What great, insightful questions. It also raised again the issue of wine judging (which I do for a living) and how so many bloggers have criticized me (and other wine writers) for not having truly objective standards (or not being able to explain them to their satisfaction) that would legitimize the difference between, say, 89 and 90 points.

What’s so funny about this is that there are very few bloggers, I would think, who would not be thrilled to win, or even be nominated for, Tom Wark’s American Wine Blog Awards, which he runs out of his Fermentation blog.

Now, I know something about how the AWBA works, because I was one of the 6 judges this past year (and honored to be invited by Tom, who is hands down one of the best bloggers in America). And I can assure you that the questions Ms. Opaz raises are right on and need to be discussed in the blogging community. I don’t know how you would come up with “strictly objective” criteria for the AWBA, any more than you can have strictly objective criteria for the Academy Awards. Obviously there’s a huge element of subjectivity involved in awarding anything.

When I went through the nominees for the 2008 AWBA, all I did was to ask myself: Which ones do I like/respect, and which ones seem to be doing the best job within their categories? (Best Writing, Best Single Subject, Best Graphics, etc.). Ms. Opaz posed the excellent question, “Can one judge a wine blog if you don’t understand the mechanics of a wine blog?” Well, when I was a judge, I hadn’t yet begun to blog, and so I guess I didn’t understand the mechanics of blogging. Was I any less qualified then to judge blogs than I am now? I don’t think so, and neither, apparently, did Tom.

So we have a situation in which lots of bloggers object to what they perceive as the lack of objective criteria in wine judging, but would love to win an American Wine Blog Award citation that is characterized by the same basically subjective criteria! Ironic, no?

  1. I judge for Editor&Publisher EPpy awards. To me, the first important aspect is the organizer’s clear and specific definition of the category. I’ve axed entrants whose sites, however interesting, do not abide by the rules.
    Beyond that, it is necessary to spend hours with each entry, reading, reflecting, assessing (within category context) how they covered major stories given their resources, noting new features, use of blogs, forums and comments, as well as use of advertising and promotion or following links. Then there is simply good reporting, writing, images, intuitive ease of use, accuracy and how they deal with errors.
    Finally: is what the site does in that category consistent with what the site says it does for the audience it claims to attract? Gradually, entrants fall off the list and a recommended winner appears.
    There are times when a site I really like is not the one I recommend as the best. And the same applies to wine and should apply to blogs.
    A judge’s review is subjective based on knowledge and “evidence”; otherwise, just take the Google news top-stories route, created by undisclosed algorithms.

  2. We’re right back to wanting to bring home a report card that says “A,” “A,” “A” in every column. We’re such competitive creatures by nature. Sometime we give grades; some times we get grades. Who among us doesn’t enjoy the “A” when it comes? Who ever partitioned a teacher/professor because s/he didn’t give us the right grade? Those are the ones who have a hard time accepting what someone else perceives as a lower-than-what-we-believe-it-should-be grade.

    When a professor gave me a B+, when everyone else on my marketing team got an A, and I was the one who prepared, executed, and delivered the marketing plan for the group, I knew it was because I had bucked him elsewhere for philosophical differences. He affected my GPA; but not my spirit, because I knew what I had delivered was pretty darn good, if everyone else got an “A.”

    The moral of the story? If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  3. I would point out, Steve, that bloggers would be extremely resistant to any objective criteria for quality/excellence standards in blogs, but will proudly display a badge of being nominated for, or having won an award.

    That’s wanting to eat your cake and have it too.

  4. Dr. Horowitz says:

    Wouldn’t most winemakers consider winemaking an art?

    Wouldn’t most writers consider writing an art?

    You can’t judge an art objectively. Everyone except people who buy wines solely on ratings knows this.

    The Emmys serve to sell more movies and promote movie-going, Wine Awards serve to sell more wine and promote wine buying, and Wine Blog Awards will get people to read more wine blogs and promote wine blogging.

    I think the irony lies within the opposing forces of objective reporting and financial incentives. Wine bloggers would like to think that their writing is objective, pure, and free from the influence of the invisible hand (this is a big generalization and I could be wrong). But, the Wine Blog Awards demonstrate that as Wine Blogging becomes more popular, bloggers are going to have to pay more attention to the hands that feed them.

    We know that advertisers and subscribers pay the salaries of wine magazine writers, but we’d like to think that bloggers are in it for the love of the game. But are they? Isn’t it ironic? Yeah I really do think…it’s like raiiiiiain….

  5. Morton Leslie says:

    You judge a blog like you judge a wine, on a hundred point scale. All blogs get 50 points, even those bloggers who haven’t written anything for two years and, before that, just cut and pasted from press releases. (I know some people say this makes it a 50 point system, but there’s always have naysayers.) The rest of the points in the 100 point system get evenly allocated over five categories.

    Appearance -Tone – Originality – Execution – Impact

    Under Appearance the page has to blind you visually. I’m not talking black type on white background with a picture and a name on the top…that gets you one point, I’m talkin’ ten point style from a 20 year old tatooed web designer with a pierced tongue who gives you STYLE!

    The Tone has to be professional but with attitude. Boring discussions of real wine issues…one point. Being sassy and irreverent …five points. Blowing contoversial bogus issues up into cyber-explosions…ten points.

    Originality….there is an inverse scale here. the more original the fewer points. Come up with some out-there thought and we take off points. Here blogging about someone else’s blog who blogged about another blog gets you ten big ones.

    Execution basically means you use spell check, you thank people..even curmudgeons that have nothing better to do read your blog. Here you get points for frequency and follow thru.

    Impact…here you are rated on the number and quality of commenters. For instance, this comment gets you half a point. Big long ones like this can actually cost you points, unless they are from respected professional commenters like, well, me. A secret…it’s better if you just attract people that tell you how much they enjoyed your post and then promote their site or product. This encourages more total commenters.

    For those that cannot understand the above detail, the simple explanation is:
    95-100 Classic, a great blog written by a big shot who tells us loudly and authoritatively what we want to hear
    90-94 Outstanding, a blog of superior content, conventional, lots of comments, but lacking big time controversy.
    80-89 Good to very good, a blog with special qualities that no one of of my stature reads.
    70-79 Average, readable, but may have minor flaws like making you think too hard.
    60-69 Below average, readable but written by a nobody, about stuff wine experts aren’t interested in, not recommended.
    50-59 Theoretically Poor, but we never give scores this low.

  6. Morton, I’m currently working on a 100-point system for blog comments. Preliminarily, I’m giving yours an 89. But it could improve with age.

  7. @Morton
    As much as I appreciate your very detailed scale, I would have to argue that judging is not so black and white as I’ve experienced it. Questions such as: Who is their audience? Is their audience the same as the other blogs and should they judged in the same category?; Is the site navigable?; Is there easily accessible contact information?; all challenge me and typically leave me with more questions than answers.

    In addition, I might suggest that some of my favorite blogs are not by outspoken people who tell me how it is, but humble and curious people who are willing to share their exploration of wine in a very sincere and honest manner. Should they get less points?

    I could go on and on, but needless to say, I don’t think a simple 100 point scale will solve all of our problems. I do believe, however, that this has taught me that judging must be very specific in our overall goal. To say the “best blog” is all so fuzzy. It leaves so many questions unanswered and so many holes in the argument as to what a “best blog” truly is. I would suggest that if we are specific in exactly what we’re trying to judge “best non-commercial journalistic blog in Catalunya, written in Catalan, that has been in existence for more than 3 years and that has RSS and comments active..etc”, narrows the genre and gives us a specific goal to achieve. It also rules out tasting note sites, personal blogs, etc. This strategy might also be effective for sub-categories such as “best designed blog showing functionality, navigability, original style, etc”.

    Just my two cents 🙂

  8. Using Morton’s scale, I’d give Wark’s blog a 96.

    I offer my perspective as a blogger (and one that would probably score very low on the ML scale):

    I don’t care about ever being nominated for (or winning) an AWBA. If I won it, I’d categorically turn it down. I’m not trying for bravado, or to pshaw (is that a verb?) any AWBA recipients, many of whom have fine blogs – I’m just being honest. I just don’t see the merit in the AWBA (again, my opinion).

    The AWBA lokked impressive when I started blogging and to be honest I had assumed it had merit just because it looked official! Now, I think that the only award worth receiving would be from readers and fellow bloggers. Tom’s AWBA seems to be a device for driving traffic to Tom’s blog. I could be way off-base here, but that’s my honest interpretation.

    Steve – I think that you need to entertain the possibility that some people just do this (blogging) because they love it, and are trying to build ‘brand equity’ at the same time. I don’t see a contradiction there, and in fact I have a lot of respect for those who go this route and are successful at it (Gary V. being the most prominent example – and I offer that as someone who doesn’t follow his blog). I don’t expect Gary to ever win an AWBA, but I bet he will connect with more people and have more influence than all of the AWBA winners combined. It might be a mistake to assume bloggers generally want acceptance; fundamentally we want to connect with readers, not be judged and awarded accolades.

    Cash yes. Accolades, no. 😉

  9. 1WineDude, I don’t know that Morton was being entirely serious. He’s been known to keep his tongue in his cheek. At any rate, and speaking as a judge at this year’s AWBA, I don’t think I’d do it again. I like your blog a lot, the outspoken quality, the writing, the attitude. Whether you “win” anything is irrelevant to me keeping up with what you have to say. I’ll never win anything but I get what you say when you talk about loving your blog. The only reason I do this blog is because I love it. Believe me, it’s not making my professional life any easier.

  10. Thanks, Steve – I did get the humor, by the way 🙂

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