A clash of generations under the Golden Gate Bridge, with pen and paper
Well, I made it into the online edition of Bohemian, a free paper of Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties which, like most free papers, is read (and presumably written) by a younger crowd that hangs out in Sebastopol and St. Helena coffee shops with wi-fi’d laptops or pecking away on their personal digital devices. The writer, the splendidly named Alastair Bland, was reporting on last month’s Wine Institute-sponsored New Generation Vintners and Growers event, held at an old military base under the Golden Gate Bridge, which I attended. Wine Institute had billed this gathering as aimed at Twitterers, Facebookers, bloggers, etc. and indeed the crowd of 40-50 people did all the above, live from the venue. I was reporting for Wine Enthusiast, and Alastair had a little fun describing me:
“Veteran journalist Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast, meanwhile, flaunted a dashing old-school style with his trademark rustic pen and a crinkly pad of paper.”
Go ahead, smile. I did. It conjures up images of Cary Grant playing that 1930s reporter in “His Girl Friday”.
Maybe I should have been cradling the phone in my shoulder, screaming “stop the presses!” as I furiously typed copy on my old loyal Royal (with, improbably, a gorgeous Rosalind Russell seconding me). Alastair painted a vivid contrast of reporting styles by describing another attendee, “Wine blogger Thea Dwelle, who [was] sending out some 15 tweets while the hip and trendy discussion proceeded.” Readers thus had the sweet pleasure of visualizing the old and the new, the past and the future, a hip and trendy newbie vs. a grizzled old, ink-stained fourth-estater, in a word-picture expressed by a decidedly non-”Bland” writer, Alastair.
Alastair also wrote: “[Heimoff] broke from his notes just once to ask the panel if, through this incorrigible focus on social media marketing, we might expect to see wineries succeed based on a slick web presence rather than on their wines’ quality. The panel answered in consensus that there is plenty of room for both making good wine and frolicking on the web after hours.”
That’s not quite how I remember it, although maybe you shouldn’t trust the memory of anyone who still reports things with “a rustic pen” (and jeez, I pay $2 for my Pentel EnerGels, which doesn’t seem so rustic to me!). It’s true that I asked only that one question. I wanted to ask a lot more; I always do, because questions flood my mind; but I held my tongue because people weren’t there to hear me, they were there to hear the invited speakers. As for my one question, nobody ever did answer it, not really. I asked, “It’s great for a winery to try and establish an online reputation, but will that help it in the long run if their wines suck?” It’s still a good question, don’t you think? I do. But of course, I still write things down on “crinkly pads of paper.” (Do the pages on my pad actually make a crinkly sound? I try so hard to be inconspicuous.)
I might say here that taking notes — whether with pen and paper or in some more modern way — actually helps a reporter think through and analyze something before he blabs about it to the entire universe, in instinctual but entirely unreflective observation, as is the Twitter way. I could claim that reporting that is cautiously and considerately expressed is better than spurts of immediate impression. I could say, Check your facts before you tweet on them. I could, but I won’t, because I don’t want the social medianistas to jump all over me. They can be fierce. There’s room for what they do.
Yet I do worry about this: as expertise fades away, into its place steps the anarchy and chaos of sheer enthusiasm. Wineries no longer fear being criticized by knowledgeable wine experts because there are no more knowledgeable wine experts around. Instead, there is competition based on who can attract the most Twitter followers or Facebook friends or unique visits on a blog or some other metric that measures anything and everything except the quality of the wine in the bottle. It’s like the Tea Party people who are mostly ignorant about actual facts, but like being part of the crowd.
I personally don’t fear that expertise will disappear. For thousands of years wine has succeeded based on quality, not gossip, and there’s no reason to think that social media will change human nature. I also think that the furor over social media is going to die down. Ever hear of bubbles? They expand to maximum size, then they blow up, and everybody wonders, “How come we didn’t know it wouldn’t last forever?” But then, I am “old-school.” At least I’m “dashing!” (Yet one more thing I have in common with Cary Grant.) How about suave…sophisticated…sexy? (Dream on.)