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Columbia J. Review gets it right, basically


Well, I finally made it into the Columbia Journalism Review, where Spencer Bailey said I write “thoughtful, in-depth posts” in my blog. Like this one! Nice. On the other hand, Spencer praised almost everybody else who’s anybody in wine blogdom. But I’m glad to be mentioned in the same breath as Tom, Alder, Jeff, the Dude, Karen, Alice and Bob (and if you need their last names, you’re not a regular reader of this blog).

The article was fairly standard for a university journalism review. Nothing particularly new (the travails of wine writers, the unmonetized experimentation of online, the democratization of wine criticism), but it was gratifying to see academia (and Ivy League at that) take notice of our little world. Mr. Bailey’s first premise is that “many young, social-media savvy bloggers are fragmenting what was once a lofty territory reserved for mostly stalwart, high-profile publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.” True that! Bailey does a fair job of seeing the pluses and minuses of the “everyman [and woman] a critic” phenomenon. He quotes Jeff, at Good Grape: “There are a lot people that don’t know shit about wine and blog about it,” which seems to be a minus (why would anybody want to read the opinion of somebody who doesn’t know shit?). But the plus is that the Web “allow[s] experts, aficionados, and amateurs alike to share and discuss their passions about wine in ways that were never before possible,” even if their passions are largely based on, well, shit.

But there I go again! Didn’t mean to diss anybody. Then Mr. Bailey strikes at the very heart of the thing I’ve been asked to talk about when I keynote next month’s American Wine Bloggers Conference. The conference organizers want me to address “the rift between some bloggers and traditional print media,” in their words. Bailey expresses the same thing this way: “Most bloggers think they deserve more credit for writing about wine in fresh, timely ways; many professionals feel snubbed and less respected.” Well, I can’t speak for most bloggers but I can speak for “many professionals,” being one myself: I don’t feel snubbed, and I certainly don’t feel less respected. I’m keynoting the &%$#! blogger’s conference, for crying out loud!
But I do have to admit to being disappointed by the one quote Bailey allowed Karen [MacNeil]. “If everybody’s an expert…nobody’s an expert.” Karen, normally so media savvy, should have known that you have to be careful what you say to a reporter who doesn’t understand the complexities of a story. Bailey took that as proof that “wine criticism is bunk.” He may think that, but surely Karen, who has devoted her life to wine writing and education, doesn’t. Maybe she was misquoted, or quoted out of context.

As you might imagine, my roving eye alights especially on passages that contain either my name or the words “Wine Enthusiast,” so I loved this one. “Readers today have got to feel like the experts connect with them in some way,” says Joe Roberts, who runs the blog “It’s not just, ‘Oh, this person’s got great credentials because they work for Wine Enthusiast.’” I hope Joe used Wine Enthusiast (as opposed to some other publication) because he was secretly sending a message to me, as I do sometimes to him. That message would be: “Steve has great credentials on his blog, not merely because he works for Wine Enthusiast, but because he connects with readers.”

Anyway, Mr. Bailey was particularly kind to Wine Enthusiast’s editors’ blogs, as he was to mine. He then casts his vision into the future and gets into the sort of crystal-gazing in which we all indulge, from time to time. “The more in-depth and enlivening the writing, the more likely the critic or blogger will get noticed…the one standard for writing about wine today is that it should be entertaining and fresh, maybe even funny, and, at the very least, relatable to its audience.” I couldn’t have said it better, myself.

But lest I run the risk of agreeing too much with Mr. Bailey, I’ll part company from him here: He inevitably brings up the spectacular Mr. Gary V. and, citing his success, writes: “All it takes is for a wine critic or blogger to have a unique idea—a Daily Candy-like newsletter for wine, say—to create [the] next big thing. No print publication necessary.”

Well, sorry. I don’t agree. There is no “next big” Gary V. “Unique ideas” are hard to find out there. If they were as common as candy, other wine bloggers would be as famous as Gary V. When it comes to success — and I’m talking financial — it still takes a print publication.

  1. There are good points to both sides of the story. I do like a good personality read. Wish I could see your upcoming keynote! Hopefully someone will capture it on video?

  2. Kristi, I don’t know if the conference will do a webcast or not.

  3. Gary can talk about wine and deliver it to your door (in some states). So different from you or most bloggers. Is it better to be high profile on a site/blog that sells wine or not? If Gary V’s masses are any indication, sip, spit and sell is a better business model.

    I signed up for Daily Sip yesterday and got sangria recipe today. Yikes! (does this indicate a resurgence of Hearty “Burgundy” and “Chablis”?). Will give it a week.

    Do hope the entire blog conference comes to me live (and, preferably, with play it again). Esp your talk Steve. Wish I could be there.

  4. Morton Leslie says:

    People don’t read anymore. Okay, some of us read, but as a nation we read less and less each year. I was looking at the numbers and the drop is so precipitious, it actually be tracked on an annual basis. The lack of reading is astounding in gen x & y. I think blaming the web and blogging for the decline in print wine media is just part of the story.

    Good luck with your print publication and good luck to bloggers who write wine prose when finally no one is reading. Gary V’s success is does not come from writing, but from visual entertainment and a shared wine experience. Look at his success with video, and he really isn’t that good!

    The future of wine writing will be creating a script for a talking head. And that is a very different craft than writing prose. While you were typing this post, Google was announcing Google TV. Their vision of the future is a million channels of streaming video. And they have the box, and Sony, and Adobe, and just about everyone else on board. Sony is already making Google TV’s! Many of us have been using PlayOn, Netflix, and other streaming software and have greatly reduced our reliance on the DVR and Cable TV. But this is in its infancy.

    If I were you or the Wine Enthusiast publication, I wouldn’t ignore where this is all going. I would be hard at work creating my own channel. It’s just a matter of time, and it’s just around the corner… Steve TV. Watch Steve as he chokes on about 50 16% alcohol Cabs. See who gets the big points in the reveal. See Steve’s tongue turn to leather in HiDef.

  5. Morton, I will do that, if you’ll be my Ed McMahon. You do have a hearty laugh, don’t you?

  6. Posted this on the CJR site but will repost here.

    “Whether written by a professional or an amateur,” Bailey says, but he doesn’t come right out and define the difference between the two. Presumably he means members of the “old guard”–i.e. the people who get paid to write about wine–are the professionals, while new media bloggers–i.e. those who don’t get paid–are the amateurs. Yet I know bloggers who have credentials from WSET and Court of Master Sommeliers and the Society of Wine Educators, and professional writers (i.e. those who get paid) who don’t. It’s a blurry line.

  7. A blurry line, indeed, especially if one equates wine knowledge with professional writing credentials. The ability to communicate is essential if one is going to try to make a living in journalism. And, of course, wine knowledge, passion and enthusiam are required parts of the mix of talents and proclivities to make that living as a wine writer.

    MS, MW, WSET and all the other initials do not make those folks into writers. It does make them into wine professionals–or at least enthusiastic amateurs giving the ease with which one can acquire entry level certification from many of the so-called “certifiers”.

    I would posit that the difference to which Bailey refers is the difference between professional wine writers and amateur wine writers. A professional wine writer must possess professional skills and learning in both wine and writing.

    And I would further posit that being an amateur does not mean one cannot become a professional. We all started as amateurs at one point or another.

  8. Hey Steve – glad you caught the WE reference, and I did have you (among others) in mind there. Having said that, WE was the example most prominent in my mind during that interview and my mention wasn’t meant to diss WE (I could have used WS or other wine mags) – just in case anyone else is misinterpreting it as a snub on the mag (I know you’re not doing that Steve).

    It’s interesting that the article sort of puts me and Karen on opposite ends of the spectrum of wine writing “expertise” when during the course of the interview (not included in the article) I mentioned that it’s a gray area, and that I’ve been encouraging bloggers to get wine certs. and the like to prove that they *are* taking the background and depth of the subject matter seriously while also trying to entertain and educate their audiences. So my real stance is somewhere in the middle of all of that.


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