Live (almost), from New York!
By the time you read this I’ll be in New York, at Wine Enthusiast, where we gather every summer around this time for our annual editorial conference.
That’s when we put together a tentative outline of all the major stories the magazine will run in 2012. I say “tentative” because it’s always subject to change. There’s a creative tension between an editor-planner’s need to know what’s coming up in every issue, and the spontaneity of events that can and by definition do erupt unpredictably, shoving previous plans aside.
We writers work feverishly for months to come up with our “pitch lists,” the stories we hope to be able to write. Of course, not everyone will get to write everything he wants. The magazine would have to be the size of the Manhattan phone book to accommodate that. (Speaking of phone books, aren’t they outdated? We could save a lot of trees by ending them.) So when we gather around the old editorial table, there’s a lot of negotiating going on. Everybody has a say as to whether any particular article is approved, but a lot of it depends on the pitcher’s passion and logic.
I cover coastal California, so I’m always looking to write about regions I haven’t written about before. That’s nearly impossible, since I’ve covered just about everyplace in the state, so I look back at my previous articles to find places I haven’t written about for a while. A lot can happen in a wine region in five years.
New faces are also always fun to write about: readers like discovering them, and so do writers. On the other hand, winemakers who’ve been around for decades are generally at the top of their games. They may not be the new kids on the block, but the best wines in California are coming from the stalwarts, not the newbies.
Editors love trend stories. The latest this, the hottest that, insider’s secrets. The trouble with trend stories, though, is that they often amount to little more than hype. In the rush to find a new trend, a writer might be tempted to exaggerate things, and an editor may let her get away with it. In this way, faux trends are created. Don’t get me wrong: there are certainly real trends. Pinot Grigio was a trend from several years ago that was real. Prosecco is a real trend. Moscato, I don’t know. We’ll see. It’s easier to be trendy in cocktails, where recipes change by the day, but I don’t report on cocktails. Wine, for better or worse, is sturdier, or stodgier. Things don’t change that much. Is there a low[er] alcohol trend happening in California? A lot of writers are saying there is, but we’re going to have to look back in 5 or 10 years to know for sure. An example of a faux trend is to say there’s a trend for red Zinfandel. You see these stories from time to time. It’s not so, but it’s easy enough for a writer to pick and choose facts, artfully combine them with opinion, and then convince an editor (usually one who’s overworked) that it’s a good story. Readers then read that red Zinfandel is a trend, because it said so in print–and if it’s in print, it must be true. Right?
Not! But don’t get me started on bad wine writing.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I like being edited by my New York editors. It can be hard. Sometimes an editor does things I don’t like, or disagree with. They can ask tough questions. Tim Moriarty, in particular, will take one of my articles that I like a lot and tell me he doesn’t think it makes any sense. I get pissed, but when all is said and done, my articles end up better–much better. That’s a lesson I’ve learned over the years. In every interview and speech I give on writing, I’m careful to praise and thank editors. Bloggers, of course, are mostly unedited, but then, blogging may be a short form of writing that doesn’t need editing. My blog isn’t edited, except by me, which is the way I like it. I think if someone else were editing my blog, you, my readers, wouldn’t trust it. But that’s never going to happen. So “No reason to get excited,” the thief he kindly spoke.