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I interview myself

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The blogger Fast Company yesterday ran this interview with Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist who also was that newspaper’s first blogger. It’s a good read. I thought it would be interesting to take the interviewer’s questions and answer them myself. Of course, some of his questions wouldn’t be relevant to me, so I dropped them.

In your columns and online posts you encourage reader dialogue and response. What kind of responses do you get?

It depends on the particlar post. Some topics elicit a lot of response: anything about Parker, the 100 point system, blind tasting, social media, ethics. For some other topics, I won’t get more than a handful of comments. Some people have accused me of deliberately writing about provocative topics in order to generate heavy response, but that simply isn’t true. I really go by whatever I’m thinking about that day, or if there’s something in the news I have to write about. I often write about things knowing full well that I won’t get more than 3 or 4 comments.

How do you think about your social media interaction?

I love it. I don’t reply to every comment, because quite often, there’s really nothing to say, except maybe “thank you for writing.” Also, some bloggers reply to every comment because that doubles their number of comments, which in turn might move the blog higher up on some popularity lists. That’s a little phony, so I don’t do it. When I read a comment that really needs for me to reply, I know it.

Is this a revolutionary shift in journalism or a more natural progression?

Great question. The answer is: a little of both. There’s clearly something radically different about social media. People all over the world can talk to each other, more or less instantly. It’s very difficult to censure. You can do it on your cell phone or pad: you don’t even have to be sitting at your computer anymore. I think social media has turned out to be revolutionary in certain areas, such as politics, where we see regimes being toppled (Libya, Egypt) with the help of Twitter. In other areas, like sales and marketing (including wine), the jury’s out how “revolutionary” social media is. At this time, I’d call it more of a natural progression that combines aspects of the telephone, the U.S. mail, television and a town meeting. I haven’t yet seen anything in the wine industry being revolutionized by social media. Indeed, I can’t even envision what that would look like.

There’s a lot of debate about the role of social media in journalism, especially on the part of the major print news institutions. While [Wine Enthusiast] was developing strategies and policies, you just started doing it. Why?

Because I wanted to jump into this blog thing and explore its possibilities. I am a writer at heart. Few things in life give me more pleasure than pecking away at the old keyboard and watching my words magically appear onscreen. In May, 2008, Wine Enthusiast was going through their initial deliberations in blogging. I was just too impatient to wait.

Is there a more problematic side with the journalism in the digital age? Do you worry that citizen journalism diminishes overall credibility, for instance?

“Citizen journalism” has always been around. After all, journalists are citizens too. What’s different is the speed and access that people have to publish anything they want. And of course, this does raise issues of credibility. I don’t “worry” about it–there are too many more important things for me to worry about. But I do recognize it and have been stung by it on occasion, when irresponsible people make false charges. However, I take it in stride. And I will say that the positives of social media and “citizen journalism” far outweigh the negatives.

One of the other big changes in journalism we’ve seen in recent years is the rise of advocacy journalism. That’s different than what you do. Take Fox News for instance.

I don’t do “advocacy journalism” on my blog, if you take Fox and MSNBC as the prime examples today on TV. However, I can express my personal opinions a lot more candidly and colorfully in my blog than I can in the traditional journalism we practice at Wine Enthusiasm. That’s one of the pleasures of blogging. It’s on my Facebook page that I do true advocacy journalism. But I try to keep my politics out of my blog.

How do you negotiate the line between activism and journalism?

At the magazine, that line is kept rigorously bright by our New York-based editors, who impose strict journalistic standards that might be a little old-fashioned by today’s social media standards, but are very important nonetheless. Somebody has got to make sure that statements are based on fact and not just made up. On my blog, the standards are looser, I freely confess. However, there’s an enforcement mechanism that I would argue is every bit as powerful and effective as an editor: my credibility. If I was slinging unsubstantiated trash around on my blog, readers would long ago have lost respect for it.

  1. Almost perfect. What’s missing? Steve’s comments on his self interview. That’d be hard to come up with, keeping the same high level…

  2. Steve
    Well I guess you just proved the point that you write what you feel like writing regardless of inflammatory factor or expected response. That’s kinda cool. I am one of those who assumed you wrote for hits. I stand corrected. Maybe Tom W. does, though. Ha ha. Anyway, I logged on to support your Quixotic obsession. Keep writing. Mark

  3. You never cease to amaze me.

  4. James Rego says:

    Well. I think you are one of the best wine writers out there(as evidenced by the fact I have your blog on my toolbar). I learned long ago you cant’ please everybody. That said, this reaction is way over the top, and speaks more to the person who wrote it, than your critique of their wine. Please, keep up the good work.

  5. Hello Dear. First off, after having you on the Wine Crush, I wanted to see if I TRULY could pass your screening process…I don’t think I am SPAM, but you never know.

    To comment on your post above, let me say, I love the fact you put yourself out there. There is no other critic that the public has direct access to. By the very fact that wineries and consumers have access to an open dialog with the person who is espousing an opinion, you give your crediblity a boost. In this world of avalanche media, your transparency is refreshing.

    Great effort, great post and a great benchmark for Wine Media.

    (although at some point, lets argue your idea that social media has not changed anything in the wine world…look closer, it’s the medium that is getting the Millennial generation to put down their beer and pick up a glass of Moscato)

  6. Laura, you’re in! From now on your posts go up automatically.

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