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A great blog post begins with a great headline

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Talk about gotta-read headlines: How about this one: “Is blogging killing wine writing?”

I stumbled across it in a South African blog called Pendock Uncorked, which bills itself as “South Africa’s leading independent drinks commentator…”. (I’m not sure what to make of the three-dot ellipsis, which is the author’s, not mine.) Anyhow, this Pendock fellow–Neil’s his first name–paraphrases a blogger, Tim Atkin, M.W., as having said, on receiving an award of some kind or another, that…”wine journalism is under threat from bloggers.” Now, Neil didn’t quote Tim; he simply described what he said, and I wish I knew exactly what Tim said, and why he said it, because it’s a terribly provocative statement, and Neil seems to be an important, knowledgeable guy who wouldn’t say something like that just for the hell of it.

I did a Google search to see if I could find Neil’s complete remarks. They may be out there somewhere in cyberspace but, if they are, I couldn’t uncover them. However, serendipity struck in the midst of all this. I got an email that was a press release announcing the results of the award Tim Atkin got. It quoted Tim a little more thoroughly. It still didn’t explain why he thinks bogging is killing wine writing, but it opened the door a little. Tim said, “We have still got some great wine professionals, and I hope some reasonably good wine journalists – let’s put the UK back in the centre of the wine world, not in the margins.” (Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to the press release.)

Okay, we have to do some inferential reasoning here. (Remember, a pitcher implies; a catcher infers.) Inferring is a tricky business, because you can only guess what the speaker really meant. Clearly Tim thinks that “good wine journalists” are a threatened species; that’s why he used the word still.

Why would blogging be threatening “good wine journalists”? Obviously, because Tim believes that many, if not most, wine bloggers are expedient idiots who know nothing about wine and, even if they did, don’t possess the writing talent to properly express it, because blogging doesn’t require a stringent knowledge of grammar, syntax and (often) even proper spelling, not to mention elegant sentence and paragraph construction. Think of blogging as simply long-form Tweeting and you’ll see what I mean.

Now, this isn’t me, Steve, calling wine bloggers idiots, it’s me inferring that that’s what Tim Atkin meant. So please, bloggers, don’t jump all over me! But is it true? No. I don’t think wine blogging is killing off good wine journalism. I read a lot of newly published wine books (sent to me for free by publishers, and I don’t ask for them: they just show up in the mail), and I can tell you that the general level of wine books is as high as it’s ever been, maybe higher. As for wine blogs, obviously I don’t read all of them every day because I wouldn’t have time to do anything else if I did! Admittedly some are poorly crafted; the writers simply dash off something from the top of their heads, resulting in the worst thing writing can be: BORING. But there are plenty of blogs out there that provide good, breezy reading, and that’s what a good blog ought to be: breezy.

Besides, more and more bloggers are being offered real book contracts, which gives them the chance to stretch their writing muscles and develop their craft in a way a blog can’t. So I can’t agree with Tim Atkin. Of course, he was referring to the UK, whereas my experience is in the U.S. Maybe things are worse over there than here. Still, in my judgment, the quality of wine writing remains quite high in America, if not because of blogs, then despite them.

  1. Steve,

    As a whole, I agree with you. Simply by looking at the quality of wine books released in the last couple of years (several of which you have mentioned in previous blogs), one couldn’t credibly say that wine blogging is killing off wine writing.

    But I do worry about the long term effects specifically:

    – Wine blogging for some seems to be a combination of fact and opinion. And some bloggers seem to claim journalism as their motive when convenient (I was just quoting someone, don’t blame me), all the while mixing in just the quotes that they want rather than trying to present a more comprehensive or balanced viewpoint. Likewise using language to subtly denegrate rather than taking a postion, and then claiming that they never truly said something when it was all clearly inferred. Once upon a time journalism truly had standards (though Jayson Blair, etc have certainly tarnished that)….and I guess I am not certain what standard exist for wine blogging. This mixing of journalism and opinion piece writing has the possibility, I think, of ultimately tarnishing both.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  2. Hi Adam, what you say is true. That’s why you have to pick and choose carefully what you read. The good blogs will stand the test of time. The others will wither away.

  3. Steve,

    That’s nice, but maybe naive? The mixing of reporting and opinion (Fox News, MSNBC) seems to be thriving (not trying to turn this political…please everyone), so not sure I see the “fade away” to which you refer. — Moreover, with the ease and ubiquitousness of the internet, I don’t know that there is a cost that will cause “bad blogs” to fade away. And will consumers be able to differentiate? Not sure.

    Guess you are the optimist and I am the pessimist in this discussion.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri wine

  4. With all due respect, Adam Lee/Siduri & Novy Wines,
    Professional wine journalism is also rife with opinion presented as fact. Since we are talking about a British wine writer, I will say that I find the major British wine “journals”(Decanter and Jancis Robinson, to be specific) particularly bad when it comes to mixing fact and opinion. And the mixing seems particularly bad when it comes to their coverage of Californian wine.

  5. It’s probably not a good idea to try to generally equate Journalism and wine writing. While wine can and sometimes is the object of journalistic pursuit, wine writing is more often a form of criticism, “Opinionism”, or education.

  6. Some bloggers and wine critics (OK not many) are bonafide journalists with impeccable credentials. Just sayin’….

  7. I agree with Tom, most wine blogs are not journalism per se but rather more akin to the comments column of a newspaper. People have different motives when it comes to wine blogging but surely the diversity in opinion and style, and even levels of “polished-ness”, is a good thing? Instead of a few professional writers dominating the discussions now everyone can participate which reflects the real objective of wine – to be enjoyed by everyone.

  8. Steve, are there cow angels? Well, I’m a CA. cow angel and I’ll chew on your essay with a SB in the sunny meadows of New England all weekend; I’m not sure what the end will be of this phlegmatic headline, but I’ll ask the other 999 CA. cow angels I know for a cowsultation.

  9. Sherman says:

    If we take your baseball analogy as our model, perhaps the bloggers can be seen as in the minor league system, preparing and honing their skills for the call to the Big Show (a stint with the tem in the major league). This is a messy process, as none of the wine magazines (still the powerhouse “teams” for wine writing and wine journalism) have something like this formally in place (as far as I can see — Steve, please let us know if it does exist).

    Thus, the aspiring wine writer has to put in their time with their own blogs, writing, researching and putting out a consistent product that is good enough over a period of time to get the attention of a major content provider (Joe Roberts comes to mind as a good example). The WineDude is one of thousands of wine writers that has made the leap from blogging to a paid professional. The rest have either given up, pulled down their blog, or are content with their current status, writing for themselves and looking for an opening down the road to make the jump to a paid gig.

    In the meantime, the wine-reading public votes with its eyeballs, reading and taking in the content provided by these aspiring writers. Perhaps some of the info isn’t as accurate as it should be, nor presented in as accurate a fashion as it should be. But this is part of the development process and I feel that the reader as consumer will take the time and opportunity to point out where the fault lies in the product presented by the blogger.

    It’s an informal and (at times) a messy process — until we develop a “minor league” system that formally trains wine writers and journalists, it’s the best system that we have for developing the next generation of knowledgeable wine writers.

  10. Sherman, well said, and what I agree with, is your broad analysis, but what seems left out is the enduring blogger whose interest is the wine and not the money; now they maybe few and far between, but often their approach for fun and information provides a compare and contrast that is often humanizing and educational.
    John, from Tuscan Vines is a fine example: http://tuscanvines.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2012-01-01T00:00:00-05:00&updated-max=2013-01-01T00:00:00-05:00&
    John, I hope this is OK!

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