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Old bloggers never die, they just fade away

17 comments

I was sad to learn yesterday that Paul Gregutt is ceasing production of his blog. Paul, as you may know, is the longtime wine critic for the Seattle Times as well as my colleague at Wine Enthusiast, where he reviews the wines of the Pacific Northwest. It’s safe to say that Paul is the dean of Northwest wine writers.

Paul cited the pressures of work for “de-coupling from blogging.” Like me, he had decided to post something every day, and after all these years, he found he just didn’t have the time to fit everything (including a life) into a 24-hour window. I, personally, don’t have that problem, no doubt because Paul’s life has more things in it than mine! But I can see where a blogger would eventually reach the point where he just says, “The heck with this.”

I’ve wondered for quite some time when the dozens of wine bloggers with whom I’m familiar would stop. The Hosemaster said he was, a while back, but then he came back. As for the others, they’re still blogging away. Nobody gets much out of it financially. Some of the bloggers with the biggest readerships, like Dr. Vino and Vinography, make a modest amount from advertising (or so I’m told), but apparently, it’s not very much. I will probably begin to take advertising one of these days. Making money at this was never my reason for doing it, but a little extra cash will come in handy in the Heimoff household, where Gus insists on only the best, most expensive treats of duck breast and bacon.

Which leads to the question, Why do the bloggers keep on keeping on? A few, like Eric Asimov at the New York Times, actually get paid for blogging. Some, like Jancis Robinson, are able to charge a subscription. But the others whom I mentioned above (and including the likes of 1WineDude and Catavino) don’t have any direct source of income from their blogs, except maybe a pittance from ads.

I can’t speak for them, but I can tell you why I blog. It’s because I love wine and the wine industry and culture so much, and am so embedded in them, that I want to write about them in ways that don’t fit the traditional journalistic format. Blogging isn’t really journalism, nor is it fiction. It’s more like the “New Journalism” pioneered by Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe, in which facts form the basis of the narrative, but there’s also room for improvisation and opinion. In a sense, the subject of wine lends itself admirably to this style, because so much of wine lies in the esthetic and imaginative sphere.

Speaking of the Hosemaster, he wrote the other day, “What amazes me is how wonderful and entertaining and fascinating wine itself is, whereas wine writing is, with few exceptions, dreary, pedantic, insipid and repetitive.” This statement is both true and exaggerated. It’s true if you think of all those articles that reliably come out before every Thanksgiving about what wine to drink. Pity the poor writer who has to crank out a Thanksgiving column year after year after bloody year, while trying to sound fresh and excited, as if it were all happening for the first time.

This isn’t to blame the writer. She’s only doing what she was told to do by an editor. There’s less excuse, however, for a blogger, who doesn’t have an editor, to engage in this tedious stuff, which I think is what Hosemaster was driving at. Wine blogging does get bogged down in the tendentious, the tiresome, the repetitious. One of the best trends I’ve seen in wine blogging lately, though, is the introduction of personality into the writing. Joe Roberts does a good job of that. The biggest difference between blogging and trad journalism is that the former allows for experimental, creative writing whereas the latter is locked into the dictates of a formal (and often formulistic) style that’s increasingly hidebound. The younger generation doesn’t read newspapers for precisely this reason. It’s too bad, really, because a great paper like the New York Times is essential, but it’s a reality that people are moving away from that format and toward more personal written expressions. That’s what blogging does best. Paul Gregutt had a really creative voice, as well as an informed mind that understood Northwest (and especially Washington) wine like no one else. Wine blogging is poorer for his absence. I hope that, like the Hosemaster, Paul will resurrect his blog one of these days.

 

 

 

  1. Jancis Robinson may be able to charge for her blog. Very few of the rest of us who write professionally and also write blogs can do that. Yes, some advertising revenue, but, as you say, not a living.

    Part of the reason is that having something to say everyday that is worth paying for is pretty rare unless those words have monetary impact themselves–as in financial writing and advice.

    The other that there is such a big din of voices out there in the wine blogosphere that it is hard to tell the wheat from the chaff. Like you, I read lots of interesting blog content, but how much of it is so important than it would make any of us pay for it.

    People like Paul and Tom Johnson (I hope you got to read his blog when it existed because it was very smart and very funny)and Jeff Lefevere simply give up because their is no reward in blogging beyond personal reward. I am amazed that you can generate the emotional energy to create a new and thoughtfully written blog every day.

    And I am even more amazed that you keep it up. At least in your case, you have a large and well-earned readership. I frankly hope you do not take advertising, but I get why you might want to.

    Thanks for staying the course.

  2. I can only speak for myself, of course, and I have only been blogging for but a short while (not quite a year yet), so I am by no means an ‘expert’. I continue to blog because I have discovered perhaps a bit late in life, that I enjoy to write. I choose to write about wine since I feel that just about every time you open a bottle, there is a story to tell. I do not have a massive audience by any measure, but those who read my blog often tell me how much they enjoy it. For me, for now, that is enough. I will likely never produce any wine, but I can produce words that might help people enjoy their day the way wine helps me enjoy mine.

  3. Dear Drunken Cyclist, what a delightful comment! Thank you very much and good luck with your blog.

  4. And thank YOU Charlie. I should have mentioned you in my post. You are the Dean of California wine writers.

  5. Steve I appreciate that you post something every day. It is a lot of work. You give many of us in the biz something to think about and talk about (you too, Charlie/Stephen).

    I write because I feel a compulsion to. Some people have to go to the gym every day or they lose their minds. I write for the same reason. I don’t write every day for my blog because that’s not what it is there for. It’s just for me to comment on the part of my life that is wine.

    But between my personal diary, a manuscript I am working on, forums I participate in, my blog, other blogs I comment on, and Twitter I think I am up to a 1,000-word-a-day kind of guy. That is, when making and selling wine does not get in the way.

    I hope you stick with it. I hope Charlie does too, and Chris Kassel, and Kieth Levenberg, and Ken Payton and a whole bunch of others on my reader. Thanks to all of you.

  6. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”…

  7. STEVE!
    Thanks for the mention. My self-serving post, written in a fit of pique, you might say a piker’s pique, has garnered more than my usual share of attention. Maybe that speaks to how dreary the blog world is–my audience is growing.

    I, too, was a bit sad to see Paul Gregutt hang it up, but all of us who blog regularly understand why. I don’t think it’s the money, really, or lack thereof. It’s burnout. You see the same thing on TV sitcoms. They survive five years or so, and then come the dreaded flashback scenes, or Fonzie jumping the shark. I struggle every time I sit down to write to say something interesting about the wine business, or say something that’s already been said in a new, hopefully entertaining, way. Mostly I fail. I’ve quit at least twice, and then returned because, well, I need psychiatric help.

    I love that there are so many blogs. I’d taste hundreds of wines to put two or three on my wine list when I was a sommelier, why should wine blogs be any different? Most wines are dull and lifeless too, lacking personality, and having almost nothing to say. Wine blogs are the same. And, then, once in a while, a Paul Gregutt shows up, or a Steve Heimoff, or a Samantha Dugan, and going through all the pointless and empty blogs starts to make sense.

    And, sadly, but truly, I’ll never make any money writing HoseMaster of Wine. But that was never ever the goal.

    With Admiration,
    Ron

  8. Patrick Frank says:

    I’m sure I speak for hundreds and hundreds of folks, maybe thousands and thousands, when I say that your blog is the best out there. So I sure hope you keep it up.

  9. Steve,

    You write: “This isn’t to blame the writer. She’s only doing what she was told to do by an editor.”

    I think wine writers (myself included) need to remember that writing isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a masturbatory exercise.

    In other words, a writer must be influenced — at least in part — by what her readers want to read.

    That’s why I don’t “pity the poor writer who has to crank out a Thanksgiving column year after year after bloody year, while trying to sound fresh and excited, as if it were all happening for the first time.”

    In fact, I happily write that column myself. The reason? It’s what readers are looking for. Seriously. My column runs in about 80 small papers, nationwide. I don’t have an editor. But I hear from readers, all across the country, in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to find out if I’ll be offering wine tips.

  10. Patrick Frank, thanks. You made my day.

  11. I created my blog as more of a journal of things I’m learning about wine than anything else. Steve, you have mentioned several times here of going back to your tasting notes and re-finding wines or experiences you’ve had. That is exactly what my blog does for me. I call it Découvertes de Vin (wine discoveries) for that very reason.

    As you may recall, I do like to bitch and moan about Napa Cab. prices, so it also gives me a way to share great values with my friends, family, and readers including my recurring bit on decent wines you can find the supermarket. My readership is growing steadily because of those articles. It appears there are a large amount of people looking for a good value.

    I have taken several stabs at writing the kind of insightful articles you post daily but end up hitting delete instead of publish. I would like to get there at some point but as I read your blog everyday the bar is rather high.

    Alas, I have to admit I did an article on Thanksgiving pairing. I hesitated quite a bit before hitting the publish button as I could hear Ron in the distance doing his best poodle yapping impression. I did hit it though and only because the pairing concept was new to me (choose wines that the other guests at the table will love instead on a middle of the road choice). Judging by the hits and tweets/re-tweets it was perhaps a new take to others as well.

    I do not now, nor will I ever make a dime from this but it is fun and should prove more so when I get better at it.

  12. Steve, I appreciate your blog (actually it’s the only one on my toolbar) both for what you have to say and the responses of knowledgeable folks (unlike me) to your posts. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned about wine from you and others as I wander through the wine blog world. Thank you for your day-in day-out effort and contribution. It makes a difference to me….just another person who loves wine, knows little and hungers to know more.

  13. Can I just say that I never get bored chosing a wine for Thanksgiving. And while I doubt anyone would want to read about it, I would be happy to spend 1,000 words telling you about what we served at my house this past thanksgiving…

  14. Blogs are always great for additional info and are usually best when used in conjunction with other sources of information as people tend to forget blogs are normally just publicised opinions.

    Though I find blogs very engaging on the most part!

  15. I second Annie and Patrick.

    I also feel as though i´m back to California again when i am “here”.

    This blog[ger] makes me feel at home while having a class about wine and everything about it. Steve makes us think concerning a nice array of topics (and he won´t charge of it!!).

    Blogs about points and scores are more common and normal than walking upright and forward.

  16. Steve, thank you, my friend, for the kind words. I have been genuinely moved by the many kind comments from fellow poodles and other, often unknown, readers of my blog upon learning that I’m 86-ing it. And not a day (so far) goes by that I don’t think “I should really write about [insert hot piece of news here]” – and then realize that the only place to put it is in a blog. That unique mix of timeliness, opinion, and gossip, along with the interaction it sparks, is what makes blogging special, and what kept me at it for a number of years. But as you suggest, it comes at a price – in my case, the price was time. Time is becoming more precious the older we get, and I am choosing how to spend mine more and more carefully. Hey – I’ve long been part of the Me Generation, and it’s about time to live up to that moniker. Anyway, I’ll certainly check your blog and a few other favorites out regularly, and put up my occasional rant on my Facebook page, which eats up enough time without adding a daily blog to it. Best wishes as you soldier on.

  17. Steve, thanks for the kind words. I make more from blogging than I expected, but that’s limiting the definition of blogging to any money directly attributable tot he website itself (ads, etc.), and not the opportunities with which I’ve been afforded due to blogging (which is really an aspect of making a “name” for oneself via a website).

    I’m sad to see Paul go, but it’s not like his writing in other outlets lacks his personality, so while it’s disappointing to me personally, it’s not a dire loss for our online wine community (but it is a loss) since we still get Paul’s voice (just not on his blog any longer).

    Paul, if you’re reading this – it doesn’t have to be every day, my man… I’d tune in for weekly updates… just sayin’…

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