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Wall St. Journal got lots wrong in their Wine Advocate/Parker reporting

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13 tweets and counting in the last 24 hours from Robert M. Parker, most of them seemingly designed to correct statements made by Lettie Teague, of the Wall Street Journal, in her article about “The Big Shake-Up” at the Wine Advocate.

Lettie apparently got so much wrong that Bob felt the need to correct the record as fast as he could, before the misinformation becomes embedded into popular consciousness (as these things tend to; even the New York Times’ Eric Asimov passed along some of Teague’s incorrect information).

Lettie: “the fiercely independent publication…will start accepting advertising, though none that is wine-related.”

Parker: “The Wine Advocate print edition will never take on ads.”

Lettie: “The company’s headquarters, an office just down the driveway from Mr. Parker’s home in Maryland farm country, is also moving to Singapore.”

Parker: “headquarters REMAINS [sic] in Monkton but a second office…in Singapore.”

Lettie: “Mr. Parker said the print version might disappear before the end of 2013…”

Parker: “no plans to eliminate the print edition…”

If Bob’s tweets have an air of weariness about them, it’s understandable. He even provided a link to a report on his sale of the Wine Advocate in Bloomberg News, which he apparently feels is more accurate. The Bloomberg reporter pointed out that the facts “contradicted a Wall Street Journal story, which said the Wine Advocate may phase out its print version by the end of 2013.”

In so many respects this story has been blown out of proportion, not just in the Wall Street Journal and other popular media but especially on the wine blogs, which are going nutso. Not much has really changed at Wine Advocate nor do I expect much to change anytime soon. Parker will “continue to focus [as he tweeted] on Bordeaux, Rhone, retros of CA & the big picture…”, just as he does now. My take: good for him. He’s worked his tail off for decades and now deserves whatever he got.

Far more interesting, to my way of thinking, is this paraphrase, from The Drinks Business, concerning Wine Advocate’s new editor-in-chief, Lisa Perrotti-Brown: She “hopes [the move] will give her more control over wine reviews.” Granted, this wasn’t a direct quote, but we have to imagine Perrotti-Brown said something to that effect. Will the current writers, including Antonio Galloni here in California, be content to “become full-time employees of The Wine Advocate, rather than independent contractors,” as The Drinks Business article said? And what does “more control over wine reviews” mean anyway? Danger, danger, when management says they want more control. Parker’s correspondents have some deep thinking to do: report now to a bunch of Singapore businessmen via Perrotti-Brown and lose the freedom of being an indie contractor? Risk being told their reviews need, uhh, editing? Or hold onto their ethics and lose their precious positions as writers for Wine Advocate, with all the perks it brings? As an indie myself, I can tell you these are difficult decisions for a writer to make.

  1. Steve, hello.

    Have you ever kept track of the scores you and RP “give” to the wines both by chance review (from California only, of course)? How much do you agree or diverge, based on points?

    Best.

  2. Carlos, I have never done as you ask. It would be too much work.

  3. Parker: “I will never sell…”

  4. Wow. A wine journalist garbled a PR story. Astounding! Maybe next time he will include a formal press release and a fact sheet.

  5. We don’t yet know the terms and conditions of the deal. Did the so-called new editor really say that wine writers are a “dime a dozen” thereby threatening the basis of the franchise (its writers) or not? Is Parker accurate that he will continue to be a contributor of some significance? Is there any truth in the “will become a competitor to the Spectator, Enthusiast” in the slick paper, takes advertising business?

    Hard to tell exactly what the thinking is at this point? Big splash or just an extension into Asia with a separate edition?

    Steve is so right about one thing, however. The WA is and was a business. Businesses come and go, change or stay the same and all the permuations in between all the time. Why should the WA be any different?

    The end result, which may not emerge for some time, will depend in large measure on the depth of pockets of the Asian investors and the size of their appetite to become really big-time like the Spectator as opposed to their willingness to remain a subscriber-based newsletter along with all the limitations that the no-advertising model imposes on those who have gone that route (almost all sole entrepreneurs, not investors).

    In the meantime, of course, it is hardly possible to move in the wine blogosphere, or almost any other place in wine writing, and not run into some version of this story.

  6. Steve:

    Why do you assume that Ms. Teague got it wrong, but that the journalist interviewing Ms. Perrotti-Brown must have essentially got it right?

    Mr. Parker’s tenure at WA has been punctuated by multiple instances of his making statements that he has then walked back for one reason or another. I find it very likely that he said most of what Ms. Teague has reported.

    While I disagree with your analysis of who got what right, I agree that not much will change because of this.
    The largest development will likely be the launching of a very ambitious WA China, availiable in Chinese with content geared towards Chinese-speaking wine lovers.
    The US version of WA will likely remain as is (with the print version being phased out soon enough), though it might come out of all this a bit stronger and tighter due to the influx of investment money and energy.

  7. I think this is a wise move by the Emperor. Gets a ton of free publicity, a huge chunk of cash from his investors, and maybe modernizes his operation in the process. Wine scores are going out of fashion, and as the American wine-drinking public becomes more sophisticated, good writing will become more valuable. If they are going to change the Advocate from a list of scores into a publication that writes interesting things, then I might actually consider reading it

  8. Steve,

    I have been also watching with amusement. I have seen it from the beginning as Charlie suggests. Parker built an amazing business for himself and created value. It is also the American way to exit one day and extract as much personal wealth from the value creation inside the business. And, if you can exit with money and continued participation at a level that delights your lifestyle, all the better. Bravo to Robert Parker, he did what most of his blogging critics can only dream they might accomplish for themselves. Your view is fresh in one important regard. How does the additional management and editorial direction impact the reviewers posture and points of view on any one wine. That will be something to watch with interest. Hopefully, like in all business transitions, new leadership will understand the magic sauce that made the Wine Advocate authoritative over the years and left Parker wealthy.

  9. Adam, thanks for your reply. I wonder how we will know if there’s any impact on the reviewers’ scores as a result of interference from management.

  10. Newman, you’re right in theory. But one has to believe something! Perhaps he did say what Lettie reported, but all we can know for sure is what he tweeted, himself, not what he was quoted or paraphrased as saying.

  11. Steve: We know very little about this deal, and that is because Parker has not to my knowledge tried hard to tell the story.

    It’s worth pointing out that Parker has complained before about inaccurate coverage that in some cases turned out to be accurate. The guy has been very savagely treated by some members of the wine media for years, so it’s understandable that he has a chip on his shoulder. And a lot of stories about him and the Advocate have gotten things wrong. But still.

    If he wants the record corrected, he should correct it, and not by tweeting to a different story. The guy’s a writer and publisher. Write and publish the true story, man!

  12. Kurt Burris says:

    I’m curious about the economics of this deal. I read today that the purchase price was in the 15 million dollar range and the subscriber base is around 50K US readers. Since the WA does not accept advertising what other revenue sources does it have besides subscriptions? What are the demographics of this readership that someone is willing to pay $300 a head for amounts to a mailing list? More power to RP for making out very well, but what’s in it for the new investors?

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  1. The Advocate in Singapore | Storie del vino - […] intelligentemente scrive Steve Heimoff (@SteveHeimoff) sul suo blog , Robert Parker ha detto delle cose leggermente diverse da quanto riportato …

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