It is surprising to me when a writer creating some of the more compelling content in wine’s tiny corner of the blogosphere can not feel the evidence of quality content and professional writers in a changing media landscape. In this latest case the writer shares a personal conclusion that future references to “bloggers” will be shrouded in the “pejorative”. Actually, Tom Wark of Fermentation Blog wrote one of the things he learned at the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference was that over the next few years the term “blogger” will be “associated with an amateur who should be taken lightly.” Who gave that talk at the conference?
Since I had little interest in attending another Wine Bloggers Conference and Tom has always struck me as a pretty smart wine guy, I am in the dark about the specific context that spawned his declarative learning. Was it one of those wine bloggers that spit up all over following the conference’s legendary speed tasting session? Or, was it a brush with some of the wine bloggers that push too hard for free samples and airplane tickets from the hard working sponsoring wineries and regions? One other complete guess is the conference featured “that” blogger who fashioned her cute theme of posting every day for a year about a different wine she drank every night. Could she have recited all those posts at the Wine Bloggers Conference from the stage, each one randomly using all the adjectives, flavors, aromatics, and descriptors available in the dictionary to describe every one of those wines indiscriminately? Finally, might it have been one of Tom’s current or prospective public relations client’s who whispered to him the truths about not seeing any ROI from his/her ongoing courtship with scores of unknowing palates in possession of WordPress templates?
In the comment stream of the post, it turned clearer that these are simply beliefs Tom carried with him to the event, and not really a takeaway at all. Still, all of the above examples can be legitimate axes to grind with some writers in the wine blogger community, and one of the reasons I have less and less interest attending the Wine Bloggers Conference each year. There is great content out there, and curiously a lot of it is not created by the folks who value the camaraderie of a conference nor get nominated for popularity awards. So many of the best online wine content creators never went, or don’t go to these events anymore; Brooklyn Guy, Steve Heimoff, Levi Dalton, Jeremy Parzen. The list goes on. If these bloggers did show up at the Wine Bloggers Conference, and more wine bloggers happened to be professionals in the business of wine, as in so many other vertical blogger communities and industries, then there would be less context for Tom’s insistence in his follow up comments that all bloggers are “Unprofessional (which is not only another synonym for ‘amateur’ but also carries with it a negative meaning). “
The better bloggers, each in their own way, have more and different perspectives to offer consumer and trade information-hounds than many traditional journalists in wine and other industries. Their audience is larger in aggregate and their content can often be more credible. I organize blogger conferences in different vertical sectors where attendees pay $500 to attend, there are no free samples or anything to taste, and they just want to listen and get better at content creation because they have something important to say. I walk through the blogosphere for a living every day running my company, DigitalSherpa. Ask my 3,000 clients that are blogging for business and personal branding reasons if their content is amateurish compared to mainstream traditional media. All are expert business operators with a point of view in their specialty or industry.
Is the blogger that contributes to Mashable unporfessional? Is the interior design blogger I know that designed Cher’s, and dozens of other Hollywood stars’ homes, a rank amateur? Or, is Stacey Bewkes who writes the impeccable Quintessence lifestyle blog (because she carries a standard of excellence that would be suppressed and compromised in the old world of national lifestyle magazine publishing that she left long ago for her blog) an off-base, unseasoned rookie? Does the Master Gardener blogger I know create content at a level less credible than the work of a staff writer at Better Homes & Gardens? Is Evan Dawson a beginner without a writer’s professional compass when it comes to Finger Lake wines simply because he blogs and is a TV news personality? Is Richard Auffrey a rank amateur about Sake? Is Tom Wark, himself, more amateurish that traditional media journalists in his chronicles of alcohol legislation just because he blogs about it and is a wine publicist by trade? Is Lenn Thompson a rank amateur blogger when it involves Long Island wines? Is Hardy Wallace wet behind the ears after being named one of the 40 most influential people under 40 in the wine business simply because his roots are writing about wine on his blog? And as humble a guy as I think I am, I can’t even consider myself a rank amateur when it comes to wine enthusiasm after collecting and tasting in advanced formats for 28 years.
I was at a seminar that Tom ran at last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference. He struggled to develop an audience participation conversation about whether we were “bloggers” or “journalists”. He clearly struggles between good and bad, right and wrong, and the topic seems to intellectually tug at Tom. I am not sure why labeling bloggers vs. other writers should become the issue of the day. Why debate whether bloggers and journalists are related or linked in some way or are opposing magnetic fields? Actually, it seems unfeasible to automatically know a writer’s authority simply through labeling nomenclature. Can a title ever reliably connote lack of credibility or complete expertise? All CEO’s are neither credible nor great justbecause they have a CEO title.
Tom suggests that if bloggers are as good as traditional journalists, then why is there a wine blogger award program and not one that incorporates both traditional journalists and bloggers? Would race day competitions include Formula cars, Stock cars, and Drag cars all on one track? The resources available to bloggers vs. magazine and newspaper journalists are as uneven as those cars, making any comparison senseless. Photographers, shiny paper stock, editors, research tools, set designers, time, and money is the horsepower unavailable to new age web content creators with something important to share. Resources do not define talent, insight, and relevance.
Tom is somewhat excused since the wine blogosphere is its own unique community with idiosyncratic contributors and enough wine amateurs with little to say. But, to call all bloggers “amateurs that should be taken lightly”, and then cast their image in a pejorative light is a small world view. Tom, like so many Public Relations professionals, benefits from an organized set of media outlets, and blogospheres are anything but that. Blogospheres frustrate PR professionals with their potential, pockets of unprofessionalism, and disorganization.
Just because bad authors are self publishing novels every day, are all novelists, self published or otherwise, to be considered amateurs with little credibility? What if a few newspaper columnists for one town’s newspaper execute poorly, does that mean that all columnists in that city, or for that matter any columnist anywhere in the world, are rank amateurs.
Bloggers, journalists, marketers, academics, and professionals are all online content creators today. It is a force and a direction that can not be altered. The content has wide ranging value. Their blogs are nothing more than websites that make it easy to update with regular, fresh content. Yet even the work of wine bloggers with the most to say, for example, will never feel like a Wine Spectator article (which has everything to do with the commercialization challenge, not he quality of content challenge). It is impossible to ascribe a broad stroke credibility level to the hundreds of thousands of new content creators just because they work in WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr. Judge the community equally by its abundance of good work and personal professionalism, not by the media they express their thoughts in.
UPDATE: As you will see from the comment stream, Tom Wark feels that the exact quotes I referenced from his Fermentation Blog post were mischaracterized in their interpretation in this WineZag post. On Twitter Tom has accused me, as the author of this post, as being unprofessional and misrepresenting him on purpose. I stand by my original interpretation of his writing as an honest and legitimate one, with no intention of purposeful mischaracterization. I am glad that Tom has had a chance to clarify his writing for WineZag’s readers and for the many followers on social sites that either shared in or disagreed with my interpretation of Tom’s original post.