Adherence to journalism ethics taught to cub reporters since the earliest days of print media has become a tired and miscued distinction between good and bad wine writing. Like magicians coaxing their audiences to gaze in their eyes while nimble fingers craftily invert reality, professional writers and bloggers are distracted by an ethical divide as wine media and information sharing is being reshaped accross the social web. In between Anthony Dias Blue’s attack on “blogger barbarian” Tyler Coleman and the less than necessary retaliatory snipes on Dias Blue’s promotional and advertising activity, long established wine journalists are missing the real “scoop” calling foul on bloggers for reasons as simple as sharing their thoughts without paying for the wine or tasting blind.
I reallocated time in my life to blog about wine driven by a passion to share information on a topic that has enriched my life and access to a creative outlet that has me immersed in a media form that is reshaping the industry I made my entire career in. Like so many wine bloggers, I spent hours sifting through fascinating personal interpretations expressed across the wine blogosphere, and in certain instances favored this style of content compared to the traditional online and offline wine media I relied on for more than twenty years. Just like making new friends at school, it was a natural process figuring out who I wanted to spend time and connect with. These new personal media habits and pressure from friends and colleagues that already expressed offline interest in my wine opinions pushed me to impose the rigors of this widespread and frequent discourse.
Since April I have written about wines gifted by a winery, that I paid restaurant mark ups for, acquired in end bins or for less than $12 in the discount aisles, and some that friends shared. In all cases, I expressed the results of the wines that I felt motivated to share because I developed a perspective and personal point of view on them. I have also shared perspectives on issues facing wine drinkers and collectors that were personally relevant and begging for further conversation.
This intersection of personality, voice, perspective, engagement, networking, and information sharing is inexplicably alluring. It is only distantly related to traditional wine review media, and just because industry issues and specific wines kicked around by long time traditional media pros are also the chess pieces in the dynamics swirling around social media game boards, neither side should expect alignment or cohesion in writing style and journalistic approach.
While followers and bloggers’ reputations are organizing, and traditional journalists start experimenting and experiencing the power of engagement with newly formed fan bases and audiences, the differences in social and traditional media models are becoming more appreciated instead of maligned. Tish, the former editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine who now expresses his views in his engaging and worthy blog The Wine Skewer offers a settling tone:
It’s not worth speculating; if the past few months have taught wine bloggers and blog-followers anything, it is that there are as many legitimate perspectives as there are legitimate bloggers. I can not fault any of my media colleagues, who drew their line in the sand quite adamantly. On the other hand, it seems that such lines are being drawn with greater and greater infrequency…and for good reason. The exploding world of wine and the burgeoning desire to share and communicate about it has pushed the basic concept of wine-professional ethics way past the area of black and white. The 21st century reality is such that there is no consistent code for what is proper, right, appropriate. It’s all up to us, individually as professionals, to set our own thresholds of industry involvement and ethics therein.
In my own traditional media company that is moving with reasonable urgency towards innovative Internet content delivery and marketing using social media technologies, I am empathetic working with long time editors of the highest calibre who are recalibrating their ethical training with the opportunities that new social media technologies offer. Judging, gathering, and creating content to share in thier print brand’s growing social networks presents direct challenges to long accepted practices for sifting through lots of content and over time filtering the best out for presentation with unbiased judgment. Social media allows journalists a more open stream of expression that does not succumb to the scrutinous process originally intended for traditional print media. For this reason, it is not too surprising how rewarding and fun something this impulsively expressive and personal can be to some writers, or how violating and intimidating it can feel to others.
The new movie about blogger and chef Julie and Julia was in some part born out of Julie Powell’s developed understanding about the intersection of personal experience and information sharing. In a recent Daily Fish Bowl feed from Mediabistro, Ms. Powell talks of learning from comments and hot spots for engagement from her developing audience as a path to mastering the essence of social journalism. She discovers an appeal and credibility built on her own personal perspectives of what might otherwise be matter of fact content:
Identify a blog’s appeal, and build on content that keeps readers involved. “I saw from comments and people really getting involved in the personal aspect of the story that this is where the heart of it is — in how the food is intersecting with this particular life at this particular time. That’s what people are coming back for. That’s what creates the suspense.”
Next week I will have the chance to taste wine from Loomis Family Vineyards. Jeff Loomis is a really fine man with unbound vision who sent me his new release as an expression of the deep friendship he and I have shared, built around wine, for so many years. Whether my personal interpretation of the wines will be high praise, opportunities for improvement, or the joy of simply tasting the results of a good friend’s hard work, I will write about the intersection of my personal point of view and those Loomis wines in WineZag….without any ethical concern or hesitation.