tangled up in blue

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

“And Who Regulates the Bloggers?” screams the headline of Anthony Dias Blue’s “From The Editor” column in The Tasting Panel, his wine/booze trade mag (http://tinyurl.com/nqnzul). Blue is the latest of the old line, wine writing establishment to jump into the fight ring with such luminaries as Robert Parker, taking on the “blogger barbarians” as Blue characterizes them.

Tyler Colman – aka Dr. Vino (http://www.drvino.com) – seems to have ignited this brouhaha some weeks back with a series of posts questioning the ethics of Parker minions such as Jay Miller. More recently, he’s taken on Blue in a related slugfest. Now others have joined the trad vs. rad fray, with print guy/bloggers such as Steve Heimoff (http://tinyurl.com/l92ghc) trying to find a middle ground. So here’s my two cents worth, as I posted on Heimoff’s website a week or so ago (Heimoff, BTW, is a good friend, my tasting panel associate at Wine Enthusiast magazine, and excellent blogger):

“There’s a lot of navel-gazing going on in the blog world these days,” I wrote. “It’s communications media - nothing more or less. Falls in with books, print, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, cable, e-mail, internet, cellphones, iPhones, Facebook, Twitter, etc. etc. It’s how we all talk to each other. Let’s not pretend it’s some revolutionary event; nor should we fall into the Old Guard vs. New Guard wars (as Andy Blue and Tyler Colman appear to be doing). We all communicate about wine. Everyone starts out as an unknown and has to make his or her way forward based upon (hopefully) talent, effort, persistence and ultimately credibility.”

There are some good points to be made on both sides, nonetheless. Although few people in the wine writing business can honestly claim that they take no paid-for trips, meals, wines or tickets to tastings – is that really a problem? Must a book reviewer buy every book? A movie critic pay for every movie ticket? Reviewers who take pride in buying every bottle are either 1) impossibly rich or 2) taste a very limited field of entries. Even the big rags like Wall Street Journal and NY Times taste very limited numbers of wines for their weekly roundups. Is that better, or even more fair, than the reviewer who culls through a couple of hundred bottles to find one or two to recommend?

Critics, as Blue points out once the steam stops coming out of his nose (and prose), “are an essential part of any field that offers a variety of choices to consumers. Legitimate industry leaders in all of these areas welcome, or at least accept, the necessity of critical commentary.” He goes on to point out, as I have on many occasions, that critics are not unpaid PR people. We do not work for the industry we write about, and accepting a free sample in no way serves as compensation for the hard work that goes into pro-caliber reviewing.

Can a blogger reach pro caliber? Of course he or she can. It takes the same amount of talent, commitment and experience as making it in print – maybe more, given the increased competition, the lack of compensation, and the difficulty of attracting anyone’s attention in this age of Twitter (does that make tweeters twits I wonder?). The main difference with so-called social media is that ease of entry (as in, free) means that virtually anyone can hang out their shingle as a reviewer. That’s the price we pay for the more fluid, interactive, immediate dialogue that blogging provides.

Tomorrow I will share with you a very interesting e-mail exchange with a winery owner who confused me with his PR person. Meanwhile, I will keep refining this daily blog in an effort to make it as useful, provocative, informative and fair as possible – while performing the role of a critic. I welcome your thoughts and appreciate your time and attention.


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