Leaving The Wine Blogger By the Side of the Road

bloggerFor anyone looking for an excellent position in wine marketing, you need look no further than the recent job posting by J Vineyards and Winery for PR and Social Media Associate. The great thing about this job opportunity is that it provides the chance to dive into the deep end of public and media relations as well as the social media side of marketing communications.

One of the most interesting things about this job posting is the very first responsibility listed in the description. It gets to an issue I’ve been thinking about. That first responsibility a new J Vineyards’ PR and Social Media Associate will be tasked with is this:

“Identifies, communicates with and pitches key journalists, bloggers and other influencers.”

It’s absolutely true that a key responsibility of a PR associate is the ability to form and deliver a good and compelling pitch to journalists, Bloggers and other influencers. But what’s interesting is the distinction made here between “journalists” and “bloggers”.

It’s not an unusual distinction. It is made all the time and has been made for some time, making it in some respects a necessary distinction. But it’s still the wrong distinction.

At bottom, a wine blogger can be a wine journalist, and of course a wine journalist can be a wine blogger. This fact alone makes the distinction an odd one. But the point is driven home when we recall that we don’t refer to a person who writes for the print edition of a newspaper as a Newspaperer”.

It’s odd to refer to those who write by referencing the medium through which the writer’s work is read. We don’t read or pitch stories to Newspaperers, Newsletterers, WebSiters or Bookers. But we do read and pitch stories to  “Bloggers”. It begs the question, what stops us from referring to people like W. Blake Gray, David White, Tyler Colman, Elaine Brown, Joe Roberts or myself as writers or journalists or commentators or critics or essayists?

I think we should.

I don’t mean to suggest by using this odd distinction between “blogger” and “journalist” that the folks at J Vineyards have demeaned those who publish in a blog format . In fact, I was thinking how I would communicate this particular responsibility of the job of PR Associate. I likely would have written it in the same way, if only out of habit.

That habit is born, I think, out of the way we have come to think about people who self publish, particularly in a blog format, but also in ebook format: amateurs. Or, at the least, we have the habit of thinking of these self publishers as second rank, minor leaguers, second stringers. Despite the fact that many of those who do publish using a blog format can accurately be described this way, I still believe we ought to break our habit of thinking of those who write on blogs in this manner.

Can’t we refer to W. Blake Gray as a “journalist” instead of a “blogger”? Can we refer to Joe Roberts as a wine “writer”, instead of a wine “blogger”. Can we refer to Tyler Colman as an “author” and wine “writer”? It makes much more sense.

A few years ago I founded the American Wine Blog Awards. Later, I helped organize the first Wine Bloggers Conference. So the irony of this position I’m taking isn’t lost on me. And I can appreciate the case that can be made that “wine bloggers” really are a category of wine media that possess very particular qualities that justify the moniker without any hint of demeaning sentiment. Still, the distinction continues to bother me.

The term “journalist” originates from the late 17th century or early 18th century when it was used to refer to a person whose job was to write or edit a public newspaper or one who wrote their own, personal journal. Today, the term means something much different. It has evolved to mean one who reports the news without bias, but to inform.

If the term “blogger” survives into the future, it is likely to evolve into a term that describes something different than it means today, just as the term “journalist” has evolved. How we choose to use the word “blogger” today will have some impact on how that evolution occurs. I think it would be a shame to discover 100 years from now that the term “blogger” survives, but refers to an amateur or second string writer. But it’s possible.

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41 Responses

  1. John Kelly - February 6, 2014

    Tom – I agree in many ways. In my estimation a writer is just that – a writer – no matter what the medium.

    But from a marketing standpoint, there is no question that a PR pitch gets tailored to the medium in which the writer is primarily engaged. The blog format is more casual and immediate than other forms, more so than the weekly newspaper column, the monthly magazine, the deeply researched long-form article, or the book years in the making.

  2. Robert McIntosh - February 6, 2014

    An (internet) age-old debate, of course, but one we still have obviously not resolved.

    Here’s a suggestion from a recent realisation from a quote I found recently that made me think.

    A journalist “reports” (not always objectively) but in a way meant to inform and educate; they can do this on any platform

    The alternative to a journalist, yet someone who is still creating content, is someone who is really interested in SHARING a discussion on a topic, mainly for social and entertainment reasons.

    The term of “blogger” arose because that is how many individuals achieved this goal, but now they can do it via many other social platforms. If you still want to call that person a “blogger”, indicating that they mainly do this through social platforms, then why not?

    Is this really the differentiation we are looking for, based not on media platform, but on intent?

    • Jeff - February 6, 2014

      I like the differentiation you bring up: “Journalist” implies a one way broadcast (limited by traditional media), “blogger” implies a desire for feedback and discussion (enabled by new media).

  3. Matthew Rinkerman - February 6, 2014

    Tom, interesting. I like Johns take on it we are writers and a “blog” allows us to reach a interested audience. I still hear wineries look down at wine bloggers but are happy to send samples to food and lifestyle bloggers.

  4. Tom Wark - February 6, 2014

    John, when I pitch a story to a writer, I don’t think the nature of the pitch is based primarily on the way the writer’s content is distributed (in print, radio, electronically). And while wine bloggers might seem a more “casual” part of the wine media, I’m not sure it changes how I pitch them a story idea.

  5. Sarah Abbott - February 6, 2014

    Thanks for this interesting article. I like Rob’s point about intent. If one is writing as a journalist, in general you are being paid to report objectively, and to keep to the house style. The same writer can have a personal blog, which typically allows more freedom of opinion and individuality of voice. I really don’t like the way blogger is used by some as a dismissive term – many great and financially successful wine communicators are not conventional journalists, and are not paid directly for writing. We need to get away from the idea that a wine writer needs ‘validation’ via employment by the wine establishment to be worthy of respect and attention. I love the way that just purity of intent, dedication and talent can win a lone ‘blogger’ a readership and influence. The seriousness with which any wine communicator is taken by wine producers is derived from their readership and influence. Those are commercial realities. But as a wine lover and avid reader, I enjoy many writers on wine, many of whom are not – in hard PR terms – influential. That doesn’t make them any less good, but it probably makes it harder for them to give up the day job.

  6. larry mawby - February 6, 2014

    isn’t the distinction between journalist and blogger really that a journalist most often works for somebody and is/may be edited, while a blogger most often works for him/her self and is not edited? this not not imply anything about the qualities of the writing by either journalist or blogger, but does say a lot about how close the reader is to the writer [no editorial filter].

    • larry mawby - February 6, 2014

      and no typo checker….

  7. Fredric Koeppel - February 6, 2014

    The difference between journalist and blogger in encoded by the Federal Trade Commission. Bloggers are required to mention when a wine (or other item) is reviewed that it was a sample submitted for review. (Didn’t know that, bloggers?) Journalists or whatever one wants to call people who write in print are not required to do so; apparently they’re more trustworthy. I’ll admit that it irks me to have spent almost 23 years writing for a newspaper where my duties included producing a nationally syndicated wine column and now that I’m a “blogger” I somehow get less respect. Is my judgment not as good? My palate diminished? My research suspect?

  8. Cindy Molchany - February 6, 2014

    I follow several blog niches (even outside of the wine/beer/food realm), and what is interesting to me is that the wine blogosphere is the only one where I see this issue come up.

    Take the wine blogger’s cousin, the beer blogger, for instance. Many, if not most, wear the term “blogger” with a sense of immense pride. The term is synonymous with independence, being uncompromising, and being intensely passionate. Not to say that being called a “beer writer” would mean being a sell-out, but just that being a “blogger” is the intended path and purpose. It’s a badge of honor, and this conversation would be silly.

    I think there are many wine bloggers who would identify with the above, but as a community we’re perpetually hung-up on this blogger/writer/journalist distinction.

    In my eye, they’re not mutually exclusive. If you want – be one or be all three… Just own whatever you call yourself.

    And as far as the future definition of “blogger” goes, I think if anything, the term will go the opposite of meaning amateur or 2nd string. I actually see a future where anyone can start a blog (and thousands do every day!), but to be considered a “blogger”, that person will need to write epic content (with all of the qualities I mentioned above) that attracts a large number of readers. Otherwise, you just have a blog.

  9. Taylor - February 6, 2014

    Oh Tom, how I love thee and the subjects you delve into. We’ve debated this same topic during at least two WBCs and it goes around and around. Where it stops, no one knows.

    Although I agree with many of the points mentioned above, I differentiate a “blogger” from a “journalist” as the one who gets paid for their writing.. not necessarily the medium in which they publish. The journalist is edited (to Larry’s point) and facts are also checked. Case in point… Lisa Mattson is not an employee of J Vineyards & Winery but Jordan Vineyards up the road. Perhaps in the same physical proximity but not down the hall.

  10. Damien Wilson - February 6, 2014

    What’s interesting here is the cultural assumption that ‘Amateur’ means second-rate. Those of you with knowledge of life on the other side of the Atlantic would not be surprised to know that an Amateur is someone respected because of their expertise in a field that is not their profession. An Amateur’s views in France are valued precisely because they are not swayed by financial incentives. In this respect, Amateurs convey and retain a high degree of credibility for their views. Accordingly, there is neither apology, nor disappointment in being considered an Amateur, but pride in such a badge.

    If I blogged, I’d happily be labelled a blogger… As much as I appreciate being called Dad, Associate Professor, Lover, Doctor, Friend, or beer buddy. These labels all fit me for one reason or another, and yet none of them explains me perfectly, nor entirely. If the label suits the viewer as a way to categorise who I am in their opinion, that’s fine by me.

    Bloggers, be proud Amateurs! That’s why I read and value Tom’s posts!

  11. Flore Leng - February 6, 2014

    I like the way you write, hope to receive post from you in future :)

  12. Arnold Waldstein - February 7, 2014

    Morning Tom

    Nicely thought out piece.

    I don’t think the consumer cares.

    To them its all reputation of the writer, more than the pub and certainly more than the moniker of blogger or journalist.

    People read The Pour, in my opinion the best and most influential column there is cause they like Eric’s writing. It’s The Pour more than the NY Times and its’ digital and they don’t really think about whether its a blog or not.

    You, also a favorite of mine btw, do identify yourself not with the consumer but with the industry and do hold forth that you are a blogger. I think of you as such.

    Big nudge to change your commenting system;) Disqus is free and I think the best one.

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  14. doug wilder - February 7, 2014

    One thing that will always be true – wine bloggers blogging about wine blogging will attract comments from wine bloggers.

  15. Lewis Perdue - February 7, 2014

    That’s why I never have had a “bloggers” category in Wine Industry Insight’s daily News Fetch email briefing.

    I spend 3 to 4 hours every morning to find the best journalism from around the world. I would say that, as a whole, most bloggers are not journalists. But some of the best journalism comes from a blog and those bloggers do qualify as journalists for my almost-20,000 daily subscribers.

  16. Thomas Pellechia - February 7, 2014

    The fact that this and many other subjects are hashed over and over and over on blogs is enough to prove to me that there are too many bloggers and not enough journalists.

    It’s a sad affair.

  17. Blake Gray - February 7, 2014

    Hey Tom, thanks for the flattering references.

    I enjoy referring to myself as a “blogger,” for at least three reasons.

    One, it’s true. It’s always possible I’ll write something for my blog, whereas I can’t necessarily promise a story in one of the other publications I write for.

    Two: I think it’s important for bloggers to have pride in what we do. I think by introducing myself as a blogger in professional circumstances, hopefully I increase if ever so slightly the idea that bloggers always belong at the table.

    Three: I like watching the reaction, especially of the PR people. The good ones know who we are already, when a group of wine media shows up. But there are plenty of people who shut me off immediately, and not only is that fun, it allows me to observe from the side without being observed, kind of the holy grail of any journalist. Which I also am sometimes. But I’m ALWAYS a blogger.

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  19. 1WineDude - February 7, 2014

    Thanks for the kind mention, Tom, and for the thoughtful article.

    Blake’s response sums up my feelings on this pretty well; I’d only add that in my experience it’s only really within the wine world where the term blogger seems pejorative, but then the wine world is about five years behind on that (among many other things). Interestingly, this comes at a time when I’ve been struggling as to what to call myself, since blogging takes up only about a third of what I do in terms of wine writing (about another third are online outlets with editors, and another third print, also edited)…

  20. 1winedude - February 8, 2014

    Just curious, if the job posting had the word “print” in front of journalists, or “independent” in front of bloggers, would this discussion have taken place?

  21. Tom Wark - February 8, 2014

    Joe,

    I would think of Blake or you as “wine writers” no matter where your works appeared. I appreciate the pride angle that Blake brings up, But I notice a pejorative association with the term goes well beyond the wine industry.

    And if the ad had read “print journalists” it’s like a far different post would have been inspired. I would have asked, “where are you going to find someone who’s work only appears in print? I probably also would have had to ask myself, “what’s a dependent blogger” if “independent blogger were used.

    Meanwhile, further up, Thomas P makes an interesting point: there not being enough journalists focusing on the wine industry. I’m wondering what the outcome would be if there were twice as many journalists focusing on wine than there are now? In order to ask that question, I’d need to sit down and assess just how many writers and media outlets regularly report on wine-related news, as opposed to being critics or simply essayists or commentators. This is a topic filled with potential.

    • Lewis Perdue - February 8, 2014

      In general, it does not pay to cover the wine industry unless tasting samples are enough…and that leaves covering the business and finance side out of the equation.

      Everybody wants everything for free.

      Every time I post an original business story that takes me 20 or 30 hours of work to track down and write, I get a ton if emails begging me to give them access for free. Most if them get pissed off when I say that I will be happy to work for free as long as wine, health insurance and my mortgage are free along with food and the payment on my truck.

      It’s the same in the broader world of journalism and the reason that the first staff to go at print pubs are experienced journalists.

      Even before the SF Chron downsized the food section, they gutted science coverage. Now we wonder why Americans are so science and techno-illiterate.

      Read this and weep: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hiltzik-20140202,0,1097804.column

      • 1winedude - February 8, 2014

        Lewis – Amen!

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  23. doug wilder - February 8, 2014

    So much speculation on what any of this means could be answered by contacting the organization who originally wrote it and interviewing them. If I was a journalist, that is what I would do.

    • doug wilder - February 8, 2014

      and who are the “other influencers”, or does anyone care?

      • Tom Wark - February 8, 2014

        Doug,

        My guess would be folks like you who tend to be reviewers/critic and who don’t fall under the conventional definitions that are applied to “bloggers” and “journalists”.

  24. 1winedude - February 8, 2014

    Tom – I suppose what I meant was that if the terms were qualified, it’d be a different story. E.g., separating bloggers as independent resources from journalists, who by virtue of working for an outlet are not independent.

    • Tom Wark - February 8, 2014

      Joe,

      You mean merely that they don’t own the site upon which they are published?

      • 1WineDude - February 9, 2014

        Tom – no, I mean they are not actually free to write whatever they want and in whatever style they want. If I wrote for Answers.com the way that I write for 1WD, I would (and should) get fired from that gig, because it’s an inappropriate match. I have a great deal of freedom on choosing topics, etc., etc., but I am not independent. I cannot truly do whatever the hell I please on that gig. With 1WD, I am totally independent in that a) I do not work for anyone in writing for it, b) am not edited by anyone in writing for it, and c) can choose any topic/style/etc. I want. That’s probably part of its appeal (and its lack of appeal to many), but I don’t think one could argue that I am not totally independent in writing it, within only the confines of what is legal online.

        • Tom Wark - February 9, 2014

          Joe:

          I can’t imagine why the job posting would want to identify “independent” media of any kind when noting the candidates will be responsible for reaching out the media. Whether an editor guides coverage or assigns stories or actually edits for style really isn’t important to a publicist or a marketer looking to promote a brand or wine or whatever, nor should it be.

          So, if the ad did identify “independent” writers, bloggers, media, etc, I’d be pretty interested to understand what they mean and why they care.

          • 1winedude - February 10, 2014

            Tom, the distinction is important. For example, I don’t do sponsored posts, but I get pertinent six requests a week to do them, because I’m independent and they think there might be an opportunity there, which for me there isn’t. But those not beholden to an editorial staff have the option, and it opens up a good deal of potential angles for marketers that wouldn’t fly in print normally. Not saying that wine bloggers should do that stuff, but it’s entrenched in blogging in several other topic areas. The point is that there are some potentially significant differences that child impact marketing approaches.

  25. Lewis Perdue - February 8, 2014

    Independence: I have, at one time of another, worked for Dow-Jones, The Washington Post, several Gannett Chain newspapers and a number of various media outlets including covering The White House, Congress and The Supreme Court. I can tell you that I had a great deal of independence on what I covered, how I covered it and how I wrote it. Perhaps more than now since I tend — in my premium pieces — to cover what I know people will pay for.

    They pay for news that may immediately affect them economically…bankruptcies etc. I would never have put the Boston Wine Expo in the premium section. No one would pay for that.

    Sadly, they do not pay for insightful trend pieces even when it will affect them eventually. They have an event horizon that seems measured in weeks.

    As a journalist for those aforementioned media outlets, I was encouraged to do analysis pieces, look at trends that would affect people … and people who would affect trends.

    I don’t do that now. Sadly neither do many of the journalists still remaining at the sinking ships of print.

    So, independence can be measured in many ways … which is why I don’t feel very much independence as an independent.

    Which is why I write books and keep my hand in with tech companies.

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  27. Tony Margiotta - February 10, 2014

    I can see how passionate bloggers are about their work and I respect that. I also see how the winery made the distinction to specify another area of influence. I didn’t take it that it was a negative distinction. Actually it’s a vindication for bloggers that they are seen as market influencers.

    Maybe in the future, the word journalist will be an obsolete term just like the establishment media is becoming obsolete.

    History is written by the winners.

    I’m betting on blogging.

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  29. Marcy Gordon - February 12, 2014

    {Sorry– posted this in the wrong comment section –meant for this to appear here: }

    A few days late to this but wanted to comment–

    If you fell down and broke your finger and I fashioned a splint out of two popsicle sticks and bandaged you up, does that give me permission to call myself a doctor or a nurse? Maybe an EMT?

    I like to debate topics and think I am a pretty persuasive but if you were arrested for a crime would you want me arguing for your defense or a trained attorney?

    But why not choose me? I can do what they are trained to do just as well. Or can I?

    The distinction between blogger and journalist is a blurry one due in part to the ability to publish at will. No gatekeepers to pass judgment on your writing. That’s both the beauty and the horror of the Internet. It’s a big free for all.

    I use the terms blogger and journalist for myself interchangeably depending on the type of piece and the place it’s published.

    One benchmark to determine if one is a blogger or journalist could be money –Are you paid by a third party for your stories. And I don’t mean advertisers on your blog. Making money from ad revenue through a blog is what I call a publisher.

    I think a blogger is aspirational while journalist is vocational. I consider myself to be both.

    Another big distinction is training. I have a degree from a respected journalism school. Is it just a meaningless piece of paper? Perhaps. But if there is no distinction between blogger and journalist why do professional curriculums exist? Training and experience are valuable. Maybe in the food, wine, and travel world the terms are interchangeable -anyone can write about those subjects. But what about hard news on complex issues like foreign policy or the economy? I’d rather read the work of a seasoned journalist than that of a foreign policy fashion blogger.

    To paraphrase a famous line about value– All that glitters is not gold–All that write blogs are not journalists.

    • arnold waldstein - February 12, 2014

      Nicely written and well argued but I think based on an incorrect assumption.

      You are assuming that there is some sort of hierarchy with blogger at the bottom and journalist at the top.

      Not really.

      They may be part of a continuum but not one of graduated scale.

      I’m not a journalist, no interest in being one but both a wine and tech blogger.

      People read me and hire me for my opinions, not my reporting.

      Not the same thing.

  30. Robyn Lewis - March 1, 2014

    This is a very interesting topic and thread! Here in Australia, wine bloggers have become a sort of new species of wine writers, currently placed on a pedestal by some sectors of the wine industry because they think/have been told (possibly by the bloggers themselves?) that they ‘reach new audiences’ etc. And the word blogger itself is still seen to be trendy, ie if you don’t send your wines to at least one blogger, you’re old hat. This is now reinforced by wine industry ‘blogger awards’.

    However, for those who delve a bit deeper into the facts, the audience reach of most wine bloggers is generally quite low, and their use of social media to disseminate their writing is often sporadic, or worse. Australia appears not to have a requirement for bloggers to divulge the fact they are sent samples, or travel on paid trips, enjoy free dinners etc – the latter does apply to journalists, although seemingly not for wine. (Perhaps the audience is assumed to be sufficiently well informed to work that out?)

    However what the audience generally does not know about are the ties between the newspapers, magazines etc and the very large wine retailing companies, who – being supermarkets – are amongst their largest national advertisers. These companies now also own wine producers. It is all getting very murky.

    Another group of ‘bloggers’ here are paid PR companies/individuals, who write on the virtues of the wines of a particular producer or region. I have yet to see one divulge that they are being employed to do so. To me, this stretches authenticity – especially if they have never visited the region, for example, or not recently – and one day I suppose the consumer might find out, and some may care (?).

    My own position is that of writer and publisher – a no-man’s land that does not fit into either category, yet ironically our audience is significantly larger than quite a few others.

    The sad fact remains here that because Australia’s population is less than 1/10th of the USA, and online advertising is thus very limited, it it difficult for either wine writers or bloggers to make a living in either medium, other than the established few who over time have become personal brands (usually through their print associations and thus greater reach in past decades). Quite where this is heading as some of them reach retirement, I don’t think anyone knows, although one thing seems constant: the continued dominance of (white) males.


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