Wine Blogs: Same Old, Same Old

The finalists in the 2010 American Wine Blog Awards were announced today and they include a variety of nominees who are new to the finalist round. Having been involved in these awards for quite some time and having watched the world of wine blogs for longer, I've now come around to the position that wine blogs are indeed members of the "traditional" or mainstream media.

For many, including myself, wine blogs have seemed to live outside this idea of the mainstream media, a world thought to be inhabited by traditional wine magazines, newspapers, larger media conglomerates and those media outlets defined by their commercial interests. On the other hand, blogs, and wine blogs in particular, have been understood as upstart challengers to the American wine media defined by their less encumbered, individualistic and often singular voices.

This is not the best way to understand blogs, nor "traditional" media.

"Traditional" media has always had one defining characteristic: it DISTRIBUTED information in the same way that wine wholesalers distributed news. Wine Blogs do the same thing. Whether they make money or not, are owned and operated by one person in their pajamas or not, whether they are advertising vehicles or not, wine blogs DISTRIBUTE the news; they, like newspaper wine columns or the Wine Enthusiast and other magazines, carry the message that in large part originates with others.

Today, if you are looking for a line to separate media, then look at the divide between "TRADITIONAL" media, which distributes the news, and SOCIAL media, which allows direct communication.

If you are looking for a better analogy, Traditional Media is the Three Tier System while Social Media is Direct To Consumer sales.

This distinction is critical for marketers and consumers to understand.

While wine marketers have always used the traditional media to deliver their message to consumers, today marketers have the additional tool of Social Media to deliver their message personally. Consumers of media and wine need to understand this too. This distinction has implications not only for how marketers ultimately speak to their customers, but also for how consumers appreciate and evaluate the messages they are being asked to consume.

Blogs may have seemed different. After all, the peculiarities of blog publishing allow anyone and everyone to become a distributor of information. This has meant a number of new voices in the wine publishing world, evidenced by the blogs that are highlighted in the American Wine blog Awards. And the very fact that this new publishing medium has seemed to steal the thunder of long time wine media publishers also seemed to set the blog apart from the mainstream.

But when you step back and really take a look at wine blogging world today, it's absolutely clear that blogs are much more aligned with the likes of the New York Times, The Glen Beck Show, The Nightly News, The Wine Spectator and Connoisseurs Guide to California wine than they are with Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts, Yelp pages or Link'd In Profiles.

Wine Blogs really are not part of the new, social media phenomena. They are, instead, easily identified with the world of information distribution.

That said, I urge you to go vote in the 2010 American Wine Blog Awards. Help identify the best voices in this new appendage to the traditional media. Some truly outstanding writers and bloggers are working hard to bring you the wine news, uncover new insights into the world of wine, and bring to light the character of great wine.

13 Responses

  1. Robert McIntosh - May 25, 2010

    I think I would agree with the statement, but not necessarily the analysis.
    It isn’t that blogs ARE traditional media, but that they are being USED LIKE traditional media. There is no reason a blog (platform) could not be used in a much more SOCIAL and interactive way.
    Blogging has matured in the direction of the money & recognition – i.e. towards traditional media.
    The SOCIAL examples you quote are good in themselves, but limited in terms of conversations between a larger group of people. Something better will surely emerge to further disrupt the traditional channels soon.

  2. Hope - May 25, 2010

    Great analysis Tom, I would agree that most of the wine blogs I read are nothing more that people writing articles and stating thier opinions. Some are in interview format and some are more like advice articles. But have we really changed the face of the interaction with people and making them part of the process? Have we worked to make people a part of the discussion or have we just found a way to turn blogging in to another advertising medium? Thanks for bringing out some great points and making all of us think about how we are doing our blogs.

  3. Marcia - May 25, 2010

    An excellent point about wine blogs’ place in marketing, communications and media. Some appear to have a certain amount of social media crossover. While any one post may be highly informational, it often seems, in some blogs, that the comments section becomes a bit of a tweet/friend fest with vigorous back and forth, one-line dialog b/w readers and writers, debating points of the story.
    Surely for blogs, this is a great advantage over traditional print media feedback as it is immediate and often produces a highly educational dialogue b/w interested parties — something completely impossible in print/traditional media.

  4. Jim Robinson - May 25, 2010

    I think wine blogs can be a part of the new social media phenomena if they are used as an anchor point in a network of social channels. To me social media is more about the actions of the people involved than the tools used to communicate. In that sense I very much agree with Robert.
    There isn’t much to distinguish traditional publishers from bloggers though in terms of their respective approaches these days. I see major magazines using WordPress as their engine and many bloggers trying to emulate their style.

  5. Steve Heimoff - May 25, 2010

    Traditional media as wholesalers? Meow! But I think you’re right that blogs are something short of “social media.” They’re kind of midway between traditional print and SM. However the instantaneous 2-way communication between blogger and reader is something new. As someone whose blog gets a lot of comments — which I then can comment on — this is revolutionary for me. It’s pushed my thinking in entirely new directions.

  6. ryan - May 25, 2010

    integrate, integrate, integrate
    no need to swing from the extremes…sometimes the ones in the middle are the ones to look to. The ones who use elements from both worlds but are not one or the other.
    Evolution I think they call it.

  7. Steve Raye - May 25, 2010

    good point by Robert M. I’d urge those of you interested in this conundrum to read Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody”. Great book and great insight into how all this conversation is evolving with a point of reference not just to traditional media, but going back to other revolutions in communications…starting with Gutenberg.
    Here’s my distillation of the key points he makes in the book relative to blogging and journalism:
    A profession exists to solve a hard problem, one that requires some sort of specialization. They exist because there is a scarce resource that requires ongoing management. The scarcity of the resource itself creates the need for a professional class. “The old dictum that freedom of the press exists only for those who own a press points to the significance of the change. To speak online is to publish, and to publish online is to connect with others. With the arrival of globally accessible publishing, freedom of speech is now freedom of the press, and freedom of the press is freedom of assembly.” And THAT explains why the Chinese government is so paranoid about Google.
    For journalists, the resource (access to the means of distributing information, news, opinion) is no longer scarce, so we’re seeing the mass amateurization of the profession. And to make matters worse, when the resource was limited, an editor’s role was necessary to determine “Why publish this?” Now, the question isn’t why, it has become “Why not?” So where previously, scarcity of the means of distribution meant journalism’s function was to filter information BEFORE publication. Now filtering comes AFTER publication (think Search, Google Alerts, RSS feeds).
    Another way Professor Shirky phrases it is, “If everyone can do something, it is no longer rare enough to pay for, even if it is vital.” And that’s the conundrum journalism…and many other professions created from the old constraints face.
    Translate this to marketing and you can see the difficulty many command and control organizations face: “in the open source world, trying something is often cheaper than making a formal decision about WHETHER to try it.” Yowza! The result, lots of 25 year old entrepreneurs eschewing the plodding slope of corporate advancement for the philosophy of “Just Do It

  8. wow gold - May 26, 2010

    good point.

  9. 1WineDude - May 26, 2010

    Interesting analysis, Tom.
    Don’t overlook the possibilities of the medium, though, just because most folks aren’t taking advantage of them.
    I’m not able to enter into a dialog with Robert Parker or Jim Laube to expound on an article they have written, but you and I can converse here and do exactly that.
    That’s a big, big difference…

  10. nursing gowns - May 26, 2010

    interesting post! This has meant a number of new voices in the wine publishing world, evidenced by the blogs that are highlighted in the American Wine blog Awards

  11. Lizzy - May 27, 2010

    I do agree with you, Robert. Absolutely. You can use a blog as a traditional media. Or not. The difference make you a new voice in a new media, or an old voice in a new media.

  12. ChrisO - May 27, 2010

    Very interesting analysis! However I would argue that blogs are different then traditional media in the fact that they allow and foster a two-way communication between author and reader. Is this not part of SM?

  13. jim - May 27, 2010

    These are all fascinating points, but the danger in too warm an embrace of the blogs, and their sing-song, casual, but informative conversations is the actual QUALITY of the information they offer.
    Traditional media has always been bound (more or less) to the facts, and like you say, the delivery of prepackaged messages. Then there is the addition experience, the stories, the evaluations, and a certain level of writing acumen that comes with time and practice.
    “After all, the peculiarities of blog publishing allow anyone and everyone to become a distributor of information. ”
    The problem is that there needs to be a warning label on some blogs: **Caution – this person doesn’t know what the hell they are talking about – but they have a blog and thanks to Google their misinformed opinion is a permanent part of the search-able internet.**
    How is the consumer seeking information to determine when they are reading a well-informed, well-written blog like Lenn Thompson, Tom Wark or Steve Heimoff, as opposed to a wannabe enthusiast’s weakly written review of a (insert any wine here)?

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