Bloggers, Credibility and Wine Writer Surveys
Take a close look at this chart. It comes from the recently released 2010 American Wine Writer Survey and outlines some differences between those that have been writing about wine for 5 years or less and those writing about wine for 20 years or more.
The first thing to take note of is the use of social media tools like blogs, Facebook and Twitter. The less time someone has been writing about wine, the more likely they are to use social media tools. Clearly writers with less experience are younger and we know that younger folks are more enthusiastic about social media. I think this is something of great importance to know.
But the one difference that is also striking is the attitudes toward bloggers. More experienced writers simply don't have nearly the confidence in the credibility of bloggers as less experienced bloggers who, as it turns out, are much more likely to maintain a blog. But that's not the point. The point is that those writing about wine the longest really are not inclined to find bloggers to be trustworthy. The big question here is, DO THEY HAVE A POINT???
The question in the survey that led to this response did not define "Trustworthy". However, lets assume that those who read the question understood that "trustworthiness" was a good thing and let's further assume that not having a lot of trust is a bad thing.
In my view, the single most important point that would lead anybody, and in particular experienced wine writers, to downplay the credibility and trustworthiness of a blogger is the well know fact that there is absolutely no gatekeeper when it comes to who can publish a blog. There is no pre-assessment of the talent and skills of a wine blogger prior to their publishing. There is no editor that evaluates their skills and gives the blogger the job of writing about wine. Bottom line: A fourteen year old girl inhabiting the attic of her mother's home on the North Dakota border with Canada and suffering from delusions can as easily start writing and publishing a wine blog as the most experienced wine writer living in the heart of Wine Country.
The question is: Is there evidence in the wine blogging world that this "hole in the fense" tends to produce wine bloggers that have the primary quality of being poor writers and ignorant in the ways of wine?
Sure there are.
But you know what, there are many such pathetic excuses for wine bloggers. The majority it seems are pretty decent at describing why they liked the wine they tasted last night and of sharing wine news with their readers accompanied by sparse and inconsequential commentary.
Put another way, there remains a bias against bloggers that has the effect of diminishing the over all perception of the talent of bloggers. However—and this is important—it means the REALLY GOOD wine bloggers and even the DARNED GOOD wine bloggers stand out like soar thumbs.
This is an entirely different situation compared with wine writers who are given columns in small market magazines and newspapers. By virtue of having the cover of a credible publisher, their talents are given much more of a benefit of the doubt…despite the fact that they may not be anywhere near as good as a DARNED GOOD wine blogger or certainly of a REALLY GOOD wine blogger.
Credibilty and trustworthiness tends to be more readily bestwoed on those who have the benefit fo "being published" by a reputable publisher. Should they have this advantage? It doesn't matter. They do.
And so, for wine bloggers, here's the take away: Do you want more immediate acceptance as a credible and trustworthy voice among more people? Get a print column in your local newspaper.
I have given this same advice to a number of bloggers over the past couple years. I have been writing a food/wine columng for my own local newspaper for the past three years, and it does provide an additional air of credibility to some people. My writing for the newspaper is little different from my blog, and my editor almost never changes anything in my newspaper articles.
Getting the newspaper gig was easy. Our newspaper lacked such a column, and I emailed the editor about it. I used my blog as a reference for the type of writing I did, and they took me on. Should be eay enough to do for many other bloggers.
Thanks Tom. I will ask the Press Dem (hmm maybe should go smaller, does Fulton have a weekly rag? :)) If can can do some pro bono work, never know.
Recently there was a survey by American Society of Editors and the quote that stood out to me: “Sloppy writing makes readers distrust you, even in blogs”
So it makes me think that trustworthiness has as much to do with how you say it as what you say, be it in print or online.
If I see blogs with many spelling errors and unchecked typos it makes me trust them less. Even if the content is accurate.
Things like fense for fence or soar for sore or bestwoed for bestowed, lessen the writers authority in my opinion. Blogs are quick and easy and typos happen to everybody, especially if you do not have an editor to catch them. But if you fancy yourself a writer you best get acquainted with a spell checker or at least a careful reading before you hit publish.
Nobody is perfect but to be trusted you must make the attempt.
I haven’t had an article published in print yet, but the local alt-weekly did a profile on me last year. For the city’s main paper I occasionally host online wine tastings, where I pick the wine and lead an hour-long discussion. I’ve noticed that people are often more impressed by that than the years of blogging.
It would be nice if the hosting was paid work–the newspaper makes money from ad revenue, the stores make money from sales of the featured wine–but I participate both out of shameless self-promotion and out of a desire to help build a wine culture here in Memphis. Plus it’s a lot of fun.
I’m waiting for a scandal on the scale of the recent Cooks Source debacle (http://bit.ly/fWwyGj) with a print publication ripping off winebloggers. I’m not saying I want this to happen, but it is almost certainly occurring somewhere and it’s only a matter of time before such a case is discovered.
Well, it seems like the real takeway is: Do you want more immediate acceptance as a credible and trustworthy voice AMONG WINE WRITERS? Particularly wine writers who have been in the business a long time and are probably more likely to feel threatened by blogs and online media?
What blog writers need to be really great is what any writer in any medium needs: first and foremost, a dedicated and supportive editor. Second, resources (assistants, interns, time, great Rolodex, etc.) to do proper research. Third, innate talent. Fourth, experience (both of subject, and of writing itself).
Does any wine blogger have a good editor? I don’t know. I suspect not.
Well John My Dear…we know I sure has hell don’t!
Sam – me neither, darlin’ – me neither 😉
This survey reflects the experience patterns of those surveyed–and you are immediately going to say, “Well, duh, Charlie. Thanks for pointing out the obvious”.
But what is less obvious is the similarities you would find if you redid this survey by writing provenance. Old bloggers and young bloggers would have roughly similar attitudes, and old print writers and young print writers would also have much the same attitude.
My point is this. Your point of view is what is guiding these answers, not necessarily just one age and experience.
And as someone who has made a living in print and loves blogs, it is my guess that my answers fall somewhere between the extremes. Hell, I even have Facebook and Twitter accounts. That either means that I have not yet grown up or I am terribly confused.
To echo John’s point above… while print journalists get edited before publication, blogs get edited through their comment sections, through the back and forth between the readers and the writer. Even the top bloggers print inaccurate information, which is often passed along when other bloggers link to the article or tweet about it.
You can certainly make the argument that most bloggers are “editorializing” as opposed to “reporting”, but I think that distinction is often blurred to the reader.
Yes John, some wine bloggers do have editors. Those of us lucky enough to have another writer/editor in the picture.
The major caution here, I think, is NOT to underestimate the intelligence of people reading print and blogs when it comes to wine.
If you don’t have the writing chops or the wine chops then you will go nowhere on-line. I think this survey may reflect the sentiment by print writers that blogs undermine their content – which is not necessarily false, but the notion that blog writers without credibility are stealing readership is totally false. We need to give people more credit than that!
And an editor plus print is no guarantee of quality or credibility. Didn’t a bunch of folk slam the Food and Wine article (by their executive editor no less) on Syrah for Thanksgiving? Does that author have any credibility with these folks anymore? And IMHO the change at the WSJ was not for the better – the ancien regime at least had a bit of amateur enthusiasm and homespun authenticity going for them.
Joe, I’d like to give people more credit. I really would. And I agree that there is a segment out there that knows and understands what they are reading. But as with the print stuff I mentioned, there seems to me a lot of inane, under-informed chatter amplified in the online echo chamber (and not just in wine). And for some readers, the echo alone is enough to validate the content.
Alfonso – you are lucky. I can’t even find an intern heavy or strong enough to do a punchdown on a 3-ton tank of Grenache after a 25% saignee. Not much chance I will ever manage an editor for my writing.
I blog and I publish. Yes, the printed word is much more refined (thanks to a skilled editor). Sometimes, I look back at an old blog post and I find horrific errors (ekkk!). I realize my smarty-pants readers are gracious with me. I think having a “second pair of eyes” would be great. It is very difficult to edit your own work even for the seasoned writer, which I am not. I suggest a buddy system. I’ll proof your work, if you’ll proof mine.
What happens in print stays in print but a blog can be corrected at any time. A blog allows you to be real and transparent which I think people appreciate.
I think there is room for both. Can’t we just all get along?
Oh boy, do I agree with John on this.
To me, the dichotomy is not between print and blog; it is between skill and knowledge. Neither print nor blog guarantees either. Knowing your subject and working at your craft gives you a shot at trustworthiness.
Whether in print or online, believing that someone who drinks a lot of wine has earth shattering things to teach us about the subject of wine is like believing that someone who has had numerous surgical procedures performed on him has earth shattering things to teach us about performing surgery.
I also agree with Charlie’s take concerning Tom’s slant on the results. Plus, the fact that i didn’t take the survey (I never take surveys) surely skews the whole damned thing 😉
May I caution you that every time you provide something for free for a profit-making entity you cheapen whatever service you provide, and that includes writing.
Well, I read Tom Wark, because of his genius, also industry insight. It is like a well-tempered tuned musical instrument, to discover a blog writing nearly always with accuracy and imagination. Like journalism and literary endeavors, there is a spectrum of individuality available. I have time for TomW’s ideas; less for printmedia, save the archons who actually know wine, and even they tend to endeavor in a gestalt sandbox too often. Yet, one can dream of following their wine escapades and assessing the veracity and intellect in their reporting.
…and who might those archons be?
I ask because, like so much else, especially the phrase “less for printmedia” people offer few if any examples, only sweeping, generic comments that do little to educate the reader.
The funny thing about the situation is that these people who make such sweeping, generic comments not in printmedia but on blogs.
How to explain; for shame, for shame 😉
Happy T day to you, too, I am fully fed right now.
A very interesting question. Certainly it would be challenging to create an all inclusive answer to the question. However, I think it would be very safe to say that there are atrocious examples of bad writing and questionable information in all forms of written communication. The primary problem is that many of the people who actually have the proper level of knowledge lack the skill to write effectively. Randall Grahm jumps out as a brilliant, innovative winemaker who also writes like (or better) than most professionals. At some point, it will be prudent to understand, what are the qualifications of this writer or blogger to comment on this industry. Are you an enthusiast with a personal opinion, or are you a professional with 15+ years of experience? One may be witty, the other insightful. Thanks for the provocative question.
I’ve done print but only after garnering credibility via on-line, and the on-line stuff probably reaches way more people than the print stuff does (with the possible exception of the PUBLIX publication (PUBLI-cation?) :-).
If we look at my case, then the this all a bit turned-around, isn’t it?
“To me, the dichotomy is not between print and blog; it is between skill and knowledge. Neither print nor blog guarantees either.”
I’m not claiming to have either skill or knowledge! I make my living by selling wine, not by writing about it. I’m well aware that for many folks this makes me inherently untrustworthy (because I’m a salesman) and unserious (I’m not getting paid to write). In my case, that’s fine: I’m writing for people who already know me, and have made their own judgment about the value of what I have to say. This is what I tell myself, anyway. 😉
I think it would be nice to point out, that not everything is black and white. There are bloggers who know quite a bit about wine and are passionate about issues (in addition to their free samples) just as there are legit media types who only want to write about their long term friends in the industry.
I don’t think making far reaching assumptions about either group is entirely productive.
(FYI sloppy writing…I think you meant “sore thrumb,” not “soar thumb.” Damn those homonyms!)