If Tom Cruise Purchases a Vineyard, Is It News?
In the course of commenting on a recent post, a Fermentation reader, Amy, made the following cogent comment:
"Any writer who swallows a press release whole without investigation is not doing their job."
It got me thinking about press releases related to the wine industry and the level of news they tend to contain. Here's the thing: Some press releases issued from wine-related sources have some degree of news. If it does, that nugget of news tends to be wrapped in supporting material of some degree of interest. All this tends to be wrapped in what Amy goes on to call "bias and hyperbole".
I've written my share of press releases. Hundreds, I reckon. I've read many more. So I designate myself , for the purposes of this post, a bit of an authority on press releases. And the one thing that anyone writing, receiving or reading a press release needs to be able to do is understand what "news" is and if the press release contains any. Let me expand on that.
CHATEAU TOM RELEASES NEW ANDERSON VALLEY RIESLING
Is this news? It's a common theme for wine press releases. But if Chateau Tom has been making Anderson Valley Riesling for, say, 10 years, then this is not news. It's an update and probably doesn't deserve nor will it receive any coverage. What if Chateau Tom is releasing their first Anderson Valley Riesling? Here's where it's tricky. Too often this sounds like news to Chateau Tom. But in fact, it's just an update with only slightly more value than if the new Riesling is the 11th vintage of the wine.
However, what if there had never been a Riesling released from an Anderson Valley winery? If that's the case, now we have news. Or, if the new Chateau Tom Riesling is the 11th vintage but the production of the wine will be 20,000 cases, up from 500, and by far the largest release of riesling from the Anderson Valley appellation in history, then, again, we have real news.
CHATEAU TOM ANDERSON VALLEY RIESLING WINS GOLD MEDAL IN LONG BEACH
Another common wine industry press release theme. Is it news? Not likely. Gold Medals are common. However, this would be news if it were the first gold medal ever received for an Anderson Valley Riesling, just not big news. Now if it were the first gold medal ever received by an American Riesling, then you'd have real news.
CHATEAU TOM BUYS "WOOPITY DOOPITY VINEYARD" IN ANDERSON VALLEY
This might be news. Is the W-D Vineyard famous? Is the vineyard 1000 acres large? If the answer is yes to either then we have news. If this is the first vineyard transaction in Anderson Valley in a couple years, then we have news. If Chateau Tom is owned by Tom Cruise in stead of Tom Wark, then, again, we might have news.
The point is this: For something to be real news, it must have some measure of consequence that goes beyond the business or institution issuing the release. The "news" in the release must impact more than a few egos. The "news" contained in the press release must throw light on issues that go beyond the interests of those issuing the press release. Anything else is just a company update.
I've written a number of "company updates" disguised as press releases and I will again. But in doing so both I and my client know that the object of the release is to simply update the media, rather than expect the media to pass on the information to its readers.
It's true that part of the equation that the media must factor in is the interests of its readers. That's why Tom Cruise buying a Riesling vineyard in Anderson Valley, while in substance is no different than Tom Wark buying the vineyard, is news—while if I bought the vineyard it would not be news. My actions are of interest to a group of people that can be counted on two or three hands. Mr. Cruise's actions have a larger audience.
Effective media have an interest in both serving their readers as well as informing their readers. And these things are not always the same thing. One speaks to the responsibility of the Fourth Estate, the other speaks to serving the interests of commerce.
But Amy is correct. The media that swallows a release whole without investigation isn't doing their job. However, most releases don't require investigation. Rather, the media is required to determine if they have news on their hands.