Wine Writing: Jon Bonne is Joe Roberts is Robert Parker Is Jim Laube
Public voting in the seventh annual Wine Blog Awards is now open. You can head to the Wine Blog Awards page and cast your vote in nine categories to help determine who are to be honored this year as the top wine bloggers. And I think you should and I hope you will.
The winners will be announced at the upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, Britsh Columbia on June 8th.
I get excited about the Wine Blog Awards each year for a number of reasons. Not only did I found them with the idea of bringing attention to wine blogging, wine bloggers and the best in that category, but I just like the idea of using awards to ferret out the best of the best. I also think a trophy should be given to the best hitter and best pitcher in Little League, not every player simply for participating. I don’t think every 7 year-old T-Ball player should get a trophy at the end of the season. I don’t think Olympic Silver Medals mean anything close to what Gold Medals mean. I think the Oscars are a popularity contest that possess great merit.
What I’m not so sure of, now seven years into the Wine Blog Awards, is if there is any value or good reason in honoring “wine bloggers” with these awards. But I’m positive there must be an awards program for wine media and wine writing.
To put it more starkly, I don’t any longer think the difference between what is produced by someone who regularly writes about wine using blogging software is so significantly different from what is produced by someone who regularly writes about wine for the daily newspaper or a print-based wine magazine or an online or print newsletter to justify a separate form of recognition.
Jon Bonne is Joe Roberts is Robert Parker is Jim Laube.
It’s true that Jon Bonne, Robert Parker and Jim Laube are all paid to produce their insights on wine, while Joe Roberts the blogger isn’t necessarily paid. Joe is the publisher and the writer, like Robert Parker was, Charles Olken is, and Antonio Galloni is apparently set to be. I recognize the meaning of a writer like Joe Roberts not producing a revenue generating product. There is a difference here. But this difference doesn’t necessarily mean that what is produced by Joe is so much different from what is produced by Jim Laube, Jon Bonne, or Robert Parker from the perspective of the reader.
My original idea behind the Wine Blog Awards was to encourage this new class of “citizen” (unpaid) wine writer and to acknowledge the best of those in this new class of wine communicators who had attached themselves to a new kind of publishing system called the “blog”. I wanted to see more new voices start to shout and I wanted to see them shout with the best pitch possible.
Today there is no novelty in the blog publishing format. The announcement or arrival of a new wine blog, while it may be a notable event depending on who launches it, isn’t so notable as an event as it used to be. It is to be understood merely as a newly accessible voice, not as an endorsement of a publishing platform that is clearly commonplace at this point.
So, what is the point today of an award for wine writing originating in a blog format?
One friend of mine who has done as much as anyone to exploit new online publishing tools to bring wine information to the masses understands the situation I describe and has a suggestion for how “wine bloggers” ought to be understood:
“I like to think of us as on-line wine writers. The category would be defined as those writing about wine, with original publication on line (as compared to publication of print content). That excludes Spectator, Enthusiast, Decanter, etc., but doesn’t say to the world, ‘we’re not real writers.’ “
What my friend is describing as a category has already been recognized by something called the Born Digital Wine Awards. They are described this way: “The Born Digital Wine Awards reward great content which is first published on the web and not in print to highlight the wealth of wine content being created online by writers everywhere.”
I read this and I wonder if there is any good reason to distinguish between wine information that is first published online versus in print. Is there any substantial difference between the two besides the ink? I understand the desire to recognize those who are perceived as slightly selfless “amateur” writer who use the inexpensive blogging software to raise their voices and provide an alternative to the “professionals” who have funds, payment, editors and well-circulated publications behind them to help spread their ideas. I’m just not convinced this motivation is sufficiently important anymore to justify an award focused only on the self publishers using blogging software.
This attitude I’m expressing could be construed to mean I don’t think there is a good reason for even the Wine Bloggers Conference, which has for years now successfully brought together wine bloggers in one place to discuss their ambitions, their craft, their tools and their subject matter. It should not be construed that way. The Wine Bloggers Conference is primarily an educational forum where budding writers and semi-successful wine writers come to meet their peers and garner ideas to improve their craft. But I doubt any of the attendees would say “no” to an offer from the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wine Enthusiast, the Wine Advocate or any other more “professional” or revenue generating publication to write for them.
Finally, this new attitude of mine should not be construed to mean I think an awards program for wine writing is unnecessary. It is necessary because it is a very good thing to recognize the very best of a category. But I’m more and more inclined to believe that a “Wine Media Awards” are what is needed and justified.
The Wine Media Awards would or could draw attention to:
The Best Wine Review
The Best New Wine Book
The Best New Wine Reference Book
The Best Long Form Wine Essay
The Best Wine Blog
The Best Wine Video Program
The Best Wine Magazine
The Best Wine Writer of the Year
Etc, Etc, Etc.
But it just isn’t necessary to single out wine blogs anymore. Wine Blogs are here. They are equally valuable as revenue generating wine publications or wine columns in daily newspapers and magazines. They are in fact now equal and beneficial members of the wine media landscape.
While I certainly agree with your premise that the line separating “wine writer” and “wine blogger” is becoming thinner and blurrier, a significant distinction remains: Many bloggers (like me) still have day jobs that have nothing to do with wine. I write about wine in my spare time because I enjoy it. “Professional” writers, therefore have a distinct advantage over us “amateurs”: time. I often think what a luxury it would be able to write (and read) for 6, 8, 10 hours a day. I would hope that given that extra time, my writing would only improve.
Thus, while it is flattering to think of myself as on a par with some of those names you mentioned, bloggers like me are at a distinct disadvantage. It is not much of a reach to say that I would not be considered for an award, much less a finalist, if they were open to all in “wine media”.
While that may seem egocentric (and I guess it is), I think the Wine Blog Awards are a great way to honor (and believe me, I do feel honored) those that sacrifice in order to make the time to write.
I disagree. There are a number of writers that are “bloggers” that have day jobs but who also produce outstanding work on par with the folks that write about wine full time. Alder Yarrow, Dr. Vino, Steve Heimoff, and, though the output isn’t the best, myself.
The point, I think, is the product, not under what conditions the product was created.
While I agree that the product is paramount, the need to classify the participants remains. You mentioned the Olympics. Once professionals were allowed to compete, there is rarely more than the token amateur that makes a team. You also mentioned the Oscars. Although I am not well versed in the history of those awards, I would venture to guess that very few small budget, independent films get the accolades.
I do not think that the inclusion of professionals in wine awards will do anything to further legitimize the blogging platform. There are certainly numerous writers on blogs that are every bit as talented as “professionals” and would perhaps “compete” on a larger stage. However, isn’t the fact that they chose the blog as a platform an indication, at least tacitly, that there is some level of disdain for the more “traditional” platform?
Otherwise put, wouldn’t many of those writers on blogs eschew any comparison to “real” writers?
Tom – thanks for the mention. VERY interesting points you’ve raised here. I agree with my fellow Philly drunkard’s comments above; in the world of wine, vetting by some outside source (like a publication) puts full-time writers at huge advantage in terms of leveraging that to get recognition and the gigs (speaking, etc.) that pay. They won’t be leaving those gigs unless it’s feet-first!
As for the writing, I agree, occasionally we can find excellent content outside of those arenas and on independent blogs (I’m flattered that you consider my ramblings worth mentioning here!). No one has a monopoly on great writing, of course, though having great editors surely increases the potency of the best writing from already uber-talented folks like Jon.
Anyway – best of luck on the WBA!
Oh… forgot to mention… you could probably fit both Jon and me comfortably inside Robert Parker… 🙂