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Promoting Salubrious Wine Conversation

On the heels of the 1st Annual American Wine Blog Awards, a watershed moment if there’s ever been one for Wine blogs, I read a blurb from writer Tina Caputo in the February issue of Wines & Wines magazine.

In her monthly column of quick hits called Wise & Otherwise, she posits:

I understand the value of a good blog (especially one that’s not afraid to tell it like it is).  What I don’t understand is why professional writers need to have them, too.  It’s not enough for wine columnists to voice their views in print once a month, or in a weekly newspaper; now they also have to reveal their secret, inner thoughts and feelings in a daily blogs.  What can these people say in a blog that they can’t write in their regular print outlets?  I’ll tell you what:  mundane details about what they ate for dinner last night and the bottle of wine they opened.  Yawn.  I’m not blaming the writers for this blogging bombardment—I suspect the must-blog decree is passed down to them from their editors and publishers. —Everybody has a blog!  The kids are going crazy for them!”—If it’s not worth including in your weekly or monthly columns, chances are, it’s not worth writing about.  By the way, I enjoyed a delicious linguine last night with braised veal and a glass of tasty Nero d’Avola.

Interesting perspective, misguided perhaps.  I shouldn’t be surprised that she holds this position; the magazine she writes for doesn’t provide email addresses for their writers, instead referring all inquiries for all writers to the generic email address of .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).  One of the key tenets of blogging is transparency and context—the pen may be mightier than the sword, but in blogging there is never a question of ethics (or shouldn’t be) because motivations are exposed and context is provided. 

As Tim from Winecast.net so eloquently points out in the previous post, Web 2.0 and Wine, the point with blogs is to engage in a two-way conversation.  And while I’m holding strong to my belief that print media isn’t going away anytime soon, what I do agree with is precisely what Tina Caputo gets wrong.  A blog by a professional writer allows that writer to actually engage with their audience as opposed to a one way communication.  It can also be an outlet to do investigative types of things that wouldn’t normally be a part of an editorial mission.  Mark at Uncorked, a writer for the Dayton Daily News, is the master of this approach providing real ancillary value to his print readers.

In another scenario, a blog could be used to provide additional context.

Lenn from Lenndevours has an interesting string of posts dating back to early January that pointedly questioned a New York Times Op-Ed piece written by Lisa Granik that was critical of the New York’s Long Island wine industry.

Essentially what happened is the author of the NYT’s piece, given a large platform, said the Long Island wine business is an ugly baby—she pointed out what she felt were misguided perceptions about the wine, varietals planted, and questionable choices in pricing—basically everything across the board.

Lenn from Lenndevours, a rational advocate for the wines of New York, wrote a response to the Op-Ed piece that refuted, delicately, much of what the she wrote.  Interestingly, Lenn was also able to unearth an article that Granik wrote for another publication that took an entirely different and positive slant on the industry and indicates, at the least, a forked tongue in written form, especially given that the two pieces by the same author were written within 12 the same months.  Lenn’s readers also weighed in with numerous opinions and first hand accounts of the error in perspective or judgment from the author, Granik—including one who pointed out that her full-time profession is for a New York wine distributor, which might skew her judgment.

And, as a third aspect of this scenario, Jeff Miller, a writer for the Long Island Business Times, wrote an analysis of the two pieces between Lenn and his readers and the Lisa Granik piece.  Interestingly, the Long Island Business Times writer never sought direct quotes from Lenn or those that commented on Lenn’s piece, he quoted directly from Lenn’s web site, though siding, generally, with those that defended the Long Island wine industry.

So, coming full circle, back to Tina Caputo’s comments about what purpose a professional writer’s blog serves.  In this entire conversation between Lenn and his readers and the Business Times, the one thing not addressed has been a response from Granik on why or where she was coming from when she wrote a damning piece without much credible evidence to back-up her opinions.  If she had a blog, she could engage in a meaningful conversation with her detractors and provide some context to her opinions and why she wrote what she wrote.  That’s progress, and that’s what blogging can engender—transparency and ethics. 

Tina Caputo might consider doing the same, lest she get caught in the crosshairs of providing an opinion without much support or dubious context.

Oh, and as a side note, in an Editorial footnote appended on February 11, 2007 to the original Op-Ed piece dated January 7th, the New York Time notes:

Editors’ Note: February 11, 2007, Sunday An Op-Ed article on Jan. 7, about Long Island wines, should have mentioned that the writer, Lisa Granik, works for a wine wholesaler that distributes wines from Long Island and other regions.

Undoubtedly, that footnote and correction would not have occurred without Lenndevours analysis of this issue.



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Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (7) |


Comments

On 02/25, Dr. Vino wrote:

Good discussion, Jeff! Another example is Eric Asimov at the NYT. He recently wrote a fascinating piece on collector Park B Smith for the paper. But then used his blog to discuss an amazing chateauneuf tasting in the inner sanctum of the 8,000 sq ft cellar. One of many examples from his blog of good value added. And he engages readers more since there are usually dozens of reader comments on every post.

On 02/26, el jefe wrote:

hi Jeff - One thing about email addresses… in this world where my spam to real email ratio is ridiculous, getting those real emails is key. The system we use at Twisted is to advertise exactly one generic email address on the web that goes to several people. This is the only way we have found to ensure that someone sees real unsolicited email and it doesn’t get trapped by spam filters. The other half is the rule that all replies are CC-ed to the generic address so we know the customer has seen a reply. That’s why you don’t see individual addresses on our web site…

On 02/26, Lenn wrote:

Jeff,

Nice analysis and thanks for using me as an example here.

I think that any journalist or publisher who doesn’t “get” the need for blogs is doomed to become extinct. Actually, I guess “need for blogs” is a bit strong. Perhaps “benefit” or “advantage” are better options here.

But, as Tyler points out, Eric Asimov’s blog is a perfect example of how a professional writer can benefit. I read his blog every day and I’ll tell you one thing—I read his column differently now. There was a time when I thought of Eric as part of the “wine establishment”. You know, the guys up on the 200th floor of some skyscraper in cushy leather chairs drinking $300 wine every day and looking down upon others who can’t do the same.

Was that fair? Absolutely not, but sometimes his NYT column gave me that impression. But, not that I’ve become a big fan of his blog, you get to know the real person behind the column. That’s why I think my blog is more popular than any of my print columns—it’s personal, it’s engaging and it’s a conversation than a dissertation.

That’s what blogs can do for anyone.

I keep waiting (hoping really) that Ms. Granik will comment on my blog or email me. I was serious when I invited her to go tasting with me, but I don’t think she ever will.

Sad really, because it’s far too easy to write something negative in print and then never have to deal with reader reactions. But, maybe that’s a reason for some writers not to blog—they want to be able to say whatever they want without any consequences.

As a blogger first and writer second, I know that anything I write can and probably will be scrutinized, but that is part of the fun. That scrutiny is one of the reasons I love blogging…and one of the reasons that I’ve learned as much as I have about wine, the wine business and the wine world.

On 03/01, Tina Caputo wrote:

Howdy. I just ran across your comments by chance, while searching for fodder for my latest column. Though my column is not in blog form, you can actually respond to me (and other W&V writers) through the .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) address provided. We encourage reader feedback, and even publish responses on our website and in the printed magazine.

I’d like to respond to your comments by saying that I don’t believe that ALL writers’ blogs are worthless—there are always exceptions—but many of them do seem forced. (Tim Goodman said as much in his Chronicle blog, and added that he felt his boss was exploiting him by making him do double the work for the same pay.) If a professional writer must blog, he should have something worthwhile to say, not just be filling up space to appease his employers.

A well-written column should convey the writer’s personality—that’s the point of a column, after all—without requiring a companion blog to show his or her “real” voice. If people read your column week after week and still have no idea of what you think and feel, you’re not doing your job right—or someone above you isn’t letting you do it.

For a great rant on the runaway trend of “interactive” journalism, check out Joel Stein’s column in the LA Times:
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-stein2jan02,0,3287162.column?coll=la-opinion-columnists

cheers,

Tina Caputo
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

On 03/02, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

Hi Tina,

Thanks for commenting.  I understand your point, but if I had to guess, I think most Publishers see a blog as an engagement tool and a hedge against what seems to be declining print readership i.e. a part of the job.  Many journalists, perhaps, see it as incremental work with no additional reward.

I view blogs through the rose colored glasses of being an outlet for my hobby.  That differentation between work and hobby is likely our difference in this conversation.

Nonetheless, many people do it well and I think it adds to the equation and expands reach.

You have now joined Natalie MacLean, W.R. Tish, Jennifer Rosen and other pros that have stumbled across this blog, so I sincerely thank you for paying a visit.

Jeff
http://www.goodgrape.com

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