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The Attributes of Wine Bloggers

Dave McIntyre experiences the recent Wine Blogger’s Conference and reaches conclusions about “whine” bloggers, calling them self-absorbed and amateurish.

OK, he didn’t use either one of those words. But his four attributes of wine bloggers include a tendency to write more about themselves than wine, a sense of entitlement, and a herd mentality. So I’m thinking “self-absorbed and amateurish” kind of distills those down to their essence.

I, personally, think its hard to generalize about a group as large as wine bloggers. As of the last census, there were about 10 million wine bloggers in the United States, fascinating the world every single day with their accounts of whatever they drank last night, whether it was a free sample, something they bought, or something they stole from a convenience store by stuffing it under their skirts and waddling out the front door. Of that 10 million wine bloggers, it’s axiomatic that most aren’t going to be interesting, because most people aren’t interesting. We should not be surprised that the very same people we find tedious in grocery store lines are equally tedious after they open a Word Press account to explain why they chose sparkling Shiraz for their 17th anniversary dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.

I’m about to say something here that I would never have imagined myself, a professional writer for an appalling number of years, saying. When I say it, I will experience physical pain, because it goes against everything I believe and everything I’ve ever screamed in spittle-flecked rage while while throwing pencil holders or the A.P. Stylebook across newsrooms and offices.

In any discussion of why wine blogging sucks — and it does, with rare exception — keep in mind that blogs don’t have editors.

There, I said it. It hurt me, but it’s true: editors have a purpose, and that purpose is to prevent the pathologies that, as McIntyre notes, make wine blogs as a whole uninteresting and wine bloggers as a species infuriating.

Fact is, most writers need cynical task-masters looking over their shoulder and calling them on their bullshit. Without them, we turn into…well, into wine bloggers, apparently. Let’s go down McIntyre’s list:

Most wine bloggers write about themselves more than about wine. The reason for this is that writing about other things takes work. If no one tells you you’re not interesting, you might begin to imagine that you are, and its easy to write about yourself. When I was a young writer, I had an editor who announced to the whole newsroom that he would cut my pay $5 a week every time I used the word “I” in an article. (He also told me I used too many adjectives.) Since I was being paid $125 a week, $5 had an impact. If wine bloggers had editors, you can bet there’d be a lot less writing about wine bloggers and more writing about wine.

Many bloggers have an oversized sense of entitlement. Editors have rules against all the things wine bloggers feel entitled to. There are rules against accepting gifts, trips, hotel accommodations, special treatment, meals, souvenir t-shirts, or letting the subject of an article buy you a drink. I had an editor ream me out three different ways for eating the meal placed in front of me at a testimonial dinner I was covering. He thought it would have been better if I had left it untouched or — better still — rudely and loudly refused it. I understand it’s not possible to cover the wine business without taking a few of the freebies that would give real journalists the vapors, but a few rules imposed from above might keep bloggers from asking, as one publicist recently recounted, for six bottles of every wine to be reviewed.

Bloggers have a herd mentality. First of all, humans have a herd mentality. It’s one of the ways we navigate the unsafe world around us; we stay where there are others of our kind in the hope that they’ll get eaten first. A demanding editor breaks that herd by demanding something different from his or her underlings. I had an editor who compared my coverage with the wire service’s, and if mine didn’t have something extra she wondered aloud why she was paying me when she could just use the wire story. Go through that a few times and you start looking for a different angle on every story.

So here I am doing two things that I don’t generally do: I’m defending wine bloggers (at least as much as “they don’t know any better” constitutes a defense) and I’m doing it by admitting that editors have some reason to exist.

Oh, good lord how far have I fallen?

Not far enough, apparently, to stop writing about myself. That’ll be five bucks.

Hat Tip: Wine Curmudgeon.


17 Comments

  • Tammy Colson

    Well, thanks to Dave McIntyre, I’ve found another interesting wine perspective, and this one from some old stomping grounds – I lived in “louie-ville” in the 80′s.

    Having poured at the Other 46 at #WBC11 – Ohio wine, its sometimes heart wrenching to live in the midwest and love wine.

    You are now in my reader!

    tammy

  • Wine Curmudgeon

    This is what we battle against every day at DrinkLocalWine.com, Tom, and which you saw first hand. Wine is so much fun; I’ll never understand why people who profess to love wine don’t want to try something new. So what if it isn’t any good? How much of the wine do we drink every day is like that?

  • Nick

    I found this to be a very insightful post. Thank you. Editing is so very helpful if your aim is quality output. In my mind I see it like how a time-trial cyclist cannot see their own posture on the bike. You need to look at something from the side to see its form. Good read here. I think you could expand this to a series of posts. Might not make you more friends. :-)

  • 1WineDude

    I do NOT have a herd mentality! I just decided to comment here because those other people did! Say… can I have your $5?

    ;-)

  • Joe

    You’re so right! (damn, is that herd mentality?)

    The only argument I ($5) can muster: is a blog that “writes about the wine” any less personal and self-centered, considering the subjectivity in individualism of taste? And I ($5) know that not all “writing about the wine” boils down to tasting notes, but I ($5) throw it out there as what seems to be the lowest common denominator of wine blogs… for lack of a better description, as I ($5) surmise most of us ($5) started out with posts littered with tasting notes.

    Rats. $25 down the tubes…

  • Mitch Brenner

    There are 10 million wine bloggers? That seems like WAY too many. Do you have a source to back that up?

  • Benito

    Self-editing is possible, but it requires a peculiar combination of discipline and schizophrenia. I always write drafts and revisit them two or three times before publishing. What was amusing at midnight on Tuesday might just seem stupid Thursday morning. If you go back and rewrite a few problem sentences, you have to step away for a bit and then return to make sure that you haven’t screwed up subject-verb agreement or tangled up your tenses.

    I once had a fantasy idea about an editing and support service for winebloggers. Posts would go through the editor before publication to ensure quality of prose and images, and a PR staff would work with wineries to match the right samples to the right blogger. Not everything under one roof like Palate Press, but more a way to improve and promote individual blogs. Of course, nobody brings in enough money to make this work, and it removes a lot of the autonomy that bloggers cherish.

  • Kathy

    As you pointed out, Tom, wine bloggers tell everyone that there is no money in writing a blog and it appears that is true. Like publishers, bloggers want to cut costs. Unlike publishers, bloggers also write. (Yes, I know there is a world of opinions on that sentence but not now, not here).

    A blog without an editorial policy and an editor enforcing it raises practical and ethical problems. Not necessarily for the blogger, but for the reader.

    Whatever position a publisher (blogger) wants to take, be consistent. I don’t care if a blogger accepts advertising, ignores copyright, takes free trips to Australia sells extra free samples online or creates a unique grape name style sheet (do you really want to put an umlaut on Alsace Gewurztraminer?) and starts every sentence with “I”, but I do want to know somebody thought it through. (Don’t make a Murdoch of it.)

    Dearest wine bloggers, keep writing, don’t whinge and please do what Tom says: find an editor. Editors, those “cynical taskmasters,” have amazingly good gut instincts about faked facts, errors, and lazy and even brilliant writing.

    So do readers.

  • Tom Johnson

    Mitch –

    “10 million” is an obvious exaggeration done for comedic purposes. Apparently, it wasn’t as comedic as I thought. You will, if you return, that lots of my jokes are like that.

  • Tom Johnson

    Benito and Kathy –

    Thanks for the comments. I think the editor’s function is critical, and most writers perform it at least a little on their own work. In my case, the key variable is time — I can be a pretty ruthless editor of my own work a week after writing it. Blogging is immediate however.

    Its always good for a writer to have a bullshit-proof friend commenting on their work. Good commentors help, though they tend to react to ideas rather than writing. Still, voices of productive criticism are as valuable as voices of praise.

    Thanks for the comments.

  • Tom Johnson

    Joe –

    The beauty of blogs is that anyone can do whatever they want, and if you don’t like what they do you don’t have to read them. I’m not sure, in that environment, there are a lot of hard and fast rules. Wine is subjective, but so is nearly everything else.

    Starting here there were four paragraphs of deep lit-crit theory that I deleted in favor of saying this: there aren’t any rules that can’t be broken by a writer with the right voice. As much as I (perhaps hypocritically) complain about self-absorption, one of my favorite wine blogs is Samantha Sans Dosage. Her reviews of wine are fantasist meanderings that deal almost not at all with the wine, focusing entirely on her reaction to the wine. Lots of people do that; it’s just not many do it well. Samantha hits over .500, which is Hall of Fame caliber. Of course, it helps that she’s a girl. She can sex things up and no one gets grossed out the way they would if I were to do that.

    Jeez, I hope she doesn’t read this.

  • Thomas Pellechia

    I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I.

    I’m remembering the return of a manuscript that was desrtined (unedited typo) to become a memoir but became a manuscript that rests somewhere in the depths of my computer.

    My agent sent it back without a word, except that he highlighted in yellow every use of “I’.

    I got the message–I think.

  • Tom Johnson

    Agents. Ugh. That a whole other subject. I’ve already defended editors; that’s enough for one day.

  • Joe

    I adore Samantha and her blog. Writing’s got a ton of soul (and yes, not many can pull it off like her).

    There are tons of blogs out there, and I think it’s only natural that we all tend to gravitate towards the ones that speak to us. Sans Dosage is definitely one of those for me. That said, I think it’s wonderful that there are blogs speaking to all types of people. What I like and don’t like may mean little to another wine lover. As long as certain voices are hitting certain people, the zealous evangelism of wine is working on the interwebs.

  • Samantha Dugan

    Well Tom, I have in fact read this and I can say, from the bottom of my heart….you humble me with such praise. Thank you so much love. Oh and I have to agree, having hoots does in fact help…

  • Kathy

    Love reading you both. Bonne continuation. And with every word, bon courage.

  • Tom Johnson

    Thanks, Kathy. You’re my favorite.