July 22, 2009

Whining about wine: AnnArbor.com watch continues

Looks like the whine to watch for AnnArbor.com is the blogging, especially the wine blogging.

The newness and writing style of It's Just Grape Juice. were examined in a post on Free From Editors.

The closing paragraph raised a concern:
"Apparently the author of this blog is a principal in a company that owns or operates a series of restaurants. Not saying he will, but will the writer slant columns to favor or benefit his own company and who at AnnArbor.com will monitor that? "
Commenters continue the discussion of freebies, transparencies and the challenges of blogging.

On Tuesday, long-time wine blogger Joel Goldberg winds his way through Wine writing's ethical thicket. The post explores some of the issues over on his MichWine, which bills itself as an independent consumer guide to Michigan's wines and wine country.

Followup conversation with Goldberg, who blogs about wine at Ann Arbor Chronicle, reveals his deep knowledge of wine and the ongoing, long time debate on writing about wine.

(Do a deep Internet dive and find Goldberg at Annarbor.com, in old Prodigy wine bulletins, described as a Michigan Wine Warrior and elsewhere. While diving, you're likely to find this ethics discussion dates back to the '90s.

Goldberg tells me the 1990s are "when Robert Parker presided over things on Prodigy, and his ethical example set the gold standard for many of us: wine writers and critics don't accept anything or allow any conflicts to exist, period."

Even Goldberg says that's hard to do, especially without an endless source of money.

In his latest post, Goldberg first recalls a conversation with a colleague who says he's a promoter, not a journalist, who writes about wine. That leads Goldberg to ask:
  1. When readers see a magazine article or wine column with his name attached, how many stop to parse whether the author's role is one of "journalist" or "promoter"?
  2. How many other fields of journalism require the reader even to consider a question like that?
The rest of Tuesday's post on Goldberg's site is on new wine blogger at AnnArbor.com

Goldberg acknowledges that Eric Arsenault, a certified sommelier, "doubtless has the chops to write about wine" in It's Just Grape Juice."

"His ethical standards may be impeccable. But the position he'll occupy -- highly-visible wine writer for a dominant local news outlet -- presents an insurmountable appearance of conflict with the interests and demands of his nicely-paid day job."

Goldberg then shares examples of why he sees AnnArbor.com facing an impossible task of monitoring.

But I remember Gary Vaynerchuk praised as a hero who used "traditional advertising techniques to build his family’s local wine business into a national industry leader" and soared higher by leveraging "social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to promote Wine Library TV, his video blog about wine."

So are most people - those not steeped in the history of tradition of wine journalism, or plain old journalism - willing to let someone benefit from blogging, twittering and relationships so they can benefit from a person's passion and knowledge?

If readers know the possible conflicts because they are openly stated, does that make it OK?

Is it an age thing?

By the way, I hope to write more about Goldberg as the former retail shop owner works toward finishing his working life as a wine journalist. His site is about to under go a transformation. And it will be different to write about someone becoming a journalist for a change.

Updated 7/23/09: Here's a link to the blog on annarbor.com.


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