Controlling the wine media

I was alerted by an Eric Asimov tweet to an article in the New York Times about the growing tendency of interview subjects insisting on approving quotes before publication.

This is a huge no-no for journalists. One of the rules of journalism is that no one gets shown an article for approval purposes. It just isn’t done.

But people in the news want to control what is said about them. If you are a journalist, you need access to important people in the field that you are covering. In my case, I need access to the leading winemakers, wine scientists, retailers, and so on. I rely on the time-generosity of busy people. They could easily say no. This gives them leverage, which can be abused.

Commonly, people who create the news control who has access to them for interviews and quotes. They can punish those who write things they don’t like by withdrawing that access. Or, as is being reported in the NYT article, it is becoming common to insist on quote approval before granting the interview. That sucks.

As a wine journalist, I come across people trying to control the media all the time. It’s worse when you go through PR agencies or in house PRs, rather than speak to people directly. Many companies clearly have a policy that no communication is released to journalists without being manicured and censored by the comms people. They inevitably take out anything remotely interesting or controversial, and render the quotes so bland that if you used them your article would sound like PR, not journalism.

And then there are the people who just don’t respond. A delayed response or no response at all is a more subtle form of media control: it’s hard to write an article without any quotes.

Of course, journalists have responsibilities too. We need to make sure our quoting is accurate, and that our treatment of stories is fair. We should avoid allowing our agendas to distort the stories we write. If journalists behave unprofessionally in these ways, then they deserve to have their access cut off. And there are occasions where access really has to be limited, and in this case a ranking system of journalists will need to be used. That’s OK.

What disturbs me is a sense of collusion between journalists and those who make the news. A cosy relationship—where a journo gives a nice soft ride to subjects in return for continued privileged access—is death to good journalism. It’s PR.

In the wine industry, there is an ‘establishment’. Many wine journos choose to remain part of this establishment. They don’t rock the boat. They get looked after very well, and they churn out largely comfortable, reassuringly positive stories. If anyone complains about the cosiness of this relationship, then people point out that it’s just wine and that it’s not like reporting politics or business or foreign affairs, as if that somehow makes it acceptable. Yes, I understand that the world isn’t black or white, but it would be great to preserve at least a few different shades of grey.

I respect people who don’t try to control me, and speak to me even though there is a chance they might not like what I write. I am very happy for them to record interviews (if I were a newsworthy person I would tape any interaction I had with a journalist and let them know that I am doing it). But I am not going to show them articles or quotes ahead of publication. And increasingly I am recording all my interviews as well as making notes, just to protect me from claims that I have not quoted someone accurately.

 

14 comments to Controlling the wine media

  • If it’s not video, I’d want to make sure I was quoted correctly. I see no problem with this – unless the subject wants to redact after the fact.
    So, a back up audio recording from which the transcription is made and which can be presented as support of accuracy of a quote is a good way to go.

  • Frankie Cook

    Interesting article Jamie. Would you care to name any of the “establishment” wine journalists?

  • “If anyone complains about the cosiness of this relationship, then people point out that it’s just wine and that it’s not like reporting politics or business or foreign affairs, as if that somehow makes it acceptable.”

    Yes, it’s just wine, so we should treat it with kid gloves and not some journalistic diligence – be it in reporting or in sensory assessment.

    When you look at how much money changes hands from producers down to consumers of wine, then it becomes understandable why 1) these people want to control the message, and 2) objective scrutiny ought to be applied to not only the story telling but to sensory evaluation.

  • Tim Carlisle

    I think that in there you could also include the need for journalists to make sure they include context in a quote. If a person worth quoting says something, part of which on it’s own is controversial, and only that bit gets quoted it’s bad journalism, sensationalism and the fear and reason many people want to make sure they are happy with quotes. Sadly too many of the British press do this.

    If I say something along the lines of ‘Some would say that I don’t believe in Father Christmas’ and then ‘I don’t believe in Father Christmas’ is quoted – that’s wrong but it happens.

  • Tim, I agree. What you describe is also called “gotcha” journalism. We see plenty of it here.

  • Jamie,

    A quid pro quo, access in exchange for saying nice things, will ultimately undermine the credibility of the writer, and hence reduce that value of what is written. In politics this has engendered Fox News and WNBC which no longer are sources for news, simply a strange form of entertainment. But wine is not politics.

    Hold your ground.

  • So how many shades of grey is it you’d like to see preserved, Jamie? 50?

  • Richard

    No constructive thoughts on this topic, Mr Rose?

  • no one gets shown an article for approval purposes. It just isn’t done.

    I often show articles to people, but soley for the purposes of fact checking. Only two people have ever tried to change the thrust of what I wrote – neither succeded, and neither have been visited again. Just too many decent producers out there to worry about such BS…

  • It’s not that journos are queuing up to interview me and that I have to restrict their access to me, but I live in hope :) ha ha!
    Seriously though, if I ever were to be interviewed I’d quite like to see what was written about me and check if the facts were accurate, especially any quotes, and especially if they were in or out of context! This is a big risk for an interviewee, is it not? Even good, widely-respected writers and bloggers are perfectly capable of getting the facts wrong (whether accidentally or deliberately) and of quoting out of context. I could give a specific example but am loathe to do so here in public for fear of re-opening the can of worms in question!
    I suppose the bigger the brand, the bigger the fear of getting bad press, and hence the greater control of access and greater desire for a cosy relationships with journos!

  • I don’t show subjects articles before I publish them, as Jamie points out, it’s not the way journalism works. It is, however, how PR and marketing works. Just sayiin’.

  • You have to look at this issue from a slightly different angle ! After having hosted your visits what percentage of the domaines you subsequently reviewed poorly (or not at all) have subsequently hosted a return visit ?

  • Here in Norway interviewees are shown quotes for approval as a matter of course. Sometimes I have been shown the whole article – sometimes not.

    None of these instances have had to do with commercially sensitive information, or anything that could have been used to further the market success of any product. They have had to do with my academic work or with political matters.

    Once or twice I have had occasion to point out mistakes, which have been corrected. I can’t see what’s wrong about checking the facts. Journalists in newspapers are very rarely experts in all the fields they write about.

  • “Journalists in newspapers are very rarely experts in all the fields they write about.” – …. and yet the shape the public’s understanding and opinions on those subjects….

    Hmmmm….. anyone else see anything wrong with that picture?….

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