Fiona Beckett, in The Guardian, is the latest wine writer to opine on winewriter ethics.
I like Fiona – but find this piece a little annoying. There’s the totally unnecessary line about ‘and bloggers’, which Ryan Opaz correctly picks up on in the comments. And it also follows the general tone of ‘some people do this [no names], but I don’t.’ Any admission of guilt is of the sort where you think that she’s really not guilty of anything at all.
She talks about writing for supermarket magazines. I know two young talented writers who have recently started doing this. And I don’t think they’ll be biased to the offerings of these supermarkets when they write elsewhere. Probably the opposite. Young wine writers need to start somewhere, and newspaper columns are hard to come by.
Beckett’s piece doesn’t focus on the fact that they two key aspects in this discussion are trust and disclosure. You trust a writer to be independent despite friendships with producers, press trips, even hospitality, if you trust that writer in the first place. The proof is in the results – what they write. And disclosure maintains that relationship.
In these sorts of debates, it’s best not to wave accusations in a general direction. Be specific if you refer to a behaviour you consider inappropriate. I find the UK wine writers an amazingly honest bunch on the whole. I’ve gone public on people who I think are muddying the water for others by their behaviour.
I don’t see the need for a code of conduct such as that of Robert Parker and his team. This is admirable, but it’s so strict that some of his team members can’t stick to it all the time, and they’re as honest as the day is long. I certainly couldn’t stick to it.
Generally speaking, the system is self correcting. Anyone high enough up in the pecking order to merit lavish hospitality, or with the clout to command back-handers, generally has too much to lose from writing a skewed or dishonest piece, or taking the cash. It will be obvious to all. People who have sailed too close to the wind have eventually lost their reputations. And anyone low on the pecking order may have less to lose but simply won’t merit bribes or favours.