jamie goode's wine blog

Thursday, May 14, 2009

LIWF, final day: the future of wine journalism

Day 3, LIWF. Took part today in a panel on the future of wine writing, organized by Catherine Monahan of Clink Wines. The panel was pretty hardcore, with Mike Paul, Angela Mount, Chris Murphy, Robert Joseph and Richard Siddle.

I normally shudder at the thought of anything with the word 'future' in the title, but I accepted the invitation, partly out of curiosity. And the discussion was pretty good. It was broad-ranging in scope, covering all manner of topics from social media, newspaper columns, the level of influence wine journos have and the wine merchant's perspective. It focused mainly on mainstream wine. I think Catherine will be doing something with the film of the session, so those who missed it will be able to hear what was said.

Here are some of my random thoughts on the topic, with some thoughts about what it might take to become a wine journo today.

1. What is a wine writer anyway? There are currently a number of people making a successful living out of words and wine, and they seem to be following different models. There's the wine critic model: Robert Parker et al, selling essentially reviews of specific wines. Then there are broadsheet wine journalists, whose primary activity is a newspaper column (Tim Atkin, Anthony Rose). Then there are book authors, whose chief focus is writing wine books (e.g. Tom Stevenson, Hugh Johnson). We mustn't forget broadcasters, either, or people who write articles for trade and consumer magazines. Bea in mind that there are many hybrids out there: people who do a bit of this and a bit of that. There's no one job called 'wine writing'. Jancis Robinson is notable because she spans everything from books to TV to twitter, and is making a great success of using all these different communication tools effectively.

2. I love newspapers and I am glad to have a newspaper column. But newspapers are not doing well financially, and so if your business model relies on getting a newspaper column that will give you a sizeable chunk of your necessary income, then forget it. In the old days you'd get a proper contract and a decent wadge of cash (equivalent of 25-40 K) if you landed a broadsheet wine column. But things have changed. The last two columns to change hands were Victoria Moore taking over from Malcolm Gluck at The Guardian (she's excellent, but does her column in addition to her day job as features writer for The Daily Mail), and Bob Tyrer taking over from Joanna Simon at The Sunday Times (he's a senior manager at the paper and will do the wine column in his spare time).

3. TV trumps everything, still. Especially national TV. One of the reasons Oz Clarke can charge an enormous day rate is because he is in a league of his own in that he's the only wine writer to do regular national TV, and he does it well. Olly Smith has come from nowhere in recent years to be one of the top UK wine journos simply because he's done quite a bit of telly, and he does it very, very well. If a proper celeb took an interest in communicating about wine they'd be catapaulted forwards to the front of the wine writing queue. TV is just so powerful as a medium.

4. So you want to be a wine writer? Not a problem. You need to start by building your own audience. Don't rely on other people and other media platforms the internet has provided all of us with our own soap boxes. We can all build a tribe of followers. If you have to ask me how, you aren't ready to start, and you clearly don't need it enough to make a success of it.

5. You need to have unshakeable self belief. Now I reckon there's a difference between self-belief and arrogance, and that it's possible to be humble (a good thing) and yet believe that you're better than most of the other guys/girls out there. You have to have absolute confidence in your tasting ability, and also (perhaps more importantly) in your ability to communicate effectively.

6. Don't use your elbows. It is competitive out there the queue of prospective wine writers is long buy play nice. The negative energy generated by worrying about the competition and behaving selfishly outweighs any benefit it may bring you. Others higher up in the food chain will likely be nice to you and give you help; make sure that you don't forget to help those around you in turn. Make sure you pay back into the favour bank, and don't just withdraw from it.

7. Is this what you were 'made for'? Is your skill set best suited to this activity? Do you enjoy it enough that putting in silly hours is going to be sustainable?

8. Who is your audience? Aim too low, and there simply won't be people motivated enough to read your work. Aim too high, and you'll be writing for very few. TV is a good way to reach low involvement consumers, especially when there's interest other than just the wine. So are lifestyle magazines. A mistake is to aim for high involvement consumers (for example, by charging a subscription for content) and then deliver consumer-level reviews about mainstream wines.

9. Find your own voice. Don't assume that what has worked for others will also work for you. You are unique. There's an authentic voice that only you possess, and you need to find it. It's the innovators and risk takers who are likely to get the attention in what is a crowded field.

That's enough for now. It really is a broad subject.


Friday, April 03, 2009

Communicating about wine: the way forward

[Thinking out loud]

The old model (1):

Vertical communication. Expert shares information with consumers. A bit like teacher in front of the class. One way transfer of information. Medium: magazine articles, books, newsletters.

The new model (2):

Horizontal communication. Writer is on a journey and takes others with them. Conversations, with dialogue between writer and reader. Medium: blogs, social networking, some websites (although you can have a website that works along the lines of the old model).

In the new model, the writer acknowledges that some readers will have more expertise than them in some areas. It removes the distance between the writer and the reader, and is a more open, honest and interesting way of communicating about wine.

Does this mean books and magazines are dead? No, there will still be a place for them, but I think the style of writing will have to change. The vertical transfer of the expert's knowledge to the reader is going to diminish in importance and appeal.

At the moment, I think we're in transition. Many readers are used to model (1) and so publishers using this model will still find an audience...for now. But it will be a shrinking audience. The challenge for commercial publishers will be to adapt their revenue stream to fit model (2).


Sunday, April 27, 2008

The future of wine writing?

Mike Steinberger, a US wine writer who I rate highly, has just written a piece for the excellent World of Fine Wine titled 'Everyone a critic: the future of wine writing'. It's a good article, and for the time being at least is available as a free pdf on the WOFW website. Whaddya think?


Monday, June 18, 2007

Deadlines and inexpensive Portuguese

If you fancy being a winewriter - or a writer of any kind, for that matter - one of the things you have to learn to live with, and be ruled by, is the deadline. I've always had a simple attitude to deadlines, and it goes something like this. You keep them. While it may not seem very rock 'n roll, and it makes me sound like the smug kid who always handed his homework in on time, I realise that I need editors more than they need me, so I'll do all I can to keep them happy. Along those lines I try never to renegotiate deadlines (which is pretty much the same as not meeting them) unless absolutely necessary. I don't know whether my fellow winewriters feel the same; I don't really want to know, because sticking to deadlines is hard work and it's a good habit to keep.

I've said all this because I've just been working past midnight to try to stick to a tight deadline for a book project I'm involved with, and it looks like I'll be a day late. I feel bad about this, but it's an unusual project, and fitting the brief involved has taken much longer than I suspected.

Two wines sampled tonight. Both inexpensive, both from Waitrose, and both from Portugal. Sogrape's Duque de Viseu Dao 2002 comes from a dodgy vintage. It's dry, a bit earthy, a bit spicy and showing some evolution. There's a pleasing savouriness, together with a bit of sweet warmth. A good food wine without any rough edges, but it's fading fairly fast. Pleasant enough drinking now, though.

Altano 2004 Douro is a fairly supple, midweight style, that speaks (or rather mutters) its Douro origins without really exciting at all. There's a savoury, herbal edge to the red and black fruits, and it sort of clamps down quickly on the finish. This is a wine that would perform well with food, but on its own it comes across a little ungenerously. Mind you, at this price (4.99) I'd take it in preference to just about any similarly priced branded wine. The 2005 Altano, recently tasted, is a real step up in quality.
These aren't great wines, but 10 years ago their equivalents would have been much worse. Portuguese wines are evolving fast - it's a country wine nuts should keep their eyes on.

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