Michael Wangbickler on August 27th, 2008

Over the last few weeks, a debate has arisen in the wine blogging community regarding blogging and its credibility as an information source. What is the blogger’s obligation to his/her readers? This has all come to a head this last week when a well known winery contacted a group of wine bloggers and asked them to review a new wine. All in all, not an unusual request. Where things take a left turn is that the winery stated that in order to receive the wine, the bloggers MUST write a review and post it within four days.

As a wine PR & marketing professional I also send my client’s wine as samples to journalists and bloggers on a frequent basis. In my experience, there is a kind of unwritten rule that the reviewer will give the sample a fair assessment, but there is NO obligation on their part to publish a review. I would never ask such a thing. I may encourage them to see if I can move them in that direction, but I would never come right out and make it a caveat for receiving the wine. Most journalists, I think, would be offended by the very notion.

So the question for us wine professionals is: How does this affect the credibility of wine blogging in general and how will this affect wine PR moving forward?

A link to the debate can be found on Tom Wark’s blog, Fermentation.

Addendum (8/27 3:14pm): More info on the debate can be found on Steve Heimoff’s Blog and Tim Elliott’s Winecast.

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6 Responses to “Blogging and ethics”

  1. Just wanted to correct some of your facts here. We were sent the wine a couple weeks before the requested posting date. Jeff Lefevere was the agent for Rodney Strong who I don’t think got paid so I would not lump him into the “PR Professional” pool. I thought his request was unusual but agreed because I respect his writing and we have worked together for a couple years. Had Rodney Strong or some random PR person contacted me, I would have refused. Had Tom Wark (a PR professional I know and respect) made the same request, I would have refused because he knows better. Because Jeff is not part of the wine trade echo chamber anymore, I didn’t even think about pushing back (lesson learned).

    This is a single event that will not be repeated. It will not effect blogger credibility because all of us are being completely open in this conversation. I’d like to see Steve Heimoff and James Molesworth make similar disclosures.

  2. Thanks Tim for clarifying the circumstances of this issue. It definitely softens the question of ethics, since it was not driven by the winery but by a fellow blogger. This debate has emerged to be more emotional than I expected.

    Regardless, please understand that I did not mean to impugn on your integrity or that of any of the other bloggers involved in this grand experiment. I’m sure that you had the best intentions, and probably would have agreed to participate myself under the circumstances. Like it or not, however, blogging is becoming more mainstream and continues to exert its influence over people’s wine buying decisions. As such, it will be put under the microscope more and more as the medium evolves. My concern is that this one incident may lead to others and that they may be PERCEIVED as a manipulation of the system. And, as we like to say in public relations: “perception is reality.”

    That said, however, considering the attention this debate has garnered among the wine blogging community, it is unlikely to be an issue moving forward.

  3. No offense taken, Michael. I just wanted to set the record straight. Unfortunately, others are using this situation to advance their own agendas without fully understanding the context or even the facts. Lessons will hopefully be learned on both sides… I certainly learned a ton.


  4. I’ve learned a lot, too.

    Like, for example, some bloggers will totally eat their own to progress their own agenda and will overlook facts, as well as what blog readers care about and find important, in order to do it.

    Not that I’m bitter ;-)

    Having participated, I don’t feel compromised in the slightest…

  5. Thanks for commenting Dude. I appreciate your perspective. It is a great illustration that this is an evolving medium and that we are all still finding our way.

    I also learned a lot. I just hope this doesn’t do irreparable harm to the close knit wine blogging community. I hope we can all learn from this and move on.

  6. Comment repost from Winecast:

    Thanks for clarifying the facts Tim. I have a lot of respect for both Steve Heimoff and Tom Wark. They have both done amazing things to further the cause of wine drinkers. I’m sure they both had the best of intentions with regard to issue. I believe that they were just trying to inform and protect their readership. Unfortunately, in this case it seems they got it wrong.

    I’m locking this post now, since I believe this conversation has played out on other sites. It has become very emotional, and I’d like to encourage people to move on with business as usual. Thanks all for the comments.