Michael Wangbickler on April 23rd, 2009

Bloggers still get no respect.

Bloggers still get no respect.

It has been an interesting week in the blogotwittersphere. Twitter has been abuzz with a debate that started as a question regarding policies at the famous Wine Advocate and morphed into a conversation on wine blogger ethics and credibility.

The beginning of the trail was a story broken by Dr. Vino (a.k.a. Tyler Colman) on April 15th. Colman, author of A Year of Wine and Wine Politics, posted an account of correspondence between Mike Steinberger, wine columnist for Slate magazine, and Mark Squires, who moderates the forum at eRobertParker.com. Steinberger had written a story on the Australian wine industry, to which Squires took exception and accused Steinberger of selecting “biased” retailers for the story on the forum. A very acerbic email exchange ensued between the two parties, which Colman posted to his blog. Basically, Squires questioned Steinberger’s journalistic ethics.

Colman then posted a follow up on April 16 in which he describes an email exchange he has with Jay Miller and Robert Parker himself. Colman had some questions regarding the Wine Advocate policy and indirectly questioned their ethics, based on information that Miller and Squires had accepted press junkets. Here is an excerpt:

I’m curious how these actions square with the policy in the Wine Buyer’s Guide, which reads in part: “It is imperative for a wine critic to pay his own way. Gratuitous hospitality in the form of airline tickets, hotel rooms, guest houses, etc., should never be accepted either abroad or in this country…In order to pursue independence effectively, it is imperative to keep one’s distance from the trade. While this attitude can be interpreted as aloofness, such independence guarantees hard-hitting, candid, and uninfluenced commentary.”

The recent actions of Squires and Miller have left me wondering: Has there been a change in policy for The Wine Advocate reviewers? If so, have you disclosed that to your readers? What is now allowed?

Neither Parker, nor Miller, responded in a way that satisfied Colman. So, he continued to press.

Apparently, Colman touched a nerve because Parker made a post on his forum referring to some wine bloggers as “extremists [that] could care less about the truth” and that “invent stories that are totally untrue and easily proven as such”. He followed that up with a post yesterday, in which he questions the integrity of attendees to the Wine Bloggers’ Conference and call wine bloggers ‘blobbers’ “since they are the source of much of the misinformation, distortion, and egegious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon on the internet”. He also accuses them of not checking their facts or investigating as journalists. Interestingly, he then goes on to make false statements about the conference.

Today, Colman posted a follow up defending his position.

But journalism is precisely what I’ve been doing all along. I went to Parker and Miller with legitimate questions and they were evasive. I spoke with Wines of Argentina and the truth came out. That’s called journalism. Instead of lashing out with invective (”extremists” or “jihadists” or eliding wine bloggers with the Taliban) at me and others who have raised very legitimate issues, Parker should take this episode as indicative of the respect he commands and the seriousness with which the wine community takes the ethical standards he established long ago.

Needless to say, there are wine bloggers, such as Lenn Thompson, Tim Elliott, and Joel Vincent (founder of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference) who take exception Parker’s comments. In a Twitter conversation I had with each, Elliott feels that Parker is off-base and Vincent feels that Parker has an opportunity to “help lead the blogging community or get replaced by it. Its up to him.”

It will be interesting to see how things settle out. Will the Wine Advocate become less relevant over time? What will happen when Robert Parker is no longer around? Will bloggers be able to convince the establishment that they are serious journalists? Will a code of blogger ethics eventually emerge? Does anybody care?

Time will tell.

Additional Reading:

Joe Dressner

Mark Fisher

Hardy Wallace

Craig Camp

Alan Kropf

Richard Smith

Arthur Przebinda

Steve Heimoff

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6 Responses to “No Respect… Blogger Ethics… AGAIN?”

  1. Maybe we get no respect because we spend so much time talking about ourselves… :-P

  2. Yes, Joe, but it’s a good conversation.

  3. Hey Michael,

    Nice post! Will be to see interesting were this all leads. Perhaps Parker and Dr Vino will end up as good friends like 1WineDude and Steve Heimoff :)

    This debate is important, but what is not right is RP attempt to take down the entire blogger community because he does not agree with the postings of an individual.


  4. You have a point Joe. What did you call it, “navel gazing”? Perhaps we should all just agree to disagree and quit sniping at each other. That includes RP.

    Tuba: I wouldn’t go as far as to say that RP is attempting to “take down the entire blogger community”. He clearly has issues with wine bloggers, but I don’t think it is a concerted attempt to kill wine blogging altogether.

  5. I certainly understand Joel’s outcry at the RP comments, since WBC and OWC were singled out in the thread on eBob and he deserves the opportunity to set the record straight.

    As for RP being against blogs in general, this is taken from the same thread on eBob:

    “passion can be a great asset,but it can be dangerous as well…the Taliban has passion is just one example…BTW….we have a blog…Lettie Teague …and there are bloggers I enjoy …Vinography comes to mind immediately…so it is not so much an anti-blogging position… just anti irresponsible bloggers…”

    The questionable tastefulness of the Taliban comparison aside, I’m sure RP is not dismissing all blogs. But I’m just amazed that people on eBob (including RP) would consider blogging a) a coordinated attempt at undermining print media, or b) a substitute as a reference for collectors of ultra high-end wine.

    Herding Cats doesn’t even begin to describe what it’s like to coordinate a large number of independent bloggers to do *anything*.

    And there are many, many wine blogs – probably well over 98% of them – that don’t even touch the core market of TWA.

    The insularity of that thinking is simply striking.

  6. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if/when the Wine Advocate and blogging communities overlap. Right now it seems they are so far apart that the debate is a lot like a snowball fight with two sides lobbing stuff from afar. Time will indeed tell.

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