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01 December 2005

On Blog Ethics & Independence

Dr. V’s comment to me in the recent post explaining how I review wine sparked a few thoughts.  The root of the matter seems to be this:

If a wine blogger accepts advertising or press samples, this my lead to the appearance of impropriety (cough, bribery, cough).

How do the big media wine mags operate?  Of course they exist on advertising, which makes it easy for us, rapscallion wine bloggers to point fingers at them and make snide remarks about certain wine critics’ ethics or integrity.

Guess what?  I don’t care about the big wine media corps.  I care about..

..the conversation.  I care about what Lenn has to say on LI wine.  I care about Alder’s latest wine review.  I get all happy and giddy when I consider that I can praise a wine and have a fellow blogger heartily disagree with me. Big wine media and its coven of critics tell people what to think about wine, but their audience doesn’t get the chance to respond or challenge.  We can discuss/debate/argue all-the-damn day if we like.  We drive the conversation.

Now what about the advertisements popping up on some of my daily reads like Fermentation?  Do I suspect Tom will kowtow to KLWines? Nope.  Do I fear Tom’s content will be co-opted?  I don’t worry at all.

Let’s take the idea of potential corporate blog pollution to the extreme:  Suppose that Big Corporate Winery ‘bought’ a blogger and told her/him to write nice things (AKA marketing baloney) about its wine.  The blog would die.  It would be inauthentic and branded blatantly corporate.  In other words, it would be outed.

Wine blogs are going to change the paradigm. I welcome advertisers; I welcome sponsors.  However, as Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble says, “Any idea that you [the corporation] can control what people are saying about you or your company is totally out the window. The only choice you have now is whether or not to join in the conversation.”

My blog is my voice.  No one will alter it or silence it.  I won’t let them.  And neither will you, you or you.

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Comments

mona

Amen. Love this Beau and agree with you 110%. I am not well-read on the history of this conversation but clearly understand what you're saying. And it totally relates to my restaurant themed blog. I'm doing this for my own creative/writing growth, and for pleasure. I'm not trying to impose my tastebuds on anyone else...just writing what I see, hear, taste, feel, & experience, etc. Some people take what we do way too seriously...

tom

Beau,

We need not worry about your independance. Yet, the issue is something I've thought about quite a bit, given I not only accept advertising, but also represent a number of wineries and work with a number of winery concerns....for pay.

You hit it on the head. A pay-for-coverage model won't work in the blogosphere if your goal is to have an audience. That said, it's pretty important to be upfront about any potential conflicts of intersts. I do this by listing current clients on the blog, and I rarely if ever write about them unless they are part of the story.

No worries...you are safe, Beau.

Emily Weissman

Dead on, Beau. The minute the review is "bought" or inauthentic, it reeks and everyone can smell it from a mile away. And in my opinion, it does as much damage for the wine as for the "wine reviewer", if not more. When we send samples out, we do it knowing full well that the reviewer could hate the wine. What's interesting to us is getting the conversation started, not controlling the direction it goes in.

And here's another thing to consider- all the wines that are tasted at the big (and small) magazines (and newspapers) are sent as freebie tasting samples. In my experience, the sending of samples alone never guarantees it will be reviewed at all, let alone reviewed favorably. And I can assure you that none of them would dissuade me from running an ad if they were listing any of our wines in an article.

Keep on doin' what ya do.
Emily
(Winemonger Imports, and yes, we send samples to magazines and to a couple of bloggers)

Lenn

You KNOW I'm on board with what you're saying. You and I have had several discussions about "ethics and integrity" along this wonderful wine blogging journey.

I accept press samples all the time, though 95% are for my actual press work, not LENNDEVOURS. I review almost all of them though...the good, the bad AND the ugly. Maybe not ALL the ugly, but I've given poor grades to wines I blog about.

I think the blogs I read every day will always stay true to themselves and their readers. You can tell just by reading a few posts if a blogger is telling you the real story. They are engaging, open and really speak to us (me). That won't change.

As for being ad-free or not...I have decided that I'm open to accepting adds on LENNDEVOURS...but I'll NEVER take one from a winery. I'll take samples from them, but they all know that I'll be honest and I think most local wineries respect that. Most, not all ;)

Andrew

Didnt we have a conversation last year about puting SAMPLE against those wines that we received as samples? And didnt we decide that it wasnt worth it?

I think it is doubly true now that many wine blogs have an established voice - regardless of readership numbers - as you say the moment something dubious occurs that voice is gone and the credibility lost. It takes so long to build this up I cant see anyone wanting to lose it so quickly. The voice shines through...

TMac

WOW. Thanks Beau, for being upfront and honest about your reviews. Not that I have ever felt manipulated by your writing, it is just refreshing to have that put out there. I am in the publishing business yet have a deep disdain for "special advertising sections" and refuse to read them because I know how they are created. Blogs are the antithesis of ad sections. Real people talking about what they think. Keep up the good work.

Tyler

Hi Beau,

I'm glad my comments sparked such a fruitful discussion! As various of the posters here have observed, it's a thorny topic but an important one worth revisiting periodically.

One thing that always strikes me about the wine blogosphere is the convivial nature of wine bloggers (maybe wine geeks like socializing?) from blogrolls to various mentions and WBW. Certainly we are looking good in this regard given the big brouhaha among the bigwigs right now.

In vino,

Tyler

beau

Emily - thanks much for providing a unique perspective on this topic. It should be clear to all of us that blogs are now a form of media. Wine samples aren't an implicit bribe - they are simply what wineries/retailers/importers do to try to get the story out about their wine in the media.

Cheers, beau

jens at cincinnati wine

I doubt anyone here is going to slant a review because they got a free bottle of wine. Wine reps sometimes leave bottles and I write them up, sometimes I don't. I mostly buy all my wines, although mostly at wholesale. If a winery shipped a case of expensive wines to me to gather a favorable review, I would disclose the gift and try to fairly evaluate the wine as my reputation is more important than a few bucks. And until one of the bloggers here attains Parkeresque power to drive thousands of cases in sale by appointing a 92 rating on some new wine, I doubt there is much of an ethical dilemna here. But my shipping address is 6611 Madison Road Cincinnati Ohio 45227! I prefer big reds with complex aromas and long finishes!

jens at cincinnati wine reviews for sale

beau

I love it!
Great comment. Ha!

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