I struggled with this month’s topic for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC35)—a challenging topic (“Eclipse”), certainly, but it is often difficult assignments that cause one to reflect the most.
As I embark on a trip to Bordeaux (and after having just returned from Sicily), I realize that I am fairly fortunate. I have been invited to some wonderful parts of the world and have tasted some magnificent wines because I write a wine blog with a rather silly title. I like to think that those experiences have come about from the attention that I afford my writing (as well as at least a modicum of talent), but perhaps that is just an effort to massage my already prodigious ego.
Press trips generally take a familiar pattern: usually a handful of writers are shuttled around a region often to several different wineries in a day. The pace can vary, but inevitably a considerable amount of time spent in a van, chatting with the other writers to pass the time during the drive.
On my first few trips, the attendees were almost all bloggers—people like me, who did not write full-time; all had “real jobs” and blogged about wine as a hobby (with differing levels of commitment).
More recently, for some reason, almost all my trips have been with professional writers, that is writers who depend upon their writing to pay their rent (along with everything else). While those van trips also include the same irreverent banter that defined those blogger-only trips, professional writers tend to talk much more about their craft—specifically the apparent never-ending quest to find paying gigs.
Notice I did not say “good-paying” gigs—it seems to be difficult to find outlets that pay at all let alone well. In fact, I have been privy to many conversations where professional writers are looking for any type of situation that might help with their increasingly shrinking bottom line.
“I heard a tech magazine on the Lower East Side is looking for a part-time editor, it is obviously not wine-related, but the pay is good ($15-20/hour), and you can do most of the work from home. It is not glamorous, but every bit helps, right?”
That statement (more or less verbatim) was made by one free-lance writer to another, and between the two of them, they have been published in some fairly heady publications (Forbes, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, USA Today, Somm Journal, just to name a few).
On another trip, a fairly well-respected writer intimated to me that she is considering giving up writing about wine altogether and focusing on another aspect of her varied portfolio since wine writing had become just “too difficult to make work.”
Had these been isolated incidents, I would have likely dismissed them as aberrations, peculiarities, unique to the personalities involved. But I have heard similar lamentations on each of my press trips for at least the last two years.
Why is this happening?
Certainly, the steady decline of print media in general has played a significant role; outlets that once paid several dollars (or more) per word are now paying mere pennies on the dollar. With the increased interest in wine in the U.S., there has also, no doubt, been an increase in the number of players in the wine writing field.
What role, though, have wine bloggers played in the demise of wine writing? Have bloggers eclipsed professional journalists in the collective mind of the public relation firms who are significant players in this sphere?
Imagine you work for a PR firm and you are organizing a press trip, which of the following is more appealing to you?
- A freelance writer who has a fairly attractive track record publishing in respected outlets, but is not a significant player in social media. At best, you can hope for one article in an online “magazine.”
- A blogger with a sizeable following and a noted social media presence. You can expect several tweets and Instagram posts, as well as multiple stories on his blog.
Which one would you choose? For me at least, that is not an easy answer. With the freelance journalist, you might have a shot at a placement in a prestigious, or at least popular publication, but it is far from a guarantee. The blogger on the other hand is almost definitely going to put the product(s) in front of some eyeballs.
So, here is my last question: Are bloggers, who are working for free (usually), taking work away from professional journalists and therefore, in at least some respects, contributing to the demise of wine journalism writ large?