Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The state of wine blogging examined at 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference

Wine bloggers hard at work at the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference
At the 11th annual Wine Bloggers Conference (this year in Walla Walla, Washington,) a question was posed to a panel of experts: should the name of the conference be changed? On the panel was Tom Wark, the man who created one of the first wine blogs, Fermentation - which he continues to publish today. Tom answered, “Yes.”

In the 2018 online landscape, is “blogger” a qualifier that’s no longer necessary among wine writers?

Tom traced the early development of blogging, when it was looked upon as either “cute” or “annoying” by members of the wine industry. At that point there was a sharp divide between bloggers and journalists. As wine blogging grew, it enabled many voices to compete inexpensively with traditional media. For example, consumers could choose between reading blogger Alder Yarrow or New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov. By 2009-2010, interest in wine blogging hit its peak.    

I started my first blog in 2006, soon followed by this one in 2007.  I recall the "us versus them" dynamic of the aughts. Print journalists declared they had legitimacy (and fact-checking and copyediting) on their side, and bloggers insisted on .... well, our right to exist. We had an alternative viewpoint that made the conversation about wine richer. But even as we attended the same media tastings, wine dinners, and press trips as traditional journalists, we were aware that there were some who questioned our right to be there.  Underdog status pushed many of us to try harder, strive to write better stories, and look for fresh angles. In my own life, the urge to prove myself prompted me to pursue the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) level three certification -- which I was proud to pass with distinction. 

But now, according to Tom, “We’re all members of the wine media.” For him the word “bloggers” in the conference name is a distinction that no longer needs to be made. I’ve been in the blogger community as long as we’ve been having conferences, and I recall when the European Wine Bloggers Conference shifted to the Digital Wine Communications  Conference. It felt right to me, because there always seemed to be a mix of traditional writers and bloggers at that event.

As for this Wine Bloggers Conference -- I can see both sides. I like to be considered as part of a larger group of wine communicators that includes journalists, podcasters, vloggers, and more. But, in my heart, I still embrace the word. There is something bold in it – the fact that no one gave us permission to do this, the very chutzpah it takes to create your own platform for opining about wine. 

Part of me wonders, isn’t being a blogger enough?

Then again, maybe it’s not the word, but the spirit of blogging that I hope is preserved. Because it implies boldness, creativity, and a commitment to sharing one’s vision. As I looked around the crowded ballroom, where many new bloggers had joined the ranks of more seasoned writers, one thing was sure: the passionate drive to write about wine online – no matter what the name -- is alive and well.

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