03 August 2009

Blue note

[retreating sheep]Anthony Dias Blue apparently didn’t get the memo. The one that says: do not, under any circumstances, pick a fight with your competitors and successors if they have a bigger podium. Some excerpts:

The latest assault on the establishment media by blogger barbarians […] And who are these bloggers anyway and, more important, what is their motivation? […] But the image that presents itself is of bitter, carping gadflies who, as they stare into their computer screens and contemplate their dreary day jobs, let their resentment and sense of personal failure take shape as vicious attacks on the established critical media.

…and so forth, along similarly tiresome and unoriginal lines.

Criticizing the blogosphere, Twitter, etc. is nothing new from the establishment side of wine writing; at least Dias Blue, unlike Robert Parker, didn’t compare bloggers to the Taliban just because they pointed out a few inconvenient truths. And it’s usually a bad idea even when the criticism is justified, because the online world can be rather unforgiving as it piles on. Dias Blue’s complaints were particularly silly, and so he probably deserves everything he’s been getting. Worse, he’s contributing to the very problem he’s attempting to identify (albeit poorly) by helping turn the next generation of consumers of wine information against the self-entitled establishment he’s defending.

But lets not be too hard on the guy. Granted, he has some odd enthusiasms that do deserve opprobrium, but truth be told he’s only saying what an awful lot of wine writers – and in fact journalists across disciplines – are thinking: how, in this emerging world, am I going to make a living?

As I’ve noted before, the way forward isn’t paved with loot for the wine enthusiast who wants to do something other than sell or move boxes around. Not that it ever was, except for a very few top writers, but the future is grim indeed. The bottom (that supported burgeoning writers looking for the first step towards a career) has already fallen out, and it’s taking the intermediate tiers with it. Where will tomorrow’s stars come from? It’s not that we don’t know who the good new writers are – actually, we’re better at identifying them than ever before, thanks to the internet – it’s just that there’s not a whole lot for them to do that’s more than anecdotally compensated. And there’s less opportunity each year. Developing a writer from a level where they’re good enough for a self-published blog to a level where they’re good enough for paid, edited media requires not just practice, but also professional feedback. Successful bloggers probably don’t want to hear this, but it’s the case. And it’s not that many of them wouldn’t pass that test – in fact, the quality of many the new writers is far more impressive than their critics realize – but that they’re not likely to be given the opportunity as venues for those opportunities fall away.

Lacking those avenues for development, the sources for compensation that used to come with advancement remain as problematic as they are in the rest of the failing mediasphere: advertising, as-yet-ephemeral for-pay content, or outright sponsorship. The latter is anathema unless it’s a non-wine entity, and thus we’re back to advertising. How many wine bloggers or deliverers of content in other media don’t have “real jobs” that pay the bills? Ten? Five? Fewer? I hope for change sooner rather than later, and I wouldn’t rule it out, but it seems a long way off.

The best path forward seems to be collation, which is a function of the mass media that is only newly-arrived to the online wine world. But who makes the money in the collation business? Not, as a rule, the creators of the content…which also replicates the mainstream media model, and still doesn’t help the next generation of writers very much.

So amidst the admittedly justifiable savaging of Anthony Dias Blue’s poorly-considered column, lets spare a kind thought. Not for him in particular, but for the onrushing crisis of compensation that he represents. Blogging, tweeting, vlogging, making a little loose change from running ads…this is all well and good for the skilled hobbyist. But professionalism is not to be dismissed, and that’s a stage that will remain largely unreachable unless someone, somewhere, opens a wallet.

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