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How Do You Choose Your Information Sources?

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 8, 2008 3:32pm ET

A couple months back, during an energetic debate in our online forums, I made the following statement regarding the blogosphere:

"This is the problem with the 'blogosphere'. It's a lazy person's journalism. No one does any real research, but rather they just slap some hyperlinks up and throw a little conjecture at the wall, and presto! you get some hits and traffic..."

The statement was in response to the way in which things are too-often reported on the Internet. Rather than each blogger doing their own journalistic research and getting their own information directly from the source, I find they often simply pass along already-published information, without factchecking it, signing off on it as if it were (almost) their own.

Following that comment, I was excoriated in a number of blogs for making what was deemed an overly broad and dismissive comment—and one that was construed as particularly hypocritical considering I have my own blog. Many of them missed the point I was trying to make.

I've had long conversations with folks about what they consider 'blogging' to be, and what they wished it would be. I prefer to use the blog to pass along hard information, about new domaines, new wines and such. (You can read my mission statement from my first blog post here.)

In addition, the harvest blogs we've included recently, written by winemakers in the throes of picking grapes, is exactly the kind of hands-on, first person information I want to read about.

In contrast, blog posts about wine within the context of my personal life are, to be honest, not my favorite posts to write. I do understand that many folks enjoy reading more personal entries. But still, I wrestle with them all the time.

So what brought this to the forefront for me? I read a quote from CNN's Christiane Amanpour, an experienced and top-flight international news correspondent. In response to a question from The Huffington Post on how she viewed bloggers abroad versus those in the U.S., she said:

"I think that in the West sometimes blogging is an excuse for sitting back and just commenting on life as it passes by and putting out your opinions on what is happening. Sometimes those are interesting, but not always. And the truth of the matter is I do not believe, no matter how sophisticated the delivery platform, I don't [think] there is a substitute or should there be a substitute for professional journalism, which comes with training, with experience, with credibility, with developing trust based on the accuracy of your record in the field. I think that is an absolute must. That must stay with us so that people have an accurate and objective reference point for their information."

Funny, this very blog could be argued as having fallen into the trap that both Amanpour and I feel that many blogs have become, but I would still like to raise the following questions, while keeping them focused strictly in terms of wine, of course.

How do you vet and subsequently choose what wine information sources you use? Are wine blogs important to you, and what do you like or dislike about wine-related blogs?

Eugene Kim
Houston, TX —  December 8, 2008 7:18pm ET
When it comes to wine scores or reviews, I will always back check the facts and read the reviews for myself. These blogs, in general, are fun ways for the common people to enter a dialogue with those in the business, and for these common people to throw in their two cents from time to time. I, for one, do not pretend to know as much as the professionals, and I use these blogs to learn and educate myself based on opinions - I do not use the blogs so much for my source of facts. Keep up the great blogging James - I have always found you to be fair and honest.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  December 8, 2008 7:39pm ET
James, I find your blogs very useful in ferreting out new (to me) sources of fine wine. You have exhibited journalistic integrity since I began reading WS years ago, so your blogs carry more gravitas than others in the wine world. Blogs are an important albeit limited source of information for me. I prefer published reviews weighed against laymen reviews from sites like CellarTracker. I have identified and calibrated my palate to that of a number of professional and amateur reviewers, thereby allowing me to quickly determine whether that big score from WS (or any other publication) is going to yield a big score in my own journal. I'm a much more sophisticated buyer as a result. I take just enough risk in my purchases to be pleasantly surprised or slightly disappointed on occasion, and that works for me.
Brad Coelho
New York City —  December 8, 2008 8:14pm ET
For me James, it's an open diary w/ a singular focus. I share my experiences w/ a little personal flair, passion and try to relay an objective fact or two along the way. I'm by no means a journalist, nor do I claim to be- just a wine fanatic w/ a particular palate and open-minded vision. I spend an unhealthy amount of time devoted to my passion and pass a few tidbits along the way. Some people dig it...and if others don't, they don't read it :) Free speech is a wonderful thing...but it is up to the listener to filter out their sources. The internet has inundated its visitors w/ everything under the sun, w/ aspiring authors coming as quickly as they¿re going. Hopefully the ones that stick around are still there because of their abilities, accuracy and charisma. Entertainment will entice the eyes to look, but in terms of longevity, hopefully readers will determine who stays in a responsible, critical fashion.
Claude Pope
Raleigh, NC —  December 8, 2008 8:39pm ET
I read Spectator (of course) both print and on-line and enjoy the blogs. I also read Decanter (print and on-line), and occasionally surf other wine-related blogs out there - and there are many. If a story makes headlines in all of the major wine journals, then it's probably true, such as the 2008 harvest report for Bordeaux, or the legal troubles for italian exporters. I also enjoy reading and digesting Neil Monnen's QPR Wines (now called the Wine Blue Book) for a strictly numerical analysis of prices and scores. It is by far the most unbiased reporting of price/value in the industry. I use the Wine Blue book to find great scoring bargains, along with wine-searcher.com to source the wines.Regarding what I like or dislike in the blogosphere, I don't like to hear political discourse in a wine blog, and I don't like reading about personal pet peeves. Sometimes a blogger will have a negative restaurant experience. However, blogging about such could have a devastating effect on the restaurant, especially if it's a well respected writer such as yourself, and in the interest of fairness, the restaurant really has no way of responding to such an attack or criticism (I'm not a restauranteur). Certain writers/bloggers must be cognizant of their ability to move a market or affect public opinion, and the words you use can have serious consequences.
John Danby
Napa —  December 8, 2008 11:55pm ET
Interesting post, at a time where we see more and more bloggers (not associated with traditional media) demanding to be taken seriously. As a boomer trying to figure out what all this social media means to my generation, I've been surfing around various wine blogs to see what there is to see.

One thing I'd like to note is your comment about bloggers throwing up links to other sites in what appears to be a fairly random manner. This is highly popular in the blogosphere, sort of a "you link to me, I'll link to you". Many search engines use such "referrals" in their ranking algorithm.

Certainly a challenge is to figure out which blogs, if any, really have any merit. I channel through an "old media" source to find out which new media might be worth viewing. Winebusiness.com has a daily page with links to both news articles and what they feel are interesting blogs; it's a nice place to start, given the great number of wine-related blogs out there.

Like Troy, I've already benchmarked my vinous likes and dislikes against those of mainstream (print) reviewers, so I have no reason to start over. What I do find interesting are blogs that have been around long enough and have generated sufficient credibility to have access to some interesting news tidbits. Vinography.com comes to mind as a good example.

Interesting reading is also found at Steve Heimoff's blog, as he frequently comments on wine blogger activities (and missteps), followed immediately by the great huzzahs of the millenial bloggers reacting to perceived disrespect.

So while crusing blogs to see what might be up and relevant, as a science guy I must agree with Ms. Amanpour's comments. Even if the means of delivering the message is evolving, there has to be something behind the messenger to confer credibility. Right now, with few other means of benchmarking, bloggers with a base in traditional media, with editors hovering and reputations to protect, provide the best value.
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel
December 9, 2008 8:51am ET
Trying to answering the questions you stated at the end of your blog: I'm pretty much new on the wine league (as a consumer). Certainly, I've drinking wine for a while but I never felt interested on knowing about the regions, varieties, etc. Not to mention QPR info. However, what directed me from my drift to start getting knowledge and become a better informed person was to know that WS designated on the WOTY 2006 Don Melchor 2003 as part of the Top 10. Fortunately, I have a couple of bottles from that vintage. That caught my attention. Therefore I start surfing on a regular basis WS webpage as well as other prestigious web resources. Now I am a regular member. I do really, really enjoy your magazine articles as well as your blogs. I am very fond with South America wines, specially Argentina's ones. While I am in agreement with most of the coments stated as answers to your questions, I am also 100% agree with you too. I do take seriuosly the blogs from all your collegues, but also it is in my own interest to find out -somehow- if what I read from any other web source is fully reliable. Does this make sense? I do hope so!

Steve Kirchner
Huntington —  December 9, 2008 12:50pm ET
i believe everything you (and CA) say about blogs. but i think that one of the big problems with 'professinal journalism' is that alot of things go unreported despite enormous bandwidth. this is one of my biggest complaints about network news - they repeat the same stories over and over and fail to cover other stories until some blogger forces their hand. i view the 'brunello controversy' as an example of this at WS. you have to be very careful with information in the blogoshpere. same with more traditional sources
James Molesworth
December 9, 2008 1:12pm ET
Claude: Don't you think critics have a responsibility to report on both the good and the bad in their respective fields of coverage? Granted, simply slamming someone or something in a blog might be the easiest way to do it, and thus might seem to be overly injurious to the subject. But I think that's where the reputation of the blogger would then come into play (which is what Troy and some others have pointed out).

Steve: Thanks for your comments. Are you saying we over reported the story on alleged Brunello fraud?

It was covered both as a news story, as well as a blog item. I think in a case like this, the news story is obviously critical in order for people to get the facts. Then the blog becomes a secondary arena for people to have a give and take with the editor in charge of covering the region - which for me is a way that the 'informal' nature of blogs becomes a benefit.
Mark Owens
Cincinnati, Oh. —  December 9, 2008 3:52pm ET
First I want to address Ms. Amanpour's comment about "objective". I find it increasingly more difficult to find any objective journalism these days and fear most are subjective spin zones. I am not aware of any unbiased network. They all have contributors/advertisers that I believe influence any objectivity in todays journalism. It seems that the only place you can find the truth is where the information providers have no vested interest in the results. I don't know where that is.All the best,Mark
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  December 9, 2008 8:13pm ET
To Mark O--amen brother......All I can say is to read all sides of the story and come to the conclusion that makes the most sense to you. That being said, its hard not to feel manipulated. To James -- loved the harvest blogs (esp Lorings...he should make it into a DVD for the Wine Spectator site) and the general tone of your blogs, even the personal stuff -- it's fun to read what the pros drink on their off time! Ultimately, all (wine) blogs need to be judged by the credentials of their source and how their palates mesh with yours
Bob Brack
Canada —  December 10, 2008 12:07pm ET
I don't use wine blogs much (aside from the odd time on this website) as a wine information source. The only one I use for most wines I buy is www.cellartracker.com because of the sheer volume of opinion there. That said, I also use single sources when I know that my tastes align with theirs, such as you James for South America and Harvey for Oz, in addition to some of my fellow WS forumites whose tastes I've come to know over the past 8 years. I mention the number of years because I think it takes time to read enough of others' TNs, and taste enough wines oneself, to properly calibrate one's own preferences to those of others, FWIW.
Steve Kirchner
Huntington —  December 10, 2008 1:19pm ET
James - my recollection is that WS ran an article about Brunello in June or July of last year that didn't mention anything about a scandle. However, i remember reading about allegations as early as March. I don't 'believe' what i read, but it's worthwhile to know what people are talking about. And it must be really hard being both the critic and the reporter because when something happens you may have already taken sides.
Claude Pope
Raleigh, NC —  December 10, 2008 1:47pm ET
James, critics do indeed have a responsibility to report on both good and bad. It's a fine line between reporting the negative (a bad restaurant experience, for example) and "slamming" - being negative simply to "teach someone a lesson" or for some other reason. It goes with the territory, the responsibility to do/say the right thing - praising when good, and pointing out the bad - in an appropriate manner. The same holds true for any good manager of people - knowing when to praise them and when to point out "issues" where they could/should perform better. The staff at WS consistently do a good job of both, and in an appropriate manner. Not all bloggers do, though, and some will try do exert their influence or weight in an unfortunate negative manner, when the object of their negativity has no way to defend themselves.
David Boyer
Austin, TX —  December 11, 2008 8:37pm ET
Hi James - First I have to say that I am truly impressed by the depth of replies. I have a website that I have been putting together for the sole purpose of helping people figure out how to learn about wine, how to drink, store, collect and otherwise raise their level of enjoyment. I was pounded on by friends to create a blog, which I initially resisted, and later succumbed to the dark side. I blogged on the pain of blogging.I can think of very few experiences worse than reading about someone's opinion on wine, especially from someone that has nothing to back it up. I have spent, and continue to spend, thousands of hours learning the subject (I think you wrote a column on the 10,000 hour rule ¿ I¿m about there or perhaps over the threshold) but still do not feel that I am a James Molesworth, James Suckling, Robert Parker (not disappointed about this one) or even a John Kapon. The point is that I don¿t have the perspective, or the difficulty, of tasting literally thousands of wines each year ¿ thus I defer to you guys. People like Troy Peterson and John Danby have it right ¿ they have figured out who tastes thousands of wines each year that happens to align with their personal tastes. Finding this gauge is absolutely invaluable ¿ I have done the same and recommend this to anyone wanting to learn about wine.I think that many blogs are only a few notches up, or not, from CellarTracker tasting notes, which to me are sent into the ether by wannabe critics who, for whatever reason, think that readers really care about their opinion. Sorry to say that professional journalism is not the issue here. The real issue is wine knowledge and the ability to convey that knowledge and impart to others the wisdom that comes with wine experience. WS is my major source for wine information and I don¿t see that changing anytime soon.

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