The Last Word on Wine Media Ethics

Vinted on May 19, 2009 binned in commentary

Hey, wanna talk about ethics in wine media?

Chances are, if you’re in wine media, the answer is “Yes!  Please!”

If you’re not in wine media, I’m willing to bet the answer is “Huh?  Who gives a sh*t?!??”  I suspect that the population breakdown looks something like this:

So, when I title this “Last Word…,” I don’t mean it’s the final statement to end all navel-gazing debates when it comes to the ethics of covering the wine world.  I just mean that it’s the last time I’m going to touch the topic.

I do have a vested interest in all of this ethics-debating, mind you.  I was myself the target of an ethical stone or two thrown last year, and there’s been some damn fine writing lately on what constitutes ethical behavior in the world of wine coverage.  Also, in case you haven’t noticed, I do write about wine.  Sometimes.  When I’m not drinking it, I mean.

I’ve long been an advocate of moving the wine writing ethics discussions off of wine blogs and onto other forums.  Of course, in order to make that argument, I need to dredge up the topic here on my own wine blog.  The irony

Anyway, I’ve given the topic what for me constitutes some serious thought (at least a few seconds in-between sips), and I think the question of whether or not you’re ethical touches on the same things that make someone credible, especially when it comes to the blog-o-world:

  1. Transparency – Are you telling people what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re going to do it?  In other words, are you hiding something, or are you telling the whole truth?
  2. Adherence – Are you actually doing what you said you’d be doing in #1?
  3. Consistency – Are you doing #1 and #2 the same way?  Do we know what to expect of your character?

Sure, there may be others, but if you don’t have those three nailed, then I suspect that blog readers would have you for lunch.  Quickly.

But… something doesn’t feel quite right about that list.  Something’s… missing.

Let’s demonstrate with an example.

On a recent episode of the fine radio program and podcast, the episode’s special guest – wine PR and Fermentation blogger Tom Wark – discussed ethics with the show’s hosts.  Here’s a transcribed quote from the program:

What’s unethical…when I call a magazine and say ‘I’ll give you $25,000 for a 93 point score,’ and they say ‘You’re on’ – that would be unethical. I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I’ve only bought coverage, uhm, once or twice. As a publicist my job is to get as much ‘right’ kind of exposure for my clients as I possibly can. If I thought I could buy a 95 point score from a reputable publication and be reasonably assured that no one would find out, I’d do it in a minute.” – Tom Wark

Well, Tom is certainly being transparent there (maybe a bit hypocritical, given his past statements on wine media ethics and the elder statesman role that he’s played in that space in the past, but definitely transparent).  Let’s say it actually happened, and he followed through with it and did it multiple times.  Would it be ethical?

No. F—king. Way.

Why?  Because the majority of people out there wouldn’t consider it ethical.  And there, for me, is the missing link.

That link is YOU.

In any media endeavor (at least, any on-line media endeavor, especially in the case of blogging), it’s ultimately the readers that determine if the source is credible, and those sources are unlikely to be perceived as credible if those same readers don’t also perceive them to be ethical.

Perception, as they say, is reality, but if you’re truly transparent then your readers’ perceptions will at least resemble reality, and then presumably you’ve got nothing much to worry about.

That’s how I’m going to operate anyway, so I sure hope I’m at least partially onto something.  It’s bound to be more fun than debating it endlessly, anyway!


(images: 1WineDude,





  • Arthur

    Thanks for the kudos, Joe. And, wouldjabelieve, I was looking at the same illustration for my post?

    • 1WineDude

      My pleasure – all well-deserved and I'm STILL talking about that post to people here in Germany this week!

      • Arthur

        Very cool. I hope people will continue to pitch in to that discussion in a cam way and continue to expand the scope of the issue.

        Now who do I see about a trip to Italy?….. ;)

        • Arthur

          make that: "in a calm way" ….

        • Steve Heimoff

          Arthur, you had me worried with that cam thing.

  • Todd Havens

    One of the upsides to the proliferation of the internet…the people have a collective say nowadays. A democratization, if you will, of public sentiment via one's social graph. (Okay, now I'm just trying to put multisyllabic words near each other in my sentences.)

    Point well taken, though, that evaluating insincerity on one end and unethical behavior on the other are the domain of the masses. I hope it does end up bringing more transparency and honesty to the interwebs.

    Also, I'm a big fan of paragraphs of single-word sentences to make one's point. "No. F—king. Way." LOL.

  • lgking

    Funny thing…I did work for a couple of 'jokers' at an overly built and arrogant winery in the late '80's that did buy US$50,000.00 worth of advertising in a very famous publication, for the sole purpose for obtaining a better score. The guys were calling me almost daily from their various locations around the world to see…"if the new scores came yet…?" What a bunch of idiots…of course the 'new scores' never came!

  • Remy

    Quick question. Why would anyone who is buying scores (even if it's only once or twice) be more ethical than the one who accepts being bought?

  • Dylan

    It's empowering, and sounds like a PSA, but it's true. The power is yours to decide if someone is credible or not, but that requires full-on transparency. Now, if Tom did do that, I would lose respect for him. I would stop reading his blog and I may even go as far to warn other people that he associates in dishonest activity–transparency allows me to do that. Of course, maybe it's not a big issue for me, then I continue reading and consider it a blip on the radar of his blogging career. In the end, it's my choice.

    • 1WineDude

      I doubt sincerely that Tom would do that, of course. And I think part of the reason is that we know we'd all collectively cry fowl if it happened.

  • 1WineDude

    Well, thanks – I'm a big fan of ending sentences with multisyllabic words so you're welcome here anytime! :)

  • 1WineDude

    Ouch! Scary…

  • 1WineDude

    They're not, at least, not in my view.

  • 1WineDude

    A quick update, Penelope Trunk has a FANTASTIC post about the irrelevance of conflict of interests when blogging. Worth a read (and a re-read):

  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from Postcard From Germany: A Bike Without Wheels? | 1 Wine Dude
    Wednesday, 27 May, 2009

    […] One of the things that convinced me to participate in this junket was to find out what a press junket is all about, and to get the perspective of professional journalists on if/how members of the press should accept those junkets.  The collective view of my press colleagues (I use that term very loosely in my case, as I’m not a journalist by education or profession) was nearly unanimous and may surprise those of you who have been following the heated discussions about accepting press freebies in the wine media. […]

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