By now, many of you will already have heard about the controversy surrounding Wine Spectator’s restaurant awards that unfolded into the mainstream media this week.
This topic is getting about as visible a media treatment as the wine world ever gets, so I won’t rehash the complete story here. To get us all up to speed and on the same page, the sequence of events goes something like this (in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, “Let me explain. No – is not time; lemme sum up!”):
- Robin Goldstein, author of The Wine Trials, claims that Wine Spectator awarded his fake Italian restaurant with an Award of Excellence for their wine list, which included several “reserve” wines that were previously panned by WS reviewers.
- The press jumps on the news, and the Internet becomes awash in overly negative criticism of WS.
- It’s learned that Goldstein withheld important facts about the extent of his complex ruse to fake out WS (such as creating a website, restaurant reviews, and phone number for his fake restaurant, as well as omitting to the press that his wine list’s crap reserve wines comprised about 5% of the total wine list submitted to WS).
- WS responds to the Goldstein’s claims, but oddly does so in their on-line forum at WineSpectator.com, and not through a PR effort.
- Chaos ensues.
Regardless of which side of this issue you stand, if you’re like me you’re probably scratching your head as to why WS chose an on-line forum post as the, well, forum to use for publishing their defense of the Restaurant Awards process. Especially considering that this event is all over the news right now.
The problem with this approach is that the WS forum is full of “trolls,” and has become a hotbed of negativity.
I can vouch for this personally…
In my attempts to open a discource with the editors of WS (to better understand why their initial response did not include any details regarding if/how the Awards process would be examined to ensure it maintains credibility), I had to go to the WS forums. After all, that’s where the WS editors posted their response in the first place.
I (and other wine bloggers) have been greeted there with a negativity unbecoming of a long-running institution such as WS. While the editors, for the most part, have been civil in their responses, some of the forum members have been downright nasty. I’ve had to endure blogging being dismissed as “lazy journalism,” and having my SWE and CSW credentials called fakes. Little (if any) moderation seems to be taking place in the forum at the moment, and new forum members are told to “STFU” and “go away.” Even senior WS editor James Suckling seemed to get into negative mode when addressing particularly vehement criticism on the forum.
Of course, not all of the forum members are acting in a negative way, but enough are being malicious to prevent an appropriate discourse with the WS editors. When I asked the forum members why new posters were greeted with that level of negativity, I was told it’s the equivalent of “initiation.”
Hazing is more like it.
Here’s my simple plea to the editors of WS:
If you’re going to allow your on-line forums to be the equivalent of a shark tank, then please put your response to Goldstein’s criticism into the hands of a PR director, where it belongs. Otherwise, those of us looking for constructive, open discourse on the topic of WS’ restaurant awards have nowhere to turn.
As long as your on-line forum remains the primary vehicle for your response to the Goldstein event, you will be promoting the impression that you are not taking the matter seriously.
It’s not events like this that make or break your credibility; it’s your response to events like this that make it or break it.
9 thoughts on “Don’t Feed the Trolls: How NOT to Respond to Public Criticism”
I still don’t get how/why I would want to post more/participate more, if all I get is called names! It’s like a childs playground with nana nanaboo boo…and silliness. Seriously, the discourse there, has made me realize how little I ever hope to be apart of this forum again.
I abandoned forums long ago for just this reason – dominated by a small vocal minority of old timers who hate their dominance/opinions being questioned by newcomers. Any attempt at discussion or a difference of opinion is met as being a troll.
Did I read the forums correctly? that the magazines editor dismissed bloggers as being lazy journalisum. I wonder if this view is endemic in the print world? It could explain a lot.
The question I’d ask them is, why would anyone want to stay through the hazing period to become a member of a club like that?
Huzzah! You fought a good and at least a clean fight, unlike…
In the mean time, I agree that the WS Forum is not the place to have a decent and reasonable adult discussion while there are too many anonymous poo-flinging winged monkeys lurching about.
I don’t know why I should be surprised about the comment from the WS Forum that their reactions to new posters are equivalent of “initiation.” Talk about an equivalent of playground or good ol’ boys…
I have also added to my blog regarding today’s experience – under the comment section.
Love WS staff’s comments and those by some of their board rats- Completely reaffirms my impressions of these fine feathered folk.
Dude your tenacity is admirable, but I believe Andrew has it right regarding most forums. Anyone so rude, arrogant and cavalier in dismissing you (or CSW, WSET) is unlikely to seriously consider anything you say in defense. Arguing with fools is hard work with little or no reward. I enjoy your blog very much; please focus there. If you insist on carrying on the battle at WS we will have to make you a superhero outfit. Hmmm…’The Vin-dicator’? so please hangup the ‘Vin-dicator’ cape and tights and focus there.
I couldn’t resist another haiku on this:
Trolls center their world
Crystal clear myopia
Solidarity, my brothers & sisters!
Thanks for the show of support (and esp. to Catie for jumping into the snake pit with me). I really appreciate it – and don't worry, I didn't waste too much time on the forum, and I think I did manage to win over a person or two.
It's certainly not worth additional time from any of us in terms of the Goldstein stuff. Hopefully, the other useful aspects of the forum don't take a negative publicity hit from this.
I'm also sure that I'd look pretty bad in tights, so no superhero activity from me in the future (alternative title: "Elitist Entitlement Ego Man", or "E3"!).
And I'd be remiss if I forgot to highlight the return of the willyboy haiku! Nicely done (as always)…
A glimmer of hope!
From the WS Forums, under the topic of how new forum posters have been treated, comes this response from a forum member:
"Individual feuding aside, I have a pretty thick skin, and I have been a wine forum host for years, but even I have lurked more than posted because of the lack of moderation and courtesy here. Pointing out the total board membership is meaningless, because there are only a few dozen names that one sees participating. The fact is, until this board grows up a bit and either has active moderators or becomes self-policing, the board IS losing valuable potentials."
It's not all gloom & doom over there!
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