Does wine journalism resist? Or does even exist?
I have been a professional journalist for almost 15 years, I started from local newspapers reporting on city councils, then I landed in crime reporting, judicial reporting, and politics for radio and TV. I always wanted to be a journalist, as a child my eyes lit up at the first notes of the Tg1 theme song (the main news program on Italian national tv), and as a pre-teen I dreamed of wearing a veil like Lilli Gruber (the TG1 correspondent ) and reporting on war from places that seemed so far away that they could not exist. Of the journalism profession, two things fascinated me: the telling of firsthand experience (I wanted to be a reporter, not a desk journalist) and the idea, perhaps a bit naïve, that what I wrote could make a difference. How? By inspiring someone to action, by fascinating, by raising doubts and curiosity, or by provoking outrage over untenable situations with the ultimate goal of resolving them.
Life then led me instead to wine reporting, but I could not abandon my journalistic DNA: I tell only what I experience, see, touch with my own hands, the thoughts and stories of those I meet and interview personally, verify sources, consume the soles of my shoes in the vineyards, as preached by my illustrious predecessor Mario Soldati to whom I owe the inspiration for my daily work. Lately, however, I have been wondering whether this was enough to qualify me as a wine journalist. Some readings and some people I have come across have given rise to this doubt and these reflections.
First an editorial by Fabio Piccoli, president of Wine Meridian, which I link to here, in which he points out the fact that wine journalism today has been reduced to reporting press releases, stating the obvious and sweeping under the rug all negativity, forms of criticism and investigative skills and, above all, human relations. It is undeniable: I invite you to open the main online or print wine magazines in circulation in Italy or the most followed blogs to come across copy and paste of websites, agency releases, articles that seem to be written by winery salespeople or the associations themselves. There are few and rare voices out of the chorus, those who have the courage to gracefully point out what is not working and needs improvement. Not for the sake of it, but to grow and improve an industry we care about.
Then I read a report in Intravino, another of the few industry media that does a minimum of investigative journalism. It denounced the working conditions of immigrant pruners in the Langhe, paid less than 6 euros per hour with expenses to pay. It took its cue from the investigation of a journalist who had raised the alarm in a local newspaper. Before her, Giancarlo Gariglio, now editor of Slow Wine, had also had the courage to address the issue.
Why are these white flies? I ask myself by self-criticizing myself. While it is true that in “Guardians of Wine”, my second book, I raised quite a few shameful issues with respect to Italian wine tourism, namely how unnecessary bodies overlap squandering resources, how the South is completely abandoned and buried under political promises never realized, I did not actually delve into these issues in real investigations. As I did when I covered local or national news.
Perhaps I got distracted by devoting too much attention to the bulimic production of descriptive content for social media. But that, the fast food of infotaiment, is another matter.
Perhaps it is because this kind of journalism is not economically sustainable, indeed, as they say “it creates enemies for you,” “companies then won’t let you work because you are a grane plant.” I would have to answer that with these companies, which only want conniving journalists with no critical sense, I would not want to work there at all. I should believe that there are companies that instead value professional ethics and will choose me precisely because I am not afraid to report what is wrong. Not with the intent to plant grit, but with the intent to improve this industry that we hold so dear.
In the past few days I took part with so much satisfaction in the Wine Media Conference, an event born in the United States that has been gathering journalists and bloggers in the sector for seven years now and that for the first time I was able to bring to Europe, to Italy, to Lombardy, my home region, thanks to the teamwork with Giovanna Prandini, producer president of Ascovilo. It was a wonderful opportunity for professional training and an opportunity to let my U.S. colleagues experience the wine regions of Lombardy, the ones that I myself first visited, the ones that then left me with a dowry of wine telling.
During his speech, Bruce Schoenfiel , asked how many of the 40 wine writers in the room actually lived off their work. Only five raised their hands. The fact of the matter is that no wine journalist can claim to be effectively independent. Those who write for magazines that live on scores and ratings are in fact tied to the logic of editorial boards that reward groups and wineries that buy advertising space. In this regard read this exposing article by Jason Wilson, posted here which is titled “Wine Media is broken: a case study.”
Those with independent blogs do not have the financial means to devote months and months of work to travel or journalistic investigations that can make a difference and require research, source verification and data collection. I, in order to do this, sought a publisher willing to publish my book and with the advance I barely covered my travel expenses having traveled over 13 thousand kilometers to interview 120 people. When I dared to ask on my social channels if there was a dealer willing to sponsor the trip along Italy by providing a car I was attacked and mocked by the usual keyboard lions. I went at a financial loss to complete that project, but I would do it again right away. You have to be crazy, and I understand that most of my colleagues cannot afford to go into the red.
So what do we do? Do we stop writing? Do we officially declare wine journalism dead, if it was ever born? Smothered by branding, press releases, influencer marketing and publishing giants that only reward advertisers?
No, never give up.
Let’s try to make our work sustainable.
There is a way to save wine writing, but we need the support of readers and companies: we need both of these categories to choose based on their values, because every consumption or investment decision can affect the future of this category.
We cannot delude ourselves that wine journalism can progress and help in the cultural changes taking place if those who do it are not paid or practice it as a hobby.
I would also like this to be clear to all of you who enjoy free content like this, like my blog, like my podcasts or my YouTube channel, like Intravino or Wine Meridian in Italy. Behind this content there is so much personal and economic investment, there are people who devote much more resources than are available, people who invest in your sensibility and who try to finance themselves with other activities such as communication services, training or advertising. And they are often attacked for it as well.
The next time you read an online wine article ask yourself if you would be willing to pay to enjoy it. If the answer is no then choose some other media, don’t share low quality content, don’t like it, your feedback is the only bargaining chip in this world of information bulimia in which we writers and storytellers try not to get shipwrecked.
And you companies, the next time you find yourself considering investments in communications perhaps in front of some agency’s marketing plans remember all those times you read, listened to or saw a piece of free content that left you with something, informed you, educated you or gave you the idea to improve your business. It is there, in that person, in that media, in that professional that you need to invest, not in yet another copy-paste just to have a press review that is as bloated as it is empty at the same time.
From the Americans we can learn this concept of lobbying, networking, that is, being a vehicle for our values and connecting quality people. The next time you read something that lights a spark in you, don’t let it go out, fuel it, illuminate around you, help others see more clearly. And support those who generated that spark.