Commentary: Credentialing for Wine Bloggers

WineWonketteLast Fall during the North American Wine Blogger Conference there arose a debate: Is it ethical for wine bloggers to accept wine gratis from the wine industry (Wine Blogger and Industry Interaction: What Crosses the Line)? Fast forward a few months and now the debate has moved onto who should legitimately get wine for free–camouflaged in a discussion about “Wine Blogger Certification.”

On-line media and a variety of blog platforms have put the power of the publisher into SpilledWinethe hands of the people.  Anyone has the ability to be a “journalist.” Much has been said about the frustration of traditional media at having their publications shrink, their jobs eliminated, and the requirement that they “go on the web” and post a blog. It’s a legitimate concern that is causing traditional media to rethink its business model. What was once legitimate news has been replaced by infotainment. And many members of the traditional media have sought some some of adherence to “standards” so that something can be called “news.”

That said, this current debate among the wine bloggers appears to be a wine of a different color. Over the past couple days  twitter posts (“tweets”) ranged from

  • “fake business cards” used to get “free wine” becoming a “huge concern for small wineries”
  • whether or not certification was necessary
  • what sort of criteria should be used to establish certification.

It seems that just as in every “industry,” wine blogging has grown to the next level; where more seasoned wine bloggers worry about how they are going to establish and maintain their own legitimacy when any June, Ward or Beaver can print up a card, slap up a few paragraphs on the web and call himself a blogger. So we have at the moment, the idea that “real bloggers” need to have some way to set themselves apart from the commoners–i.e. protect our turf.

After reading a number of well-thought out posts on the subject like those from my fellow twitterati WineDiverGirl, Winebratsf and mwangbikler on CaveMan Wines I posted the following commentary, which I’ve expanded and incorporated here.

Protecting the Turf with Wine Blogger Credentials

Industries that require “credentialing” usually do so to either (1) put up barriers to new entrants (2) to protect the consumer (3) generate income from the credentialing process.

We certainly don’t need to protect consumers from bloggers because as most are unpaid and don’t rely on advertising to stay afloat, we tend to provide purer critique (while still an opinion) of a wine from the consumer’s point of view.

As for generating income from credentialing; there are a number of credentialing groups whose blessing means next to nothing. In the past I worked in higher education – marketing an Executive MBA program among many others from competing schools. Our program differentiated itself through accreditation. But soon a number of different accrediting groups sprang up. The public had no idea which was legitimate and which was not — so all the money and time we spent going through the accreditation process offered very little return on investment (ROI). As demonstrated by the talented Thea on LusciousLushes blog, nearly anyone can crank out a certificate, frame it, and put it up on his wall (or in this case a widget on her blog.)

For the most part wine blogs are simply editorials giving the blogger’s opinion about a wine. Anyone can look up the score from Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate, but we think the average person just wants to know (1) is this a good value (2) is it enjoyable (3) and is it obtainable. And most of that is clearly subjective.

There simply aren’t objective measures to determine whether or not a blog should be “credentialed” or a blogger certified; because the success of the blog depends upon the goals of that particular blogger.

To the point of getting discounts or S.W.A.G. (e..g. free Stuff We All Get), wine industry professionals and other bloggers tend to be able to identify those boggers who contribute to the promotion of the industry.
However, it would seem to me to be a small investment for the industry to provide bloggers with discounts or advance access to wines for review. Some industries require all sorts of hoops for the media who cover them to jump through.   What I always find baffling is that any industry would want to limit or reject what is essentially cheap or next-to-free publicity and advertising for their product.

Putting up barriers to new entrants simply lowers the overall quality of wine blogs, as does ALL competition in ALL industries. When the media serving an industry starts to become homogenized, consumers are only benefited by new entrants. And it pushes everyone writing about wine to do what he can to set his blog apart from the others.

To me credentialing is not a good idea, or in a word–stupid. It simply would not provide bloggers, the industry or consumers with any benefits that would outweigh the chilling effect on the growth of wine blogging through the entrance of new bloggers.

~ Amy Corron Power
aka WineWonkette

Posted in Best of AWB, Posts, Rant

Amy Corron Power View posts by Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and legions of twitter, Instagram and Facebook friends and fans. Amy holds certifications through the International Sommelier Guild, and is also certified, with honors, as a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). She is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events. Amy is also a contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, and was most recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude.
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