Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Proud to be a journalist?



When I was a kid, I really, really wanted to be a journalist. Writers like James Cameron this one, not the Avatar director), Martha GellhornBob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (as in All the President's Men) were my heroes. I never quite got my wish of doing the kind of journalism that filled the front end of a national newspaper, but I did get to write about wine for the Sunday Telegraph, to edit Wine International magazine and help launch and become editor at large of Meininger's Wine Business International.

However... at a time when the highest British courts are busily discussing phone tapping by newspapers, and publications like the Daily Mail think it's right and proper to publish a photograph of Mick Jagger learning of the death of his girlfriend, I'm increasingly glad not to call myself a journalist. What precisely went through the minds of the editorial teams (that picture appeared in a lot of papers) when they decided to share that image with their readers? Precisely what kind of "public good" would its publication serve?

If I feel no kinship with that end of the journalistic world, I feel just as divorced from many of the people who go by the term "wine writers". I had very mixed feelings about press trips when I used to take them (a set of hacks all being shown the same things and told the same things by the same people at the same time and in the same place predictably tends to make for a set of very similar articles), but I'm downright ashamed of my former breed when I hear them ungratefully complaining about the hospitality they have just been given. One person I think of as a friend recently moaned at length about being left at the airport inconveniently early for her long-haul flight home. Negative comments about the food are far from uncommon.

The complaints flow in both directions, however, as wineries and generic organisations increasingly compare the value and effectiveness of the editorial coverage they have received with the costs of the flights, hotel rooms, meals, bottles, time and trouble they have provided. The very idea of wine writers funding their own trips is, sadly, almost unthinkable - other than the ones writing for well-heeled US publishers - so whether they like it or not, most of them are in effect acting as unpaid promoters for their hosts. 


Scour the newspaper columns and the magazines for coverage of major wine producing regions that don't fund trips, and you'll struggle to find them. But when countries like Turkey or Lebanon hand out airline tickets, hey presto, articles about them suddenly appear like daffodils in the Spring. And, quite naturally, far too many of these features tend to be unquestioningly positive, often reading like paid-for advertorials. I'm sure their authors have had a great time and enjoyed drinking some delicious wines. Whether they've been doing the kind of journalism they may have dreamed of in their youth is another matter. But I guess it's a lot better than publishing pictures of freshly bereaved rock stars.




1 comment:

  1. Fine article and well timed. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete