Blogger Ethics and Disclosure

by Tim Elliott on August 28, 2008

The current controversy over a group of wine bloggers accepting a wine sample under the condition to write something — good or bad — about that wine has me reflecting over my code of ethics. Since I have commercial interests in the wine trade, I think it is very important to make full disclosures in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. It’s a simple code really… I accept samples but don’t agree to post a review, disclose when samples are provided in the post or podcast and I don’t review wines from producers I work with. It’s been posted on my “about” page for two years now since Alder brought the issue up and posted his own disclosure.

So I was deeply distressed to see two posts this week suggesting I was not ethical in my review of Rodney Strong’s “Rockaway” Cabernet as part of a blogging experiment. The first post was by Wine Enthusiast critic Steve Heimoff who thought that we were “manipulated” by the folks at Rodney Strong. This touched off more comments with Mr. Heimoff directly questioning our ethics as wine bloggers. That might be a valid assessment if Mr. Heimoff had done his homework — no, journalistic duty — and investigated this story further with those of us involved before posting his thoughts on the matter.

The second post that disturbed me was one from Tom Wark who took Mr. Heimoff’s logic one step further concluding, “I do think, however, that by agreeing to work on behalf of their subject they risk compromising the inherent independence that wine bloggers possess.”

Where did Mr. Wark get his facts for this post? Not from those of us who took part in the Rockaway experiment. Just like Steve Heimoff didn’t. And they are professionals not enthusiasts like many of us involved.

Do you see something wrong here? I do.

Before I get into the ethical implications of a professional journalist and seasoned wine PR professional not doing any investigation before making some serious accusations, let me backup and fully disclose the chain of events that got us here.

On July 30th, Jeff Lefevere of Good Grape contacted six wine bloggers with an invitation to participate in what he called a “blogging experiment”. The bloggers were Dr. Debs from Good Wine Under $20, Tyler from Dr. Vino, Megan from Wannabe Wino, Renee from Feed Me/Drink Me, Kori from the Wine Peeps and myself. Only Tyler declined and Joe from 1WineDude was added. To my knowledge, “several other leading wine bloggers” were not contacted or declined to participate. Robert Larson from Rodney Strong Vineyards was copied on this and all future emails from Jeff about the experiement but did not have any role in the dialogue.

Jeff’s request was pretty specific with the following portion salient to the current controversy:

“Here’s the give to get and this is my suggested execution path, not Rockaways:

  • In agreement for receipt of the sample you agree to write a blog post on or around the week of August 18th.  You do not have to write anything favorable, but you do have to write a post with a word count between 300-500 words
  • You can choose to write a review on the wine or if you choose not to review it you can write around any number of story angles about the wine/winery/concept, etc.
  • I would encourage you, as I will do, to be fully transparent about the sampling.  In fact, I plan doing a lead up with a post or two about my interactions with Robert and the fact that wineries are starting to get wine blogging, take wine bloggers seriously and to engage us with a level of rapport usually reserved for only established media.”

There was no request for review, only a post. And this post could be anything of our choosing including negative reviews or commentary. In short, we had complete editorial freedom. Since my own ethics state that I do not promise a review, I thought that this request was within my personal code as long as I disclosed I received this wine as a trade sample. Yes, I thought is was somewhat of an unusual request but Jeff’s concept was several posts about the same wine happening the same week, so I agreed.

On August 11th, Jeff send out another email to the entire group with Arthur Black added as a guest blogger at Good Grape. Here he made to following request:

” I have committed to Robert [Larson of Rodney Strong Vineyards] that we would post in between next Monday, August 18th and Thursday the 21st.  300 + words is the requested minimum.  The notion here is to do something thoughtful and meaningful.  There is no editorial restriction, but I’d like the piece in whatever form you decide to take it to be something you are proud to stand behind.”

Attached to this email was a variation of the label graphics and a fact sheet. There was no press release or any other coaching. I tasted the wine over three evenings from August 11 without food and not blind, as I taste most wine samples. My notes were recorded into Evernote for future posting here. Over the next few days I did research online made notes and eventually turned this into an outline. At this point I took a vacation from blogging and enjoyed Disneyland with my family for 3 days.

When I returned, I flew to San Francisco and then went on to Sonoma where I intended to finish and post my review along with an analysis from a marketing standpoint for my company blog. Where I was staying lost their internet connection and later their power so I was not able to post until Saturday, August 23rd, 2 days after the requested deadline.

And that’s where this story should have ended but Mr. Heimoff, who makes his living tasting wine for Wine Enthusiast, posted his pointed critique on his blog. I think the context is important for everyone to understand here because just a week before the meme in the wine blogosphere was over the Wine Spectator‘s giving an award to a fake restaurant exposed by a blogger (well, at least they used a blog to do their sting operation). A firestorm of hatred for all bloggers was unleashed in the Wine Spectator’s apparently unmoderated forums. Even senior editor James Molesworth got into the act calling bloggers, “…lazy journalists.” It was not their finest hour which I will dissect in another post.

I believe both of these events are directly related.

The traditional wine press has not acknowledged wine blogs exist even as they begin to employ the medium. Their business model is challenged by social media and they are starting to feel the pain. It will get a lot worse in coming months and years as the wine buyer increasingly looks for wine recommendations online and are used to finding this information on search engines. And most wine buyers will not find their reviews, published late behind subscription barriers, but they will find reviews on wine blogs. For free. Without advertising from wine brands mixed with the editorial. And fully open for their comments.

I think the traditional wine press is getting concerned about us and are trying to use this blogging experiment to discredit all wine bloggers. But this will not work and the reason why is simple: Disclosure.

Everyone who has taken part in the Rockaway experiment has been totally transparent about the conditions and have made the proper disclosures. But where are the disclosures from Steve Heimoff and Tom Wark? They don’t exist on either of their blogs. How wine ratings are done is not even on Mr. Heimoff’s employers’ website which I would find disturbing if I read that publication.

So the bottom line for me on this whole thing is that Heimoff and Wark did not check their facts. They did not speak with any of the bloggers involved or Rodney Strong Vineyards (yes, I checked). I think they need to reassess their own blogging ethics, post a retraction of erroneous facts and offer an apology.

But that’s just me and my ethics talking. What do you think?

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  • http://wannabewino.com Sonadora

    As I’ve stated, I’m a lawyer with a love for wine and an even deeper passion to share that love with others through my blog.

    I have requested nothing but basic fact checking throughout this kerfluffle. An open and truthful discussion.

    I hope your post provokes that.

    Looking forward to meeting you in October.

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Thanks, Megan… I hope so too.

    Let’s have a good Zin at WBC…

  • http://wannabewino.com Sonadora

    Or 4 ;)

  • http://1winedude.blogspot.com 1WineDude

    Appreciate the reasonable viewpoint, Tim.

    Throughout the last two days, I feel as though I have been trying to tell a bunch of green cheese lovers that the moon is actually made of rock.

    Wine blogging has taken a step backward this week, but it has nothing to do with ethics.

    It has to do with the fact that two prominent wine bloggers did nothing to validate any facts before writing their articles… and this is coming only days after they criticized Wine Spectator for doing something very similar with their restaurant awards!

    The biggest losers in all of this? Blog readers. Because the subjects of most interest to them are getting ignored:

    1) The wine itself (ie., is it worth their hard-earned money)

    2) The rising stock of their preferred source of wine info. (blogs), clearly evident in them being included in this type of experiment in the first place.

    3) The fact that 1WineDude.com was second-fiddle runnerup to DrVino.com to be included. Oh, wait, that’s just one of *my* subjects of interest…

    Cheers!

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Well said, Joe. I hope both Tom and Steve do the right thing here but I’m not holding my breath after each got mostly comments agreeing with them.

    The biggest loser here are readers of Dr. Debs’ blog and Twitter. She will be missed.

  • http://www.fermentation.typepad.com Tom Wark

    So, I’m still trying to figure out what facts that underpinned my post I got wrong.

    Anyone?

  • http://cavemanwines.com/blog Michael Wangbickler

    Thanks for clarifying the facts Tim. I have a lot of respect for both Steve Heimoff and Tom Wark. They have both done amazing things to further the cause of wine drinkers. I’m sure they both had the best of intentions with regard to issue. I believe that they were just trying to inform and protect their readership. Unfortunately, in this case it seems they got it wrong.

  • http://goosecross.com David Topper

    Tim –

    As you know, I have followed you for some time now and I feel that this is probably the best and most meaningful post you’ve ever written. Kudos’. We (ALL) have a common bond in wine and in open, fair communication (yes, in addition to the participating wine bloggers, I’m going to include Tom and Steve). I think it’s time for all that participated in this craziness to sit back, relax, and reflect on what we could have done differently and better to further our collective cause for each other and all consumers of wine.

    I for one would like to see those that have left the fold to reconsider and rejoin our collective effort. We need them.

    David

  • http://www.winelifetoday.com/2008/07/when-did-istockphoto-start-to-suck-3/ Joel

    @David Topper “I think it’s time for all that participated in this craziness to sit back, relax, and reflect on what we could have done differently and better to further our collective cause for each other and all consumers of wine.

    I for one would like to see those that have left the fold to reconsider and rejoin our collective effort. We need them.”

    I couldn’t have found a better, more precise expression of how I feel about this if I thought about it all night.

    therefore I say “Ditto”

  • http://www.winelifetoday.com/2008/07/when-did-istockphoto-start-to-suck-3/ Joel

    Hey Tim!

    Are those books on your blog linked to an Amazon Associates account for which you get paid? Did you disclose that you shameless whore!?!?!?

  • http://catavino.net ryan

    Tom has done a ton to move the wine blogging world forward. Your “claim” that this mess and the WS fake award are related is plain, well, illogical.

    Tom would not buy into that, nor would Steve. They are both much smarter than that, and this vitriol does no good for the Wine Blogging community.

    I read all the posts, pre post scandal, and I was confused from the start. I may not be the brightest bulb, but I and a lot of other blog supporters were confused, and mis understood things. This is a FACT.

    Is there even the slightest possibility that communication was well done, or done enough?

    I for one see this as a chance to make the community stronger, not weaker. We can learn that we need to be more open, no matter how open everyone thinks they were, and we need to communicate.

    Why not stop arguing and blaming and look at what this can do for us.

    I’m off to go talk to 3 continents of Wine Bloggers here in Rioja about how we become better at what we do!

  • http://catavino.net ryan

    This all said, having heard the whole story I do think the idea was a good one. I do appreciate what was tried outside of what the result ended we ended up with.

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Michael: I, too, have a great amount of respect for Tom; I don’t know Steve. I just think both of them should have tried to get some facts from one or more of us before posting.

    David: I agree and will now get back to normal wine blogging. Thanks for your support.

    Joel: Not sure if you are kidding or not with your second comment, but if you read my code of ethics, it does cover things like affiliate programs.

    Ryan: I think we have been on opposite sides of this debate but that doesn’t change the fact that 2 wine bloggers, who also have respected positions in the trade, posted accusations without any research. I agree that we should move on but I, for one, would like to see Dr Debs back blogging (and Twittering). Corrections, at the very least, must be made before we can truly move on.

  • http://wannabewino.com Sonadora

    Today I spent my early morning before work skipping breakfast and sacrificing writing a post for my own blog in favor of responding to an email from Tom.

    I arrived at work to find that he had posted another topic on this subject, which I still find inaccurate. It plainly states “I think a mistake was made in demanding that bloggers write about this wine in exchange for receiving it. And I think a mistake was made in demanding that the wine be written about within a certain time frame as a condition of receiving it.”

    No one required me to write about a wine.

    Comparing this situation to when a client comes to him is disengenuous. RS is not my client and they NEVER came to me. A fellow blogger came to me. With an idea he had that he executed.

    I want this to die a death, but not when misinformation, despite having had the facts explained, comtinues to be promoted.

  • http://www.fermentation.typepad.com Tom Wark

    ““I think a mistake was made in demanding that bloggers write about this wine in exchange for receiving it. And I think a mistake was made in demanding that the wine be written about within a certain time frame as a condition of receiving it.”

    No one required me to write about a wine.”

    Let me rephrase: Required to write.

  • http://goodwineunder20.blogspot.com Dr. Debs

    Tom, the words “write” and “review” are not identical. They mean, and they suggest, completely different things. And what is more I know that you know that. You act like that rephrase is meaningless. I noticed it in your “On the Wane” post, too.

    You switched the terms of the argument without acknowledging the factual error. For a writer to agree to write something on a theme set by an editor under a deadline is not the same as a writer agreeing to review a product.

    So let’s call a spade a spade. If you have to rephrase, you made an ERROR. And you still haven’t admitted it. You finessed it and hoped no one would notice. I did.

  • http://www.fermentation.typepad.com Tom Wark

    Deb,

    Is this really it? You take issue with my use of the world “Review” vs. “Write”? Fair enough While a “review” is always “writing”, writing does not always amount to a “review”—despite the fact that all the bloggers involved did review the wine.

    I concede that the condition set down was to write about the wine and do so in a particular time frame in order to have a bottle of wine sent to you—not necessarily “review” it.

    But I don’t see how this changes the equation. In any way.

    If I’m a PR guy for a winery and someone comes to me and says I’ve got X number of writers who will guarantee to write about your wine and they’ll do it in a particular time frame, well, I start to get giddy. I get giddy because this has never happened to me, as a publicist, ever before, except in those cases where I pay for an advertorial. But in this case, all it cost me is five bottles of wine.

    Furthermore, I’ve never heard of an occasion when a group of writers agree to write about a product specifically for the purpose of seeing what those words will do for the sale of the product.

    And its not the same thing as being assigned a article by an editor at an academic journal in which you are providing a peer review.

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Tom,

    Let me take your inaccurate comments one-by-one and respond; yours are in quotes:

    “Bloggers would only get samples if they agreed to publish a review and to publish their review within a small window of time.”

    This is incorrect, we never agreed to review, just write a post. We had 100% control of the content of that post.

    We also had about 3 weeks to write our post but it was true that Jeff asked for them to be published within 4 days last week. I posted mine 2 days after the “deadline” so we still had editorial control.

    “I’ve never encountered a reviewer who agreed to train their eye on a product under the condition that they write about it and that they do so within a specific time frame.

    Do you know why this is?

    Because it requires the writer to work on behalf of their SUBJECT, rather than on behalf of their AUDIENCE.”

    We can disagree here Tom as you have a valid point. For what it’s worth, I see no difference between the Rockaway experiment and my guest blogging at Wine Spies. In both cases I disclosed my relationship with the parties involved, had complete editorial control and, if push came to shove, could have opted out even after receiving the sample.

    “I do think, however, that by agreeing to work on behalf of their subject they risk compromising the inherent independence that wine bloggers possess. I’m not sure I’m altogether qualified to make the points I make above. Lord knows, I’ve done unethical things in my life. My glass house is pretty damn breezy.”

    So this is where you went off the rails for me, Tom. You are joining with Steve Heimoff and implying that we violated some ethical code as wine bloggers. We didn’t because the is no such code. I have an ethical code which has been her for 2 years. I think ethics are critical because at the end of the day, you have nothing as a wine blogger without ethics. That’s why I reacted the way I did to your post.

    I think this dialogue has brought up some good points but it has also damaged 6 wine bloggers (I’m not including you and Steve into this mix… yet). I believe the future of wine criticism is in wine social media. My livelihood depends on it. That’s why when my credibility, and the credibility of colleagues who are trying to move this medium forward is challenged, I get cranky.

    I just wish that you, Steve and all the other voice calling for our heads would step back and assess what is going on here. What we did is not a big deal; what you and Steve did is.

  • http://www.fermentation.typepad.com Tom Wark

    Tim,

    I’ve addressed the issue of “write” vs. “Review”. It makes no difference in my view. But this seems to be the point at which I’m accused of getting my facts wrong. Is this really the source of all the comments that accuse me of getting my facts wrong? Ok…I got this wrong. You were required to WRITE, not REVIEW.

    There was a time frame, as I originally said, and you were required to do something—which in every case turned out to be a review, as well as general commentary on the winery and the program and blogging.

    I don’t mind you taking issue with my view of this or my opinion. Who could mind such a thing? But if the only fact you and Deb can point to that I got wrong is over the use of “write” vs. “Review”, then we better move on to the substance of the debate.

    ——————————-

    “So this is where you went off the rails for me, Tom. You are joining with Steve Heimoff and implying that we violated some ethical code as wine bloggers. We didn’t because the is no such code. I have an ethical code which has been her for 2 years. I think ethics are critical because at the end of the day, you have nothing as a wine blogger without ethics. That’s why I reacted the way I did to your post.”

    I’m not sure how to address this, Tim. Honestly I’m not. I’m not sure because the last thing I want to do is offend you or anyone else any further. I count all of you as important members and innovators in the current state of wine blogging, not to mention counting you and Jeff and Deb as friends. So let me try to phrase this carefully:

    If I looked at your code of ethics (and I’ve honestly not done so) would I find anything about the importance of remaining independent of coercion by your subject? I very much suspect I would find something along these lings.

    “That’s why when my credibility, and the credibility of colleagues who are trying to move this medium forward is challenged, I get cranky.

    I just wish that you, Steve and all the other voice calling for our heads would step back and assess what is going on here. What we did is not a big deal; what you and Steve did is.”

    Tim, I think there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that I too take seriously the issue of moving blogging forward and the credibility of bloggers. Some may disagree. But I think there is such evidence.

    If you want to argue that blogging is, or should be, so far removed from journalism or reporting or reviewing that we simply can’t expect to hold bloggers to the same kind of standards that we hold these other people to, then your criticism of my post is on very firm ground, legitimate in every way, and points to a vacuum in my understanding of the wine blogging community that leads me to write really stupid stuff at FERMENTATION.

    If on the other hand there is enough similarity between the work of wine bloggers on the one hand and writers/reporters/journalists/critics on the other, then you can’t expect to not also have the same ethical standards applied to bloggers and be asked to live up to them…which is what I did.

    With that said, I have an observation to make that I think is really critical to this whole issue and worthy of some deep thought and discussion:

    Has anyone noticed that the two “sides” in this discussion tend to divide up based on their association or experience with “old media” on the one side and an association and experience with “new media” on the other?

    There is almost a generational difference between the two sides that leads to an attitudinal difference between the two sides. This is not to say that one side always acts ethically and the other does not. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve engaged in a few unethical things in the past as part of the old media structure. But the difference I’m pointing to here is significant. It is, I think, at the very heart of this disagreement.

    And I believe that whoever the leading bloggers think they are should better address this difference in short order or more issues like this are likely to come up.

  • http://goodwineunder20.blogspot.com Dr. Debs

    Tom, I really don’t know why you cannot seem to understand what happened but I do know this: you don’t want to.

    I quote from you, comment above:
    Tom Wark: “Furthermore, I’ve never heard of an occasion when a group of writers agree to write about a product specifically for the purpose of seeing what those words will do for the sale of the product.”

    That was not what the collaboration was meant to try to figure out, nor were we required to write about the product.

    1) I could have written about allocated lists, and never mentioned a single wine.
    2) The word was “impact.” That meant how many people read the posts, how many people got interested in the subjects we talked about, whether people went from one blog to another to compare notes. Sales were never, ever, ever mentioned.

    And you are being willfully obtuse if you think that your readers would have had the same reaction to this:

    “A blogger contacted a group of bloggers to see if they wanted to write about boutique brands, brand within a brand concepts, terroir, place, the history of the Rockaway Vineyard, or review a wine that other bloggers would receive at the same time, and before the print media, within a given deadline. If they agreed, they were sent wine and information related to that wine.”

    And what you wrote on your blog which was this: “Bloggers would only get samples if they agreed to publish a review and to publish their review within a small window of time.”

    The first is what really happened. The second is what you erroneously reported happened.

    The first sounds an awful lot (to me) like what happens when an editor says “hey, the Pinot edition is coming up. Write stories on Pinot. Review pinot. Do you want in? The deadline is X.” The only difference? This was an experiment and we only had one wine. I went out and found more to achieve the balance I felt was necessary in the story I chose to write.

    Words matter, Tom. And if they didn’t, you wouldn’t have changed yours after Jeff corrected your misunderstandings of the process, which included that no reviews were required, and that no links to the mailing list were required.

    Spin matters, Tom. And the spin you put on this story is not what I have issue with, but instead that when you decided on the spin YOU DIDN’T HAVE THE FACTS and you didn’t bother to check. Given what you thought you knew, which was not correct, is it possible that may have influenced your take–and your reader’s take?–on the situation? The evidence from the comments suggests yes.

    That’s the real food for thought here.

  • http://www.ourwinestory.com Dylan

    Tim,

    Your post was the most level-headed I’ve read among the other blogging sites/comments I’ve been tracking. You were calm in the way you stated things and kept a great running track of how things unfolded for you personally. (I think it’s great you have a code of ethics posted right there on the site.)

    Every other post I have read seems to have this air of hostility to the writing–people maintaining professionalism with an underlying tone of indignation and tension.

    I think Tim, you addressed a lot of points of concern in the comment above me. What’s being called for by injured parties is not for Tom to “concede” points to the parties that feel hurt, but to genuinely apologize for hurting them.

    Even if it didn’t hurt their blog readership, it hurt them, personally–the people who make up the wine blogging community. These are the very people Tom says he’s fighting for, it’s the world he’s trying to protect and help grow into a credible source of information.

    People aren’t seeing eye-to-eye here. This community is at a crossroads.

    The words “check your facts” are popping up a lot. Tim you addressed it well. When Tom made the statement, “I’m not sure I’m altogether qualified to make the points I make above. Lord knows, I’ve done unethical things in my life. My glass house is pretty damn breezy,” it implied that those involved did something unethical.

    However, if you look at Tim’s code of ethics for how his own site operates independent of others. He did not break any of his codes in participating in the experiment. That’s what he means by “check your facts.”

    Everyone follows their own code of ethics. As long as bloggers are transparent and state their ethics/beliefs, I as a reader can make an informed decision based on what they’re saying. I am never misled and their credibility is not broken until they break their word.

    That’s the argument in my eyes. Are reader’s deceived or were they? I wasn’t.

    Not to mention, this experiment did something great for bloggers. Imagine my ability as a reader to look at a 6 different blogs–different perspectives, on the same wine. It’s the reason I use rottentomatoes.com for my movie reviews instead of trusting just one source (it’s an aggregate site which collects all the information posted on one movie). It’s great that I can count on information being posted at the same time by multiple sources on a similar topic–it’s a breakthrough as a reader of wine blogs.

    I think it’s important both parties note what I have written above as a young reader. If you read that, in my eyes, no one who was transparent can be labeled unethical–yet those who were CANNOT receive a complete apology.

    I think it’s perfectly respectable for Tom to have his own opinion on the issue and in the future come up with his own list of what he deems as ethical wine blogging. Then those “accused” can see the reasons they were labeled unethical by Tom’s STANDARDS, not unethical by the whole internet or some over-arching code.

    It would be something else if there were an over-arching code. I’d be amazed to see a group of the top bloggers have a summit and establish a code of conduct that cuts across all groups. Until then I rely on transparency as my saving grace to put my trust in opinions, plural.

    I hope that brings clarity to anything going on here.

  • http://1winedude.blogspot.com 1WineDude

    Great, great response, Dylan.

    I just posted the below to Tom’s blog. Not sure if anyone else would find it odd that his previous mistake (his words) didn’t rock the foundation of wine blogging ethics, but my mistake did… despite his exponentially higher traffic than mine…?

    Food for thought indeed.

    ====================

    Tom – this reviewer is *you*, right?

    http://thewinespies.com/directory/wine/264

    You don’t have to answer actually, because I checked the facts and it is actually you, as stated right here on your blog ( http://fermentation.typepad.com/fermentation/2008/04/after-great-pro.html ).

    I am correct in my understanding that the above is a program that requires you to -
    1) ‘Write about this wine in exchange for receiving it’, and
    2) Requires ‘the wine be written about within a certain time frame as a condition of receiving it’

    Right?

    You don’t have to answer that one either, because I checked the facts at thewinespies.com for you. And that is, in fact, what you have to agree to do in order to participate in the program and receive the wine:

    “Review a wine that we send you, in time for us to post [your review] on one of our 1 day sales”

    What you might want to answer is -
    How is the above different from what you and others here have been citing as a mistake? Or had you actually made the exact same mistake before any the participants in this study?

    Your words:
    “I think a mistake was made in demanding that bloggers write about this wine in exchange for receiving it. And I think a mistake was made in demanding that the wine be written about within a certain time frame as a condition of receiving it.”

    I’m really struggling as to how to frame a logical interpretation of your two posts on this subject that isn’t somehow hypocritical on your part.

    Also, my understanding is that it’s common journalistic practice to get the facts before publishing your writing.

    We’ve established that you did not do that – according to multiple statements from the winery, the participants, and the organizer of the event.

    Isn’t it also common journalistic practice to publish a retraction? From a recent correction/retraction policy I came across: “Retractions are judged according to whether the main conclusion of the paper is seriously undermined as a result.”

    Logically, a retraction from you seems to be in order on this matter?

    Looking forward to your response.
    ===========================

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Tom: I don’t think that blogging and journalism ethics should be different. I never suggested that. What I said was there are no wine blogging ethics right now. I, and my colleagues in the Rockaway experiment, made the proper disclosures. Our agreement with Jeff was unusual but the entire project was unusual. Do I think it will happen like this again? No.

    And I don’t think the debate has anything to do with generational cohorts. I’m going to turn 48 in a few weeks and might even be older than you and everyone else in the Rockaway group.

    What IS of issue is that we were judged by a self appointed jury of our peers without all the facts. End of story.

    Dylan: Your comparison with the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes is an interesting one. I will be pondering that for a future post.

    I, too, agree that everyone has a right to their opinion and we can have disagreements and still be friends — Obama and McCain highlight this in the Senate — but when bloggers call other bloggers unethical, things get more complex.

    I’m trying to bring this issue to a constructive conclusion without further damage to the medium or the individuals involved in it. The events of this week have been personally disappointing but I trust that the truth will prevail.

  • http://www.fermentation.typepad.com Tom Wark

    “Tom: I don’t think that blogging and journalism ethics should be different. I never suggested that. What I said was there are no wine blogging ethics right now.”

    Tim,

    How can you say there are no blogging ethics? It’s one thing if you want to take a relativist, Nietzschean stand and say there is no such thing as absolute morals and absolute right and wrong and that we can not, as human beings, develop a moral epistemology. If that’s your perspective then I can’t argue with you that bloggers as a group have ethical standards to live up to. We’d be looking at the issue from two different worldviews that make comparison impossible.

    If that’s not the case, however, and you do believe its possible to know things, then how do we reconcile your idea that there are not blogger standards with my notion that among the ethical standards that bloggers, like all reporters or reviewers, should live up to is “don’t lie to your readers”. I’m not accusing anyone of lying here. I’m only making the point that surely there are some ethical standards that bloggers, particularly wine bloggers that are reviewing and writing about a product, can agree to, assuming they desire legitimacy and trust from their readers.

    Can any blogger who seeks legitimacy and trust not agree that they should not take money for a positive review? I think this is an ethical standard that all will agree to.

    Can any blogger who seeks legitimacy and trust not agree that they have a responsibility to their reader that they will come as close to the truth as possible when reporting or commenting on an issue?

    Surely there are ethical standards that all wine bloggers can agree to.

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Tom: Finally something we can agree on here, a breakthrough!

    I take ethics very seriously which is why I have reacted the way I did to Steve and then you suggesting I was unethical in my review. I’m one of a small handful of wine bloggers who have a published code of ethics. Both you and Steve don’t. No offense but that makes you guys a bad judge of this sort of thing.

    I have no problem with you questioning my decision here. That’s fine. What I do have a problem with is being called unethical when I didn’t violate my own code of ethics.

    And, yes, there is a code of ethics wine bloggers can agree with. Let’s take that one over to the Open Wine Consortium to hash out.

    (BTW, I don’t know why all your comments go into moderation. Akismet is acting up, not me).

  • http://www.goodgrape.com Jeff

    Hmmm,

    Let’s see here.

    Ryan from Catavino is back-pedaling

    Tom from Fermentation is dead to rights

    Steve Heimoff sends personal emails to every commenter to caveat his post.

    I’d say we’ve accomplished at least the balanced truth to come out, even if Tom, Ryan and Steve went on a witch hunt, against friendly colleagues, without the facts.

    Nice work here Tim on presenting the accurate and true representation of the facts.

    Jeff

  • Jon

    Tim,

    I frankly do not understand why this issue has blown up. I find the issue of Gary V (winelibrary.com) reviewing the wines that he sells and directly profits from his reviews, while claiming that he is 100% objective, a much bigger issue.

    I praise you for being involved in something groundbreaking, the time is at hand where the power is shifting from a small handful of journalist controlling the review of wine to a much more egalitarian time where the blogesphere is playing an ever more important role.

    The traditional wine journalists are running scared because this will ultimately cost them readers and in the end advertising revenue!

    KEEP ON BLOGGING!

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Jeff: Thanks for coordinating what has become an innovative marketing experiment on several levels. Also for your prose.

    Jon: I really don’t know why this became such a big deal either. I think that without Steve’s post Tom might have taken a different tone in his writing and things might have worked out differently.

    Now I’m back to blogging about something other than is episode and encourage you to check out Rockaway Cab; it’s delicious.

  • http://www.wineforall.com Tish

    {Apologies if this duplicates a previous comment; I think that got lost in cyberspace.}

    Tim, this is the best and most balanced overview and thread yet. Congratulations on becoming the eye of the storm. It may take a while, but wine blogging will emerge much stornger from this. And the healing should begin with everyone realizing that despite all the emotions, I see virtually NO ILL INTENT among the posters and commenters. This is all unchartered territory.

    And as I have said elsewhere, I think this is all going to draw more attention to wine media ethics in general. Both the WS scandal and the Rockaway incident are small boo-boos compared to the more sublt but insidious ethical shenanigans that go on in traditional wine trade channels and media. Maybe bloggers can turn their energy in that direction.

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Tish,

    Thanks for your comment here; I just responded to your comment on Tom’s blog.

    I think you are right that the silver lining here is we will hammer out a blogger code of ethics. I also think that more bloggers will do a bit more background work before posting inflammatory accusations on their blog and digging in behind them in the comments.

    But the big win for all wine consumers is for everyone who writes about wine to fully disclose their process and who pays for what. To me, disclosure is the bottom line not necessarily what goes on. Readers are smart and can make their own decisions if presented with all the facts.

  • craigL

    Let me start by saying, you don’t know me.

    But I know you, all of you, as bloggers.

    I love wine. I make wine at home. I drink as many different wines as I can. I love when I find a really good bottle that is really inexpensive. I love to mark the day, from the most mundane to the most special, with a glass of wine.

    I also love reading about wine. I read the Spectator (even though they seem to have a soft spot for fake lists) and, as of the past year or so, I have been reading your blogs. And I love them also. I find your posts interesting and thought provoking. I’m not sure if I’m your target audience because I am a “lurker.” I rarely, if ever post a comment. I give your blogs a quick read in the morning and then go on with running my business, or taking my son to baseball, or whatever else fills my day. I learn a lot from your blogs, and from the comments that follow your posts.

    Your blogs are such a GREAT alternative source of information. Thank you for giving people like me your time as you craft your posts. I know it can’t be for the money for most of you. It has to be about the love and passion for wine. But sometimes passion gets us to point where we start to lose meaningful dialogue, and rather find ourselves involved in personal attacks.

    You should know that lately, after I read many of the posts and comments on various wine blogs, I have the same feeling in my stomach that I get when I find myself in a fight with my wife. It’s a feeling of anger, and hurt, and regret, and loneliness.

    It’s almost exactly the opposite of the feeling that I have when we are together, talking about our day, laughing about silly things, fascinated by the new wine find of the day, or pouring a glass of an old favorite.

    I look to your blogs for the latter experience, but lately the former is oozing from my screen. I am saddened. Something that I really enjoy has changed as of late. I’m finding that I am hesitant to check in, because I don’t find what I am reading to be of any value to me. Maybe you are okay with that, and that’s fine with me. But for me, I feel like I’m in the middle of a shootout of personal and hurtful comments, written in the heat of the moment, that cannot be taken back. It is sad for me to watch.

    I know a lot of you must feel personally hurt, and under attack, and misunderstood. I am sorry about that. If I could humbly offer a piece of advice that comes from personal experience, it would be to walk away.

    Walk away from this for now. Let it go. Enjoy something non-wine for a while. Let it go. At this point nothing is getting resolved. It is too personal.

    You all are entitled to your opinions, and, obviously, to your criticisms. That’s why I love reading your blogs. But we are way past an exchange of opinions and ideas and thoughtful criticisms.

    From the “cheap seats” I am eagerly awaiting the next WBW, or your next unexpected gem, or an insight into your life and how wine is a part of it. But before that, I am stepping away for a day or two. I have a peach port, a Riesling, and a Tempranillo to bottle today, a Zin to savor tonight, and then the rest of the weekend to enjoy. Join me, and leave this stuff behind. Enjoy your weekend.

    Cheers!

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Craig,

    Thank you for your advice. I have posted my last thoughts about this issue here and will be writing up some wine reviews now. I agree this has gotten out of hand and I hope we can draw some perspective from this now. Perhaps a code of blogger ethics will come from this…

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