Print Writers Accuse Bloggers of #WordCrimes at #WBC14

Wherein I somehow manage to weave together wine blogging, wine bloggers, and print wine journalists with Weird Al Yankovic, Mark Twain, Fenimore Cooper, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Christopher Walken…

“I may be mistaken, but it does seem to me that “Deerslayer” is not a work of art in any sense; it does seem to me that it is destitute of every detail that goes to the making of a work of art; in truth, it seems to me that “Deerslayer” is just simply a literary delirium tremens.

“A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are — oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.

“Counting these out, what is left is Art. I think we must all admit that.” Mark Twain commenting on Fenimore Cooper’s literary novel, The Deerslayer.

WBC14-Participation-BadgeThere’s a bit of a controversy brewing over a couple of the panels and sessions at WBC.

And yes, print wine writers on more than one occasion accused online wine writers of various “#wordcrimes” to cite Weird Al.

One panel in particular, the one with three white male print panelists and moderated by Taylor Eason, has drawn a rant from Mary Cressler that has produced livid comments where she has posted it on Facebook as well as on her blog post.

Begins Mary in her response: “I was particularly eager to hear what the “pros” had to say on day two of the 7th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference, in a session titled: Panel of Professional Print Wine Writers.  The professionals on the panel included writers James Conaway, Mike Dunne, and Steve Heimoff.”

However, as Mary and many of us quickly noticed, they really weren’t speaking to this diverse audience of bloggers, many who in general are not trained journalists or even writers–they are enthusiastic about wine and want to share that enthusiasm: to tell a tale, to share what they have learned. In fact, the gentlemen didn’t seem to have much knowledge of this mostly self-published genre with no editor in sight (although Steve Heimoff has a blog, he has tended to identify with his print persona and went with it for this panel).

Allan Wright of Zephyr Adventures which organizes the conference commented that “Regarding diversity, we mostly take the top panelists available to us without regard to gender, race, or sexuality unless a panel is specifically about that – like “women winemakers”. We can do a better job to be proactive.”

But who are the top panelists? And how is this determined? And how is it that they tend to all look the same even when the roomful of bloggers (and winery professionals) is becoming more and more diverse? This reminds me of when I was preparing to teach my first college composition class. It had an environmental literature theme and I used many of the readings form a class taught by Page Stegner, Wallace Stegner’s son. Until someone pointed it out to me, I hadn’t realized that the syllabus was almost entirely made up of work by white men. When I said that this was the “best” I heard otherwise and my syllabus was the better for it (Rachel Carson? Annie Dillard? N. Scott Momaday? Leslie Marmon Silko? to name a few of the missing writers who have subsequently  appeared on my syllabi).

Allan recognized that “it was probably a turnoff to have writers seemingly put down bloggers.” Definitely! (See Twain’s comments above). “However, I think the point of the panel was exactly what it delivered – the point of view of the professional print wine writer.” But then what is the value of this perspective?  “We have had dozens of panels over the years representing the views of bloggers and this was designed to be different.” And as someone who has attended those sessions, I can say that it is refreshing to hear how diverse the advice is!

Allan concluded by saying he will add a “print writing versus blogging” panel next year to the  list of possibilities; I can only hope that it will be a compare and contrast session and not a VERSUS.

Further in the comments, wine publicist and blogger Mike Wangbickler of Through the Bunghole notes a trend, even a paradigm shift: “a move away from scores, stats, and criticism to more focus on the consumer and what their likes and dislikes are (and what the blogger prefers). In the end, this trend will probably continue and will require us to shift our thinking just a bit when talking about ‘wine writers’. But, for now, we’re going to have to keep a foot in both camps.”

Developing a rubric that compares and defines blogs, online magazines, and other online writing would definitely have value. Sometimes when I have looked at the entries for the Wine Blog Awards I have wondered in what way it was considered a blog in the first place. Comparing online standards with the standards and expectations of various forms of print might have value for many attendees or maybe it should be a smaller breakout session where more people can participate.

In fact, that is the biggest criticism of the conference for me: with 300 or more people attending this session (and others), it really wasn’t feasible the way the session was designed to have a discussion about the issues the panelists brought up and since I was finding a lack of value, I joined my table mates in checking email, twitter, Facebook, etc.  In fact, it seemed that very few people in the room were fully paying attention.

In the future, more smaller sessions and more community building would be great; even the big sessions can be designed to create interaction (says the college teacher).

the Walken comma

thanks to @ebetho for this

I heard mixed results from the Sunday session where 45 bloggers met in smaller groups with the three wine writers. While some people said they were helpful, others felt they were nothing short of humiliating. Personally, as much as I would like to have some good feedback on my writing from a writing group, I questioned the credentials of the “teachers” and I chose to attend the WordPress session with Andrea Middleton which was very strong.

The disregard that some of us have experienced for the writing of bloggers reminded me of Twain’s criticism of Deerslayer –and of his advice to people everywhere who are spinning tales and certainly I think that’s what many of us in wine want to do.

While none of us deserve to be trashed (even Fenimore Cooper!), we can all use advice–established and newer writers alike.

So instead of rehashing this further, and as someone trained in journalism, who has written print columns, essays, and articles, and as someone who has taught writing for over 25 years at the college level, I think you’d be just as informed by watching the Weird Al video above, watching my ignite video from PDX in 2012, reading Meg Houston Maker’s suggestions for writers from WBC10, or getting more advice from Mark Twain.

Because as much as I’d love to be writing gorgous heartful artful philosophical articles like Hawk Wakawaka or Randall Grahm, (both of whom were nominated for best overall wine blog this year and for other awards in previous years) for the most part, I’m just trying to get the blog posts up with as few technical errors as possible and engaging photos from my iPhone. And while I hate to let my own typos slip, I will admit that I am amazed that more wine bloggers don’t know the difference between it’s and its.

According to an edited version of Twain’s rant (replace tale with blog post and you’re good to go; if you want to read the whole thing here it is.):

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5. The require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it.

8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale.

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

14. Eschew surplusage.

15. Not omit necessary details.

16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

17. Use good grammar.

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Thanks for stopping by and reading. If you were at WBC14, what did you think of the panel and do you see any similarities to how Twain took down Cooper with how the print panelists took bloggers to task? What do you think defines online and print beyond the medium upon which the ideas are presented?

And finally, what did the panelists say about writing that YOU found useful this year at WBC14?

PS With this post, I’m going to take a bit of a social media break and spend some quality time with my family–off-line and in nature. So it may take me a bit longer than usual to approve comments (please do!) or to respond. And some where in these nearly 2000 words I know are typos including at least one “form” that should be “from”!

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7 thoughts on “Print Writers Accuse Bloggers of #WordCrimes at #WBC14

  1. I was at the wine writers’ workshop at WBC14 too. I may have had a little different reaction than the others. Yes, I thought the writers pressed the professional wine writing theme a little hard… but I also heard their message loud and clear. People need to develop thicker skins. I signed-up for the workshop knowing I might get skewered… I was told the piece I submitted read too young and was not honest to who I am. Perhaps… but writing is also an escape of sorts. The criticism was good for me. I came back and edited a few of my older pieces and I am happier with the result. My take-aways were: don’t take short-cuts on spelling, grammar and sentence structure and find your personal VOICE. Like many of you my blogging is not just for me. I want to produce work I am proud of. It was tough, but I enjoyed the workshop.

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  2. Great points here, predator! I agree with your overall themes, but I do take exception with one of your premises: while the audience was diverse among gender lines, it was still overwhelmingly white. That does not excuse the lack of diversity on the panel, but let’s face facts–there is not a whole lot of “color” attending WBC. Does that reflect wine blogging writ large? I have no idea, but it is perhaps an area that needs more exploration….

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