On writing: The wine writer is dead; long live the wine writer

I guess I ended up there as well. In the place where the written word is part of my identity, of my thought process, of my decisions and definitions. It should have been expected if I look at my family. My father has the word as part of his DNA, his thoughts falling onto paper like drops of water from his fingertips. Rows of books on our shelves bear his name. My sister has always had a language to make me alternately laugh and cry. She is only truly at home in a place where the words come to her – without them she seems lost. With a bit of final tuning she has in her the potential to be one of the most beautiful writers of our generation. Even my 90-yearold grandfather writes; articles and books for the crowd interested in the steam-engine trains of days past. We write. That is how we create our link with the world around us, how we make our thoughts and dreams come into vision for ourselves while sharing this blessed life of travel and discovery we have been granted.

But how then, come to terms with this in a world where the written word is losing its value? Where freelance journalists can hardly make a living because the only word desired is the ad-word, or possibly advertorial content. Where people don’t want to read more than 140 characters in a status update. Where depth is so seldom rewarded. Where the real journalism of days past – the one that takes time, a critical eye, many many hours of digging, and which definitely can’t be bought – is no longer possible to carry out if you need to pay for rent. And if it were financially viable – would it even matter? Will people read it and know the difference? The shelves are full of glossy magazines, each one a bleak copy of the other. What is said in 98% of those texts has already been said. Probably better. Content in droves is available online. For free. Not even I want to pay for it. The most successful blogs are the ones written by “Blondinbella” and other young, hip fashionistas who more often than not can’t manage rudimentary grammar (and why would they want to – their content is driven by the pictures of their latest outfit and their readers couldn’t care less). Quality writing on the internet exists and can be an amazing resource and a fantastic inspiration, but I will bet my unacceptably low writer’s fee that it is not where the money is.

This might seem like a rant based on my personal challenge of making a living as a freelance journalist in wine, but it is not the case. The world is evolving and I have had so many career roles besides writer that I am not worried about finding a new one. But what worries me is what the diminishing value of the written word means for our society, and even more so, what the marginalization of independent, in-depth journalism means for critical thought in future generations. The written word has given me so very much in life, given me insight and adventures beyond my own experience. Has forced me to view the world from different angles and broadened my mind toward my fellow human beings. I don’t see that something else has taken its place. Glimmers of hope come when magazines like ICON launch, with space for long, deep and beautifully written articles. (I bugged their editors for most of 2012 until they finally gave in and gave me my first commission.) They have been around for a year now; if they make it, maybe the future for quality writing is not as bleak as the current Swedish November “sun”. If not… well…

The wine writer is dead, says my favorite wine writer (sic) Andrew Jefford. But when we met a few months ago he also said that the written word is the best possible way to communicate on wine. “I feel writing will continue to be associated with wine,” he said. “The synthesis of the intellectual and the sensual and all the layers of complexity; none of this is easily resumable in any visual form. You can be very succinct in writing which is hard in other media. Visually, wine tasting is dull. Through what you write you can open up a whole world of sensorial analogies which are not easily available to anybody watching.” I feel this argument stands for a great many topics outside of wine.

The wine writer is dead. Long live the wine writer?

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4 Responses to “On writing: The wine writer is dead; long live the wine writer”

  1. 2012/11/27 at 12:26 #

    Thanks for this.

    As you may remember we ‘almost’ met at RAW.

    I’m a fan of yours but just don’t agree with you on this one.

    You need to separate people, like yourself, and a host of bloggers looking for income on blogs in a traditional paid for writing or media based models and the power of the word.

    Never has the word been more powerful because never has there been platforms available to everyone to publish. No revelation there but it’s just a case in point that its not the word, it’s the model that all this lamenting is about.

    People are producing astronomical amounts of content, mostly words and it impacts everything.

    For the pros like yourself with amazing skills and deep knowledge and making a living. I think a different question.

    For myself, my blogs which are written too infrequently, I’m too much in love with the written word for certain but get read well, get commented on heavily and are the source of my consulting businesses.

    Not a perfect model but one that works well as I write to express my thoughts and those thoughts are my vehicle for work.

    And it was this idea which has brought me to build theLocalSip which lets the wine shops themselves through their postings drive the market to their stores to taste and buy wine.

    Words are immensely even more powerful to meet audiences and sell products. It’s just the old models for how you get paid for these words that has certainly changed.

    • 2012/12/01 at 12:25 #

      It took me so long to figure out what to answer to this because you have a few good points and a few things I disagree with. I definitely agree that you can still get paid through writing, just the model has changed. It is more about building a brand now and getting the money from other venues – consulting, speaking, other sales. But I still feel that this change of model is killing journalism as it used to be. The independent, deeply researched, well written word. We have access to more words than ever, but the average quality has been marginalized. Anything can be published, anytime, and thus the amount of thought that goes in to the average text is nothing compared to 20, 50 or 100 years ago. We have to become masters at sifting through this mass. Again, our ability to connect with kindred spirits across the globe through the written word has never been greater. Still, the average quality – in content and presentation – of a text has probably never been lower than at present. Hope and disillusion, in one go. Brave new world…

  2. 2012/11/27 at 11:56 #

    good article, Erica. Perhaps, though, what is happening to the written word is the same as what is happening to so many facets of our so-called society. write something (however banal) and the great unwashed masses will lap it up as readily as they do bad movies, junk food and sub-standard wine. as long as it is in bite size pieces, easily digestible and written in a way that is decipherable to any unicellular organism masquerading as a brain. the old adage ”you can never go wrong by appealing to the lowest common denominator” has never been more true than at present. i despair…

    • 2012/12/01 at 12:30 #

      Yes, at worst, this is what it looks like. However, with my basically positive outlook on life, I feel that in the midst of this despair at the level of our average communication, there is the seed of a new revolution as well. The pendulum always swings too far before coming back. The desire for good writing gets greater, among some, the worse the average text is looking. Perhaps within a few years, we will be willing to pay for the quality we so sorely miss. This transition from print media to online has done quite a number on us, but maybe in due time even I will be willing to pay for well written, well researched texts. And then there we go again!