The food media is doing an awful lot of navel-gazing right now. It’s in large part due part due to the recent demise of Gourmet, the magazine dear to many a foodie heart, and once thought too big to fail (and by “big” I mean both important and deep-pocketed). The shuttering of Gourmet was a wake-up call for the food and drink media community, forcing many of us to lift our noses from plate and laptop, and take stock of what’s happening in the wider, sometimes Wild-West media scene.
Beverage media is by no means exempt, and in fact faces its own unique set of challenges. I’ve been taking part in dialogues myself at venues like the recent Wine Entrepreneur Conference in Washington, D.C., and the upcoming Roger Smith Food Writers Conference here in New York on Feb. 13. Both events are new to the world this year, and both include panels on writing about potables. (But they’re not the only discussions going on – check out also The Future of Food Journalism on Feb. 8 and The New York New Food Media Panel on Friday. And of course, the annual Wine Writers Symposium kicking off on Feb. 16. Damn, we’re a chatty bunch this month!)
Guess what? There are a few secrets those of us who write about cocktails and spirits would prefer outsiders didn’t know, such as:
1. The words every booze journalist fears the most are: “Just tell me what to drink.” I have to credit wine writer Alice Feiring with this insight. But it’s 100%, undeniably true, and it’s not something I’ve ever heard from general food writers. As journalists, we consider ourselves storytellers — we want to tell you the story behind that great bottle, bartender, distiller, etc. Beverage writers fear that our great passion may be marginalized as just something to pair with a meal. (and if you want to hear more from Alice, she’ll be one of my panelists at the Roger Smith event, along with blogger Nora Maynard and Mutineer wunderkind Alan Kropf.)
2. It’s difficult to be both a booze writer and a wine writer. Believe me, I’m trying to do both. But it’s an incredibly fragmented world. Each requires their own vast knowledge set, not to mention industry contacts, vocabulary, etc. etc. And it fragments even further if you aspire to write about food AND beverages, or coffee AND wine. From the outside it may all appear seamless, but from within it can segment endlessly.
3. We’d all better get camera-ready if we still want careers in five years. I’ve always wondered why there isn’t more “wine and booze TV” since we’re so inundated by Food TV. Apparently I’m not the only one who is thinking this. Look at The Winemakers, the Tasty awards, that gross-but-adorable McNuggetini video. Yes, video produced specifically to watch online is getting eyeballs too. Unfortunately, most booze TV has been amateurish, or assumes that viewers are morons (or drunk. okay, maybe drunk). If someone can raise the bar and make engaging, well-produced booze tv, they stand to make a lot of money. If that’s you, call me.
4. The “booze fairy” is our best friend. Except when it isn’t. That’s right, the dirty little secret of wine and spirits journalists are those brown-box deliveries that slosh when you pick them up. Sometimes I wonder how spirits companies don’t go out of business, they send so many product samples to bloggers and journalists to try, and hopefully write about. (I do love that “Liquor Fairy” graphic.) Of course, this isn’t a problem isolated to beverage writers, and Dianne Jacobs not long ago had a fabulous post about guidelines for food bloggers. Still, I rarely see a critical review of products that tend to arrive on the doorstep, moreso for beverages than for food products. I guess that would result in the end of said deliveries.
What do you think? Are we all needlessly obsessing about the state of food and beverage media?