You never stop learning; recently I’ve been enlightened as to some of the features that make for a good blog post, and some that don’t. Good blogging is different to journalism, or “wine writing” per se, which is not widely regarded as the cutting edge of investigative journalism (even if the prose itself can be quite cutting at times). Some words that come to mind as I write this that would perhaps describe an admirable blog post include spontaneous, honest, provocative, engaging and stimulating. Feel free to suggest more.
Some of these thoughts have gelled in my mind following a post made by Jamie Goode concerning the wining of a Decanter Trophy by a Chinese wine. In it, Jamie highlighted the winning of the award, contrasted against other opinions on the wine which were quite negative (it having been assessed on blind tasting by Joe Wadsack and Tim French, two people “with palates I respect”, said Jamie). It was all kicked off by this article, by Victoria Moore, who won a Roederer award this year in relation to this column in the Telegraph.
In my opinion, Jamie over-stepped the mark with some of his comments. But that’s OK, after all it was his personal opinion he was expressing, in his honest fashion. It’s up to Jamie to judge where his ‘mark’ is, and he will post according to it, not to my ‘mark’ or any other. I gave some criticism of the research (or lack of) Jamie had undertaken before posting, but perhaps I shouldn’t have. A different point of view would have been to accept that it was never meant to be a heavily researched newspaper article carrying multiple levels of evidence to back up his statement. It was an opinion piece….and it matched many of the features describing good blogging I have listed above; it was certainly honest and provocative. In keeping with that it stimulated a lot of debate, one of the joy of blogs; and whereas I strongly disagreed with some of Jamie’s statements, I would defend his right to make those statements for as long as the debate continued….and for many moons afterwards.
The piece has generated some interest across the internet, such as Nerval’s piece here, where he likens it to wine racism – but note that he is referring to some of the blog comments, not Jamie himself. I’m not sure I agree with Nerval’s opinion though, as I have to confess I thought the comments on Jamie’s blog post included a lot of informed opinion, in some cases based on some knowledge and experience of tasting Chinese wine. I note Nerval doesn’t mention in his blog post whether he has tasted any such wine himself. Nevertheless, as with Jamie, I would defend Nerval’s right to express this opinion. But let’s not go off on a tangent; this isn’t about Nerval.
So returning to Jamie’s post, you will notice I have linked to Victoria Moore, and to Nerval, but not to Jamie’s original post. The reason for this is simple; the post was deleted. Jamie says so here. There’s no strong reason given, although Jamie admits “it upset people”.
It certainly did upset people. And I find some of the reactions the piece generated to be difficult to understand. Let’s look at Decanter for a moment; and perhaps envisage a ‘model’ response to criticism of their Wine Awards. It seems to me that if you have a robust process for wine judging (which is certainly the case at Decanter), when unusual and thus newsworthy results come out in the wash are subject to external criticism you should fall back on your process; for trophy winners at the Decanter World Wine Awards (at which I judge, although I am certainly not important enough to judge at the level this wine attained – I stick to the Loire where we rarely award a gold, never mind a trophy) this would involve blind tasting, multiple tasting panels giving multiple levels of assessment, no information as to country of origin given to tasters, only price band and style, and so on. You have the high ground, so to speak. Stick to it. Issue some well-chosen words, a calm rebuttal, provide clarity on the judging process for those who don’t know it inside-out. Maybe leave it at that?
In this situation, though, something else seems to have happened.
First up, a little rumour regarding a strongly worded interaction between Jamie and Guy Woodward, Decanter editor, on the night of the Roederer awards. To quote Neal Martin, commenting on his Twitter feed – “I keep hearing rumours that @guyawoodward gave @jamiegoode a Chinese burn backstage at the Roederers. Is Gripper Stebson back?” For those outside the UK and unfamiliar with ‘Gripper Stebson’, he was the archetypal school bully in Grange Hill, a long-running and enormously popular children’s television drama about life in an English comprehensive school. Rumour-humour from Neal? Most humour is based in truth of course, and Neal isn’t the only source of reports of a strongly-worded interaction (the phrase I heard was “bollocking”) between Guy and Jamie that evening.
And then, on his blog, before the whole thread was deleted, Jamie wrote of the reaction to the post, describing “Phone calls from the publishing director on a Saturday; bullying and rudeness from the editor and posts from the chairman of the awards…”. It’s clear he took some personal heat for what he wrote. Ultimately Jamie admits to feeling “vulnerable” in a subsequent posting on Twitter: “Going to bed glum – expect people to be fair and objective – maybe expecting too much? Feel vulnerable now”. The next day he deleted the post. What has happened to induce this feeling of deflation, and induce Jamie to go on and delete his Chinese wine post? It looks, from my distant viewpoint, as if Jamie has been hounded out of expressing his opinion, though a process of personal face-to-face interactions, telephone calls and blog posts.
It was perhaps, to my mind, in places, an ill-worded opinion that Jamie expressed, but a few poorly chosen words are no longer the ‘great crime’ here. I am worried that a far greater wrong has been committed, and that is one of censorship by harassment.