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Joe Fattorini: There’s no wisdom in crowd sourcing wine columns

Published:  30 August, 2017

Are you friends with wine writers on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter? Then you'll be familiar with "#JournoRequest!!!". Or maybe "Help from the #hivemind..." and "Hey everyone, I need your tips". Crowd-sourced wine writing.

It goes like this. You come up with a title and pop a request on social media for tips or wines to include. You wait a bit. Say thank you a lot. Then edit it all together. I suppose the notion is that you're humble enough to acknowledge you don't know it all. Well, that's very good of you. And you're giving column space to unacknowledged ideas, tips and wines. Bravo you. But you're also abandoning creativity and cheating more assiduous writers out of work. And you're killing wine columns.

These columns are the antithesis of creativity. Does anyone imagine Virginia Woolf asked her friends "Hey gang, can I have tips on what I should write about next week?" "Hi Ginny!! It would be super fun to read about a boy, who’s a woman, who never gets old, who’s actually your lover! Lol". Of course not. She wrote Orlando through the hard, lonely, creative work of coming up with an idea and turning it into something captivating. Wine writers should too.

Crowd sourcing your writing isn't just lazy. It's cheating. How so? Because commissioning editors will ask freelance columnists to pitch for articles. They'll offer the commission to the lowest cost bidder. Asking followers and friends for “favourites and gems I should look out for” avoids the legwork of calling in samples and tasting them. And it cheats people who do. Not in theory. In practice. Twitter collations of mates' tips now regularly rob work from people who taste for real.

And let's forget the idea that this gives voice to "ordinary drinkers". The Twitter and Facebook commentariat are not “ordinary drinkers”. They are an echo chamber of received opinion and commercial self-interest. Twenty-five years ago, before social media, I took a selection of classed growth clarets to a notorious pub next to a Salvation Army hostel in Glasgow. It smelled a bit of urine. And there was a brief fight. But the tasting notes were fascinating and cast a new light on Bordeaux. Those were “ordinary drinkers”. Writing like this means stepping out of your house.

Today crowd sourcing has two, contrasting, consequences. One is in the world of commissioned pieces where writers bid for columns. Writers who do original research and write with creativity and wit are being ousted by social media mavens knitting together other peoples’ opinions and advice. We may complain word counts are being cut. But is tedious reportage of trade mates' thoughts the reason why?

Alternatively, chat to established writers with long-standing columns, writing the old way by digging through samples. Alone in a room thinking creatively. They say they’re being given more space, additional features and specialist wine commissions. Their word counts are going up.

If you think you recognise yourself here, trust me, this isn't personal. There are an awful lot of you. And I love you all. Most importantly, I want you to succeed. Stop asking Twitter and Facebook what you should write. Instead, buy a copy of "Hegarty on Creativity". Go for a walk. Read Alexander Pope. Call for samples. Taste them alone or with curious people. Work harder. Wine deserves it and you are better than this.

Joe Fattorini presents The Wine Show on ITV and was wine writer for The Herald newspaper for 14 years. He is the IWSC Wine Communicator of the Year 2017.