L’affaire Bullard confirms that SA journalism is not immune to the pressures and problems besetting our British brothers exposed and trawled over by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News (Chatto & Windus, 2008). With 47 800 PR spin doctors spinning away in the UK versus 45 000 journos, no wonder 88% of British newspaper stories are “churnalism” according to a recent study by the School of Journalism of Cardiff University.
Davies dams Fleetstreet, calling “the heart of modern journalism… the rapid repackaging of largely unchecked second-hand material, much of its designed to service the political or commercial interests of those who provide it.” Old fashioned fact checking has been replaced by cut-and-pasting PR releases with newbie hacks aspiring to a celebrity column rather than the investigative beat of a Carl Bernstein or Bob Woodward.
SA wine writing is perhaps in a more perilous position than the rest of the pack with Winescape and Winelands Living just two magazines that ran out of ink earlier this year. But rather than dying, wine writing is morphing with bling-bling lifestyle magazines being replaced by freebee broadsheets like Monika Elias’s Wine Tourism News, about to release its most profitable edition in May. Another healthy development is the rise of wine blogs, which makes the most recent spat at Grape doubly important.
Earlier this week, Russian journo Bisso Atanassov posted a refreshing view of the Cape from a recent visit which included the statement “in South Africa, you see pickers getting off a bakkie, see a bushvine vineyard and declare they do not feel like picking today. You don’t feel like what?!? Come on, this can’t happen even in Europe!”
Grape editor Tim James adds a comment which must have had WoSA cringing. The comment is then challenged by Emile Joubert on the basis that James is sermonizing rather than reporting, to which James and fellow editor Cathy van Zyl respond with an ad hominem attack on Joubert. Check it out and make up your own mind.
While the squabbles in SA wine writing are often so vicious because the stakes are so low, what is healthy is that such issues are being raised and the dirty laundry is being washed in public. Which makes for more website hits, newspaper and magazine sales and discussion. Something sorely needed in SA wine after generations of paternalism and silence.
Pendock is a contributor to Wine Tourism News and was Wine editor of Winescape.