Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Media Ethics: Facebook Style

Whether we use it for personal communications, business or both, Facebook puts us at the helm of a virtual multi-media corporation that can publish words, images or sounds in a nanosecond. This capability offers unparalleled expression, but it demands some basic responsibilities with none being more pertinent that media ethics.

Media ethics: it’s a junior-level core requirement in many university communications curricula, and most traditional media outlets have some form of ethics code for their newsroom staff.

In the old days, ethical challenges were pretty simple — albeit not always easy — “do we go to press with the story and/or photos or not?”

Graphics were either drawings or photos, and the latter could only be manipulated in the dark room by a handful of processors with tools and chemicals. Things are quite different today.

Access to information and public figures has never been greater; reporters can post web stories and digital photos via cell phone from remote locations; and image-editing software can test the limits of our perception. Social networking alone has hundreds of mobile applications, and that number increases by the day.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the need for ethical behavior to guide us through our assumed role as virtual publishers. We have become “paramedia”, and consequently, much of the media’s code of ethics has direct application to adult Facebook members with even greater responsibility required of public relations professionals using it for business.

One of the best codes that I’ve seen belongs to the Society of Professional Journalists with their version being an evolution of a document that was first published in 1926. Two entries under the Act Independently section have direct transference to PR pros: “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “Disclose unavoidable conflicts”.

In the realm of Facebook’s casual nature, PR pros are without question free to post anything legal on personal pages that is not a conflict of interest, and they are simply doing their job when advocating for clients on clients’ pages.

When it comes to plugging clients on personal pages, however, the public has a “right to know” that the endorsements have a hidden agenda even if it is a pro bono arrangement. That is the unwritten code of ethics we are obliged to follow, and despite my soul searching, I truly can’t think of one mitigating circumstance.

This will not be very popular with some of my colleagues, but let me go on record by stating that “plugging clients sans disclosure via personal pages” violates our inherent code of ethics, and consequently, I encourage all PR pros to begin declaring such involvement.

Note: A day after putting the finishing touches to the story, I received a link to a related story showing that others are thinking along these same lines:


Friday, August 14, 2009

Wine Industry Arrogance Alienates the Masses

A few months ago, I stumbled across a web posting by a woman who was apparently acquainted with people working in the wine industry. Her main complaint was that “wine business people think they are better than everyone else”. I started thinking about this by inventorying the various segments of the wine trade, and had to admit there was some truth in her statement.

We are certainly privileged to work in a lifestyles industry as well as living in or around “wine country”. However, that sense of exclusivity doesn’t justify a single over-inflated ego.

My second observation was that people with the greatest wine knowledge — those in wine production — are the least arrogant. Whether they are winemakers, vineyard managers or cellar rats, most of the people getting their hands dirty have the attitude of a worker bee. There must be something humbling about processing tons of sticky grapes or silos of fermenting juice.

I’ve also noticed how certain groups within the industry think they are part of the chosen few who know all there is to know about wine, as in: “I’m a hotshot distributor salesperson from Manhattan, and I have the inside track on the wine biz because I tasted DRC at a staff meeting.” But I digress.

Two of the most pompous segments include wine media and those annoying tasting room know-it-alls that rear their ugly heads at the least opportune times. Such ill-mannered behavior is especially harmful because most consumers have little contact with the industry beyond wine publications and tasting rooms. (I’ve also encountered a handful of sommeliers that need to get their nose out of their … gl-ass.)

While I know plenty of warm and fuzzy wine writers, others have an inflated sense of self-importance for sure. It’s evident in their writing, and they wear it on their public shoulder. Puh-uh-lees. Wine publication is not neurosurgery — it does not save lives or souls. However, it can single-handedly drive a product like no other, so therein lies the power and delusion.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly in tasting rooms. Most tasting room workers are genuinely kind and approachable, but I’ve encountered far too many with a chip on their shoulder.

Recently, I visited a pious Kenwood winery with some out-of-towners. Within seconds of our arrival, an attendant sternly confronted a friend with the words “define dry” after she politely said she didn’t like dry wine. Hmmm. So let’s bully the tourists visiting wine country — the antithesis of where we should be. (I immediately steered our quartet out the door, and email the marketing office the next day because I thought someone might care, but no one ever responded. See any pattern?)

Wine business arrogance only exacerbates the perpetual challenge of trying to sell a beverage that already demands special understanding, special vernacular and special stemware. The industry will never command a larger share of the adult drinks market with contemptuous treatment of the masses, and it would be better served if the “front of the house” carried itself a little closer to the ground.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Take Your Gloves Off: Merlot vs. Pinot Noir

Latent Response to the Anti-Merlot Movement

When I first saw Sideways, I empathized with Miles as he felt the sting of having his novel rejected, then pitied the hapless Jack as he sowed his wild oats, but never once did I contemplate dropping an old love, merlot, for a more fashionable belle, pinot noir.

Like Miles, some winemakers and wine aficionados have tossed merlot aside like a worn-out toy. What’s up with that? Sorry, but I’m not buying in.

Sure, there were wimpy merlots made in the wake of its over-planting in the 1990s, but the same can be said of pinot noir after the influx of “mare-low”. The anti-merlot movement has, in effect, written off one of history’s great varietals because a cult film brought notoriety to the improper handling of merlot by a few.

To be clear, I enjoy pinot as much or more than merlot; I’m just not ready to throw the latter under the bus without good cause.

Despite the bad press, merlot continues to be worthy of the finest hour. Try convincing people buying Château Pétrus, a Pomerol made from 100% merlot and one of the most expensive wines in the world, that they are investing in second-rate juice.

Furthermore, modern-day merlot has descended from the ranks of nobility. Do you want to let one cult movie dictate which wine to enjoy? “Well, do ya, punk?” *** Didn’t think so.

About six months ago, I opened a bottle of 1995 Michel-Schlumberger Dry Creek Valley Merlot. The wine had plenty of gusto left on its 14-year-old bones (that’s 90 in dog and merlot years). The nose showed dark ripe fruit, vanilla and anise; the flavors were broad and concentrated; the tannin-acid structure was holding steady. If it were any bigger, the wine would have to shop at a big and tall shop. Dip a paintbrush in a glass and spread it on some canvas.

*** from the movie Dirty Harry

Notes: (1) In all probability, this post should have been made right after Sideways was released, but I didn’t blog back then; (2) I worked at Michel-Schlumberger in the 90s, but have no affiliation today.