Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jumping the Snark

I’ve been away from the home fires for a couple of days and seem to have landed in a Dantean Purgatory for journalists. As I mentioned to a friend earlier today, I am back in the Invisible Man character. Knowing I don’t live in NY any longer (not any longer than I had to), but when one meets a person a handful of times, you’d think they’d at least try to pretend to remember you. Give it the old Hollywood try. These are folks who are writing about wine and the hospitality business? Seems they could stand to take a cue and become a little more hospitable. Not to mention the benefits from actively working with contacts like we do mulch. The new network? Meh, a lot of these folks are from the dead tree school of writing.

We're sittting in a press conference. Basically a bunch of weary Italian speakers spouting banalities about Brunello and how great Italy is. Along the way a writer (one whose book on Italian wine up to this moment I had recommended to everybody) asks the panel a question. No one on the panel answered that person. So I decided to open up my “no good deed goes unpunished” toolbox and reached on in and tried and help this writer out. After all, we’re colleagues right? Oh wait, the PR firm didn’t get my request for the luncheon so they would allow me to come to the press conference but not to the press meal. I guess they only had so much swag to go around. Not to worry, the merchant’s luncheon was much more fun.

Anyway, I turned to the writer and asked, “Did you get an answer to your question?” The reply, a curt “No.” So in my innocence I volunteered, “Well, you should look up so and so, he’s a professor at the University of Torino and a pretty well known enologist and he is looking after the analysis of the wines of Montalcino. He can do this kind of analysis with any wine and he is the best in the business.” I know this because he consults for a handful of wineries I do business with for many years. He’s a real person.

This expert writer now scowls at me. “I am not talking about anthocyanins; everybody can get that kind of information.” At this point I am really regretting being a nice person from The West who was raised to be polite to everybody, even those afflicted with foot-in-mouth disease. I drop-kick the punt. “It appears you don’t want my information to provide you with the answer. But even if that is not what you are looking for, that is the answer.” And I turn 180 degrees and remove this person from my field of sight.

We have folks in a dying or dead industry. Journalism and book publishing. And we are attempting to exchange ideas, bring them up to speed. Remember? I am the Invisible Man, I don’t exist.

This is where bloggers are the tsunami that are just rolling up over the dead tree scribes who are still waiting for the 9th wave to come take them to some ink-fraught Valhalla. Well, there is no free ride. If you were famous then, if you don’t reinvent yourself again in today’s world, you will truly become invisible.

My point? Other than the endless frustration with the old school media who I have to keep reintroducing myself to at seminars (a very humbling and tedious ritual for a normally shy person like me), I think it is that you think you are going to engage in some brainstorming with fellow colleagues and what you have really done is to have landed yourself in the cockfighting ring. And for some reason, it seems to be worse with females. Maybe they have had to scratch through all those glass ceilings all those years and they are just wary of another white middle-aged male. If that’s all they see, I pity them for their apprehension. I’m not a threat. I have a day job. I don’t want their gig or their assignment or their spotlight.

So where was I? Tonight at a grand dinner, where all kinds of awards were being given out like candy at Halloween, I happily sat next to a young Italian who works in promoting the products of one of the regions of Italy. We talked about some of the things I have wanted to talk about to some of the press folks. But here, we managed to cut to the chase and dig into the idea of what an Italian producer of wine needs to comprehend, and quickly. We have a whole new culture of young people from 22-40 who don’t care to listen through a rash of white haired old speechmakers spouting platitudes and non answers. These are the up and coming generations, who are looking for info in under a minute. They want the message to be cool and hot at the same time. And short. The Italian wine marketer who can talk to that group and keep the lines of communication open will build their business across this country and "land it in the Hudson."


Jeff Siegel said...

The problem, Alfonso, is not dead tree journalists. It's New York journalists. (And New York publicists, New York editors, New York agents, and New York editors, but that's a story for another day.)

They are the center of the universe, and we revolve around them -- but only if they allow us to. The funny thing to me is that you got this treatment, given your standing in the business. That should count for something. I haven't had anyone remember me for years -- and try getting a call returned.

Tracie B. said...

i know ace, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.

dobianchi said...

You're no "invisible man," man! as much as I love Ellison (and read that book over and over as a child). You're just soul on ice, baby! (although we're the ones on ice today in Texas!). Is that Eldridge or Bobby in the photo?

Seriously, things are so bad for wine writers these days in NYC... it's kinda like rats jumping off a sinking ship...

Now, get your you-know-what back to Texas and let's kick some you-know-what! (but drink some old Nebbiolo before you head out!)

BK said...

Count your blessings, paesano. You could have ended up in a much darker galaxy, sending out EVOO pressers!

spume said...


Well, a brilliant post!

Also, I know that's the Fonz on water skis but I swear for a second there I thought it was John Kerry.

See you soon in Cali -- happy to talk dead trees and saplings.

- wolfgang

Alfonso Cevola said...

Jeff- I bet you have some doozies.

Tracie- what? trying to Cheer me up?

DoBi- not sure.Bobby probably

BK- hah! I gotcha!

Wolf- See you in Cali- we'll bring some water for them trees...

tom hyland said...


Just back from Puglia and am now catching up on your posts. This one is brilliant.

Yes, there are too many young people who believe they know everything and think they don't need to talk to people like you (or me). I've had the same problem with some females as well (some, not a huge percentage). They must think they have some special powers of insight and are smarter than the rest of us.

All of us, young and old, whatever sex, need to exhange meaningful ideas and not, as you write, pass along sound bites for instant gratification. Wine - especially Italian wine - is too complex a subject (thank goodness!) to serve it up with a quick fix.

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