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Gewurztraminer is an interesting grape that most people think is German but actually originated in northern Italy. For those who have not had the pleasure, it’s an intensely fruity white with a floral nose and pronounced lychee and maybe a little peach or nectarine on the palate. I happen to love it so when we first started our little wine enterprise it was near the top of my list.

Like most new wineries, we had to find out how good we were so we went to a lot of tasting events and among those was a gigantic food and beverage show in Vancouver. Things had been going reasonably well, with plenty of positive feedback and some gentle criticisms, when a woman approached my booth and asked, in a heavy French accent, for a taste of the Gewurz.

The French don’t typically like that style of wine but it’s a big world out there and I poured the sample with the confidence that an afternoon of complimentary comments will build. She got an almost indescribable look of first shock and then horror and spat my beautiful Gewurz on the floor. In 22 years, it stands out as the rudest thing anyone has done in reaction to our business.

These days, when people at the wine counter give me the look that says their taste buds have been violated by one of my creations, they are often apologetic as I point out the little stainless steel dump bucket we keep for those thankfully rare occasions.

Since an embarassed customer is generally not a free spending one, I try to put them at ease with this quip. “I’ve been a journalist for 40 years and a winemaker for 20,” I soothe. “You just don’t get a thicker skin than that.”

I’ve come to believe that over the years but I have to admit that an incident with last Wednesday’s Flash took a nick out of that armor. Lest I start wallowing in the delicious mudpit of self pity that seems a popular way of avoiding responsibility for one’s transgressions these days allow me to say my feelings were hurt.

Wine is an intensely personal choice for our customers but with the exception of the lady in Vancouver, I’ve never had overt rudeness over my attempts to coax greatness from the humble grape. But as I navigate the often muddy waters of modern journalism, I’ve discovered that judgment comes quickly and harshly in a trade that has always had a rough and tumble nature. Neither winemaking nor journalism is for the faint of heart.

I got my start in journalism with a hard-nosed British trained city editor who was not above flinging office supplies and equipment at reporters who strayed even slightly from the time-honored principles and traditions of the trade, of which throwing staplers and kicking garbage cans is apparently entrenched. Among the hardest things to learn, particularly back then, was headline writing.

A good headline should be short and snappy and should also draw attention to the story without giving too much of it away. In those days headlines also had to fit the column space above the galleys of type below, with the bottom line being identical in length to, or no more than a character or two longer, than the top line. More office objects flew in response to bad headlines than just about anything else.

Headline writing is a lot easier these days because graphics software makes getting the headline to “fit” much more straightforward. Still, there is some agonizing over the content of headlines. The headline over a story about a plane crash tragedy in Alaska was not one of those. The words lept immediately from the keyboard and it was on to the next thing.

That headline became one of the most hotly debated topics on the page last week and to me it’s a prime example of how the internet has changed the craft.

The headline, No Pilots Aboard Taylorcraft That Crashed In Alaska, was criticized because some readers felt duped by it. They thought the story was about a runaway airplane. Instead it was about a crash in which the two occupants apparently had no formal pilot training and were not certificated. The commenters said by manipulating the controls at least one of the occupants became a pilot.

Under normal circumstances, I probably would have just added the word “Certificated” to the headline and moved on. But one of the commenters called the headline “click bait” and it annoyed the hell out of me. Click bait, the practice of enticing readers to click on a story with a headline that greatly distorts or outright misrepresents the content of the story, is the very antithesis of what we try to do here.

So I took a second look at it and dug in my heels. It was a simple matter of semantics, I argued and I provided backup from two dictionaries supporting my thesis that pilots are trained and certificate and that the assignment of pilot is a title and not a role. I cited some examples to bolster the position and enjoyed the debate.

But some commenters took offense and wanted the words to mean what they thought they should mean and not what I was saying they actually meant. I dug in harder but my argument fell apart when a commenter pointed out that drivers are called that whether they have a license or not. I changed the headline with a mea culpa to the astute reader. That should have been the end of it but it wasn’t.

I was going through my normal checks for items of interest the next day and came across a Facebook group that had flagged the story and was whipped into a fury about it and how such irresponsibility should be rewarded with an exodus from our site. What struck me was the righteous venom of the commenters on this other site, as if I had intentionally violated their notion of what responsible media coverage constitutes.

I found it fascinating that commenters opined that I must be overly influenced by watching both CNN and Fox News. The underlying theme was that I was intentionally spreading misinformation and some suggested we had become an information source to be avoided.

My point here is that it in today’s media environment there is a role to be played by readers in maintaining some kind of balance in the coverage that I think we all want in this arcane little corner of the world. Readers now have the ability to choose media sources that match their world view and therefore have enormous power to influence the perception of media coverage. They have as much responsibility to ensure their criticism is accurate as we do in presenting the news. The rush to judgment in branding us as purveyors of click bait was as unfair as it was unwarranted.

As for the French lady, I burst out laughing as her sample hit the floor and she immediately recovered her composure to explain. In Europe, Gewurztraminer is finished as a sweet wine, sometimes very sweet. This was the flavor my sampler was expecting as she raised the little glass. When the off-dry style that is preferred in North America hit her taste buds, her first impulse was that the wine had gone bad so she got rid of it ASAP.

We shared a laugh and she continued the tasting, complimenting me on some wines and politely avoiding commenting on others. We parted on good terms. I’m sure she retells the story as much as I do. But if we hadn’t taken the extra step of trying to understand each other’s position, we likely both would have left that exchange with a sour taste in our mouths.

The post In Wine And Journalism, Context Is Everything appeared first on AVweb.

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