“How do you embrace the democratization of content, the cheapening of content, while maintaining the integrity of your brand?” That’s how Daniel Alegre, president at Google for worldwide partnerships and business solutions, framed the challenge for traditional publishing in the digital media age. He was speaking at the 8th Annual Institute of Masters of Wine Symposium, on the opening panel, briefly interrupted by the mayor of Florence, Italy, who arrived on Italian time to give his welcome. There are more than 450 attendees here in Florence, including more than 120 who have passed the Master of Wine exam.
Sarah Jane Evans MW, next in line as president of the Institute of Masters of Wine, lead the panel, titled “Wine Communication: reaching tomorrow’s audiences.” It included Alegre as well as Jancis Robinson MW, the book author, wine writer for the Financial Times and chief at jancisrobinson.com, and Alessandro Torcoli, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Civittà del Bere, the Italian wine magazine based in Milan.
Daniel Alegre demonstrating a Google Hangout, with (from left), Sarah Jane Evans MW, Alessandro Torcoli and Jancis Robinson
Alegre’s main pitch was for Google’s Hangouts, a product that allows marketers to conduct one-to-many videoconferences with their customers, providing a direct interaction. In keeping with his job title, he suggests that companies finance these hangouts with the support of marketing partnerships.
Robinson, who has powerfully leveraged a career in print journalism to build her presence on the Web, was blunt in her assessment that print is on a phase out. Robinson suggested that the future for books may only be in very high-quality editions, and went on to describe her entry into digital media as giving her a sense of freedom from editors.
It prompted me to ask the panel about the role of editors in the digital media community, and whether that role had been completely usurped by the search function.
Alegre suggested that there is a place for editors as curators on the Web—a job title, it might be worth pointing out, that is used often by digital retail clerks, who curate selections for customers. “People are going to be interested in someone organizing information,” he said. But there is a basic difference between curating content and the traditions that have evolved in the role of a magazine editor. There is certainly value in filtering the material that has already been produced on the Web. But editors initiate content generation; they select content creators who have particular expertise or talent regarding a specific subject and assign stories to them. They are active rather than merely reactive.
Evans acknowledged the challenge of the digital environment for editors, having played the role in print for much of her career. She believes that editors play a crucial role in shaping a discussion and lending perspective. A talented editor’s selection of the relevant information to deliver in a magazine, newspaper or book helps strengthen and focus a media brand.
Another attendee raised the issue of conflicts of interest posed by marketing partnerships, to which Alegre gave the standard response of digital media purveyors that young people today are more alert to marketing, and can tell when it is happening. In his presentation, however, he had given an example of just how a Google search can be scammed by marketers (a tale of how Jeep had neglected to purchase Google keywords prior to a major promotion, allowing their savvy competitor to do so and steal away the interest of those who went online for more information).
Given Alegre’s suggestion that editors may become curators in the digital media world, and Robinson’s misty-eyed view of Internet publishing, I remain puzzled about the future. The very element that I love most about my job description is quickly being redacted.
End Note: Rather than post this without an editor, I chose to delay its publication for 12 hours so that Tara Q. Thomas, the executive editor at Wine & Spirits, could read the text, remove some unnecessarily incendiary material, and clarify some of the argument.This is a W&S web exclusive feature.