I saw the announcement in today's newspaper (The Sacramento Bee) that Mike Dunne is retiring from his wine and food writing gig with that newspaper. Selfishly, I feel sad. Mike Dunne had his fingers on the pulse of the region's wine offerings, (as well as his discerning taste buds), and wrote skillfully and knowledgeably about his tastings and discoveries. I will sorely miss his voice.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mike (and his graceful wife Martha) once or twice at local foodie gatherings. I found him to be soft spoken, intelligent, kind and generous. I hope he finds other ways to share his insights through the written word, even as he enjoys retirement.
The Sacramento Bee has a new wine and food writer, a young man named Chris Macias, who has stepped into some mighty big shoes. He has already begun writing in the Bee's "Appetizers" blog space. He certainly deserves a fair and open minded reading, but I confess I have already been disappointed several times with the writers the Bee has engaged to replace their veterans. All too often I find them uncredentialed, and unexperienced. All too often the Bee will simply assign one of their writers from a completely different subject to their new area as if their task was simply reportage. I think that does a disservice to their readers and over time, is weakening the newspaper as a force in the community.
I don't want to read simple reportage when it comes to food and wine, or books and movies or art. I want to read reviews and opinions from people who have developed their taste through depth of experience and knowledge about the subject matter. If I wanted simple reportage ("Hey! A new winery opened! Go taste it!") I could read an amatuer blog like.... well, like this one! I am a blogger. I am an amatuer (rookie) and do not pretend to be otherwise. (Although there certainly are professional bloggers). And even though Mike Dunne was humble enough to say he does not think of himself as a wine "expert" as much as an "explorer", the fact is, after three decades of exploring and learning and tasting about wine, the man knew what he was talking about, and I read him because I knew I was going to learn from him. I am going to miss that when I next open up the pages of the Bee.
It has been painful to me to see our local newspaper struggle to survive in a culture that is increasingly indifferent to traditional journalism. The Bee has lost some great writers, (Mike Dunne being the most recent), and creating an online presence has been an ongoing challenge for the Bee, in order to compete as a print medium with new technologies like internet news, blogging and social networking. I suspect that the Bee has contributed to its own slow and perhaps inevitable demise by pandering to what it imagines is a shallow and ignorant audience that is only after the comics, ads and police reports, but goes somewhere else (hopefully) for in depth reportage. That sounds grim, I know, but it's how I see it today. The pictures and headlines keep getting bigger, (though not better) and the writing in general seems increasingly insipid. Maybe the Bee just can't afford to pay for quality writers any more, but I don't know of a more sure way to kill a newspaper than to refuse to support a strong and vigorous writing staff. And since I am voicing my complaints, let me say I dare not read movie reviews in the Bee anymore, because one of their reviewers does not know the difference between the premise and the plot of a movie, and routinely ruins a potential theater experience for me by recounting numerous plot details in her reviews. I hate that!
I do have a concern that our nation's tradition of a free and vital Press is eroding before my eyes. That is a topic for another day. But I could not let the day go by without saying how very much I appreciated Mike Dunne's writings in our local newspaper, and how very much I will miss seeing his trademark silhouette next to his byline. Best wishes Mike!