Is Cigar Media Bias?
The answer in one word is simple: yes! But it’s a question that shouldn’t be, or can’t be, answered in one word, as it’s a complex situation that has to do with financial aspects, relationships, personal preferences and the way humans think and work.
Let’s talk about ratings. All ratings are biased, but, and there is a big but coming, that doesn’t mean that they are paid for. Every year we hear claims that the most important Top 25 in the cigar industry, the Cigar Aficionado Top 25, is paid for by manufacturers. That the more advertising space you buy, the higher your cigars get rated. I think that is Bull. Inspector X is a cigar industry insider and, in the time, I’ve been working in this industry I have not seen or heard any proof, unlike other publications. Plus, if advertising would buy the top spot in the Top 25, explain to me why STG/General Cigars never won even though they are a big advertiser and explain why Habanos, who aren’t even allowed to buy advertising, did win that spot several times?
From experience I know that another publication, one that uses a big panel of blind tasters, does select cigars to be in the top 25. Cigars that were rated high by the panel didn’t make it to the list, while lower scoring cigars did. I don’t know the reason behind that, so I don’t want to make accusations but I stopped trusting the Top 25 from that publication because of it.
Ratings are all about personal experiences and preferences. If you give a Connecticut Shade cigar to a reviewer that doesn’t like that wrapper, you won’t get a good rating. And a previous bad experience with a brand, or a brand owner, can subconsciously affect the rating too. For example, I have never seen a high rating for a cigar coming from the La Zona factory on Halfwheel, while other magazines and blogs rave about Espinosa and his skills. Something must have happened there.
Of course, there are completely bias reviews out there as well. The one that stands out most for me is a 100-point review for an Atabey cigar on cigar authority. I smoked many cigars, many great cigars, but to give a cigar 100 points it must be a cigar that blows my mind. In the movie Drive Angry, Nicolas Cage is smoking a cigar and drinking whisky while having sex and shooting bad guys. Now that would be a 100-point cigar for me. you need to know that Cigar Authority (I highly recommend their podcast) is owned by David Garofalo from Two Guys Smoke Shop who also owns the distribution company United Cigars. When you find out that United Cigars is the importer and distributor of Atabey, you know why this cigar scored 100 points.
Now all the magazines and some of the blogs get paid for certain content, either in cold hard cash or fully sponsored trips to cigar factories or festivals (hello Procigar, hello Habanos festival, hello Puro Sabor, Inspector X is open for invitations!) and of course, this content will not be negative. These kinds of articles will always take a positive approach to the festival or company that pays for the content. And there is nothing wrong with that, it happens in all industries, all over the world. The better blogs and magazines are transparent and even mention that an article about a visit to a festival or factory was on invitation and all expenses were paid for.
It doesn’t mean that all specials or editorials are paid for. Sometimes there are organizations or brands with such an interesting story that publishers publish them out of human interest. Organizations like CRE, PCA, Cigar Rights of Europe, BCA can contact cigarinspector as we would love to highlight them as these organisations do so much good for cigar smokers. Charities connected to the cigar industry are another good example of deserving free content, so if you ever see an article about Cigars for Warriors, ProNica or any other cigar related charity, trust me, that will not be an article that the charity paid for.
And where things get murky is when it comes to advertising. What if a company that advertises on a website or in a magazine steps out of line. As a media outlet, are you willing to openly criticize them and potentially lose sponsorship? Of are you taking the high ground and publish anyway?
For example, when Davidoff, who spends a lot on advertising, released the Zino Nicaragua, no media mentioned the false advertising in the name. The cigar is not made in Nicaragua and it’s still called Nicaragua. Now that would only be acceptable is the cigar is (mostly) made out of Nicaraguan tobacco and has, at minimum, a Nicaraguan wrapper. Which isn’t the case with the Zino Nicaragua. Why wasn’t there any publication that questioned this? Is it because of the advertising dollars?
Another example, when Khaizad Hansotia from Gurka Cigars made racial comments op Facebook, then claimed he was hacked, the blog Ministry of Cigars was the blog that took the hardest stand against Gurkha. Other blogs were much milder or didn’t report the incident at all. Ministry of Cigars was not sponsored by Gurkha, while others were. Coincidence? I do not now but I have my doubts. Unfortunately, Ministry of Cigars is no longer active, so we will never know if Hansotia really sold his shares in Gurkha, but the good thing is that Cigarinspector managed to save all the old Ministry of Cigars articles in our database, with permission of the Minister himself.
But can you blame cigar media for that? I don’t think so, I mean, without those advertisements the publications don’t make money, and that means no bread on the table for the publishers. Ask yourself the question, would you risk losing a customer over a small matter such as the misuse of the word Nicaragua? Most likely not. When it comes to bigger social questions, some publishers might take a stance and stand up for what’s right according to their believes instead of staying quiet because of advertising money. But that’s for every publisher to decide for themselves.
So Is Cigar Media Bias?
To come back to the question “is cigar media bias?”, if you read the article, you can only conclude ‘yes’, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes consciously, but I do believe that especially when it comes to ratings and news, the majority of the publications are honest and made with the right intentions. And even if it’s a paid for article, as long as it’s good content, it’s good content and we all enjoy that.