Thank you, thank you, thank you to all who participated in this month’s session on beer journalism. Here is the roundup, as promised, and please let me know if I’ve left you off.
A few thoughts: Several bloggers disliked how I phrased the questions (too broad and too many) and how I defined beer journalism (to include blogs, or just that it is too general of a term). To that I say: fair enough. I wanted to be able to touch on all aspects of how we write and read about beer, and on the many questions and issues that surround beer writing. I can see why it might have been a bit much, and appreciate all efforts to answer these questions.
Above all, there was a call for context, accuracy and disclosure in beer writing, from paid journalists to part-time bloggers. Many covered the “fanboy” or “cheerleader” attitude, as well as the challenges of covering an industry in which the overarching, passion-fueled, “small guy makes it big” narrative dominates. Thus, there is a demand for stories that don’t fall easily into that storyline.
I tried to group posts together by themes: positive vs. critical, the formats of beer writing (reviews, lists, etc.) and what we’d like to see from beer writing.
Small stories and the ugly side
Jeff at Make Mine Potato cites Michael Jackson’s story, “Blue Collar Brews,” for All About Beer, in which Jackson’s father admonishes him for paying good money on beer when he’s just going to piss it all away. Perhaps we should be focusing on the fleeting and explore the narrative piss, as Jeff says: “Craft beer can become too caught up in larger narratives – such as the “revolution” or who is craft and who is crafty – and less in the smaller moments, the banality of brewing, drinking, pissing.”
Pivní Filosof wants to read more stories on failed breweries and the people behind them–”the ugly side of the brewing industry, the blood, the sweat, the tears, the shattered dreams.” He’s been thinking of taking on the project himself, so give him a shout if you know someone who would be willing to speak about his or her experience.
Over at Appellation Beer, Stan covers the question of what stories need to be told and looks at one that does it well. In “Labor of Love,” published in the February issue of Beer Advocate magazine, journalist Livia Gershon digs into troublesome labor issues in the craft beer industry including low pay, safety problems and the struggle to unionize. He also reached out to Gershon and editor Courtney Cox, who assigned the story, for interesting insight on how the piece came together.
Sean of Beer Search Party asks why positivity is equated with loss of journalistic integrity–and it doesn’t have to be he says, as stories can be both probingly honest and positive. He also cites Randy Clemens’ story of cellar spelunking with Tony Yanow.
The Brewolero, based out of Bolivia, says that while he may be more of a fanboy, writing about beer in a developing beer scene like Bolivia allows him to feel “some minute level of agency” and to “contribute something actual to building culture.”
Regardless of status of as an amateur blogger of a professional journalist, Andy Crouch of Beer Scribe says: “… one point remains true: it is crucial to understand the relationship between a writer or communicator and his subject.” And that’s true, he writes, of every person in the process, from brewer to writer to editor. The solution? Disclosure in order to provide full context for the reader.
Long doesn’t mean good, lists aren’t always bad, and sometimes it is about the beer, not the people
Bear Flavored has a thorough rundown of what exactly beer writers are writing (reviews, recommendation lists, profiles and features, regional beer news, news bites, homebrewing and industry trends and observations) and who is reading what. He concludes that the broadest and most helpful thing any beer writer can do is to provide context.
Brian at The Roaming Pint cites a few beer roundups he’s grown tired of (beer reviews, top 10 beer lists, how craft beer is growing in popularity and cheesy infographics).
Liam of Drunken Speculation argues in defense of thoughtful and constructive beer reviews, so long as the reviewers practice full disclosure.
The Beer Nut, based out of Dublin, says that beer writing in Ireland falls into one of two unsatisfactory categories: the Bottle of the Week column and the tired Big Feature story that hardly mentions the beer itself. Neither format does the Irish beer scene and the beers they’re putting out justice, he writes.
Mark of Kaedrin Beer Blog would also like to see more informed, smart writing about the beer itself, and stories in which the writer is able to explain the technical in layman’s terms, like Cosmos. Basically, we need a Neil deGrasse Tyson for beer.
Christopher Staten, Beer Editor of DRAFT magazine, argues in the defense of the list in his post, “7 must-read points about beer writing.” He writes: “Beer is a consumable product. DRAFT is a consumer magazine. One of our primary goals is to present road maps for consumers—newcomers and seasoned veterans alike—as they navigate the increasingly large, bizarre selection of bottles on the shelf.” Lists, he says, are an efficient way to do so and can hook the reader in so they stay for the longer, more in-depth stories, too.
Beer is Your Friend smacks down my use of the phrase “beer journalism” to include beer blogging and looks at the ol’ beer journalist vs. blogging debate. The conclusion: both serve a valuable purpose. Journalists write for a larger audience and have to strike the middle ground while beer bloggers can do whatever the hell they want–review, report or cheerlead–as long as it’s readable.
Or maybe, as Alan from Growler Fills says, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all mentality for beer writing, but by practicing “transparency, accuracy/verification, attribution to sources, and a clearly defined separation between reporting and analysis/opinion,” it’s possible to elevate writing as a whole.
Bill of Pittsburgh Beer Snob says there’s a difference between reporters and columnists, and that he’d like to see more reporters covering smaller breweries. He calls out Bob Batz of the PG Plate blog as someone who does it right, even if it’s still more food-focused.
What do we want?
Alan of A Good Beer Blog says simply that he would like to see more good writing, like Pete Brown’s piece on “How Mainstream is Craft Beer?” in London Loves Business, and less not good writing. Fair enough.
Approaching the questions as readers, Boak and Bailey say they would like more honesty in expressing opinions, a willingness to ask questions on the behalf of readers, revealing historical pieces and long, thoughtful articles.
Matt at Review Brews calls for listening, in beer writing and journalism as a whole, and says that beer writing will start changing when we value writers we can trust over click bait. Yet he feels that there’s no need to be negative–if you don’t like something, don’t read it.
Brewpies like writers who can put beer into context of other markets and are okay with beer writing getting a little weird. (“Or hell, how about we take these beers on a ride, bring in some story-telling into the mix and fictionalize this shit! Mix the subjective with the objective and the fantastical.”)