14 Aug 2009 @ 11:33 AM 

In defense of beer blogging.


I don’t believe I’m doing this.

Over the past year or so this topic has popped up from time to time – the topic of beer blogging and why it’s killing craft beer.

Okay, that’s hyperbole.

But in all seriousness, it rears its head occasionally – usually from an established writer who appears to be maybe a little bitter about blogs cutting into their area of expertise. I heard it at the Craft Brewers Conference from established writers. I’ve seen it pop up on wine blogs and in little articles here and there. The latest is from George Lenker at MassLive.com. I kind of wish he could have written his entire article in one go, but you don’t want blog posts to be too long (I should follow my own advice).
Wow.. this is meta.
This is not a response to George – who is an excellent writer, I might add – or anybody in specific, but a response to the topic in general.

The basic gist of most of these seem to be something along the lines of this: “Far be it from me to tell people that they shouldn’t write, but they really shouldn’t write.” and “They’re hurting the industry by not being professional.”

I understand. I do. You’ve got somebody who has been busting their ass their entire life to write. Writing is their bread and butter and they take pride in every word produced. They work night and day to get published and seen and known. It’s hard work. And then? Any jackass with access to the internet and WordPress can just pop up and decide to just blather on about the same topic. Grammar is not considered, audience is not considered, quality, even, is not considered, they’re just writing for – god knows whatever reason – because they love the topic? Pah! Half the time all they do is bitch and moan!

So, partly I see these articles and mutterings and the whole general opinion as part self-preservation, a sort of justification of why what they’re doing is important, and part turf protection.

I’m probably going to get myself listed in the column of “unbalanced and even incendiary writing” by going on from this point, but I think that that point of view is unbalanced and possibly even incendiary.

Here we go.

Blogging is (for the most part) not journalism. Journalism is well-researched, well-constructed, well-edited, informative and generally more lengthy than your average blog post.

Beer bloggers, sorry. It’s true. Blogging (including me!) is almost always op-ed. That is NOT to say that it’s not well-researched, well-constructed, well-edited, and informative.

Journalists, take note: What bloggers do and what you do is vastly different, and if you can’t see that line then I’m afraid you are going to continue to fruitlessly struggle against new media.

The way I see it, there are three types of bloggers:

1) Bloggers who are using their blog for an online diary and to keep in touch with their friends.
2) Bloggers who blog because they love a topic.
3) Bloggers who blog because they are trying to become professionally involved with a topic.

We can pretty much safely dispense with #1 for this conversation. These people are essentially blogging in the place of social media and they pose no threat to any sort of industry whatsoever.

#2 are where I’m assuming most of the incendiary and unbalanced writing is supposedly happening. #3 is probably the real threat. There is a problem where #2 and #3 are not easily differentiated from one another. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell intention. To be fair, sometimes, #2’s don’t even know that they’re actually #3’s.

Journalists shouldn’t have to worry about #2, either. These are not your competitors, they are enthusiasts. They are fans. They want beer to succeed. Don’t pooh-pooh them. Support them. Write more, they’ll read it. They want it! What’s more – read their stuff – they’re the voice of the enthusiastic consumer. They are the forerunners of market trends. It’s good stuff. There may be misspellings, grammar errors, or whatever, but it’s good information and it’s excellent enthusiasm. As with anything that people are passionate about, you are occasionally going to get somebody who is wound up (hi – that’s me today) who just cranks out some angry stuff. So who cares? It’ll even itself out and go away in time. If anything, it’s making journalism look better, because journalists have the benefit of having an editor.

Since I consider myself part of #3, I’m going to speak from that perspective and give you a little rundown of my motives and feelings and hope that that speaks for all of the other #3’s out there.

I love writing and I love craft beer. I want in on this industry. It was the entire reason that I, with the urging of my very supportive friends, started a blog. Because exposure is important and, come hell or high water, I’m going to carve myself a niche. I do not get paid to write this stuff. In fact, I pay to do this. I have to pay for web space and hosting. If something goes wrong with the site I have to fix it. I don’t have an editor. I have a lovely wife who (thank god) is getting her Ph.D. in English and every time I post I say “Sweetie, please sweetie, I love you, can you fix my post if I sound like an idiot?” I don’t even have extra time put aside for this. I work 40+ hours/week doing something completely unrelated to beer OR writing. I’m busy until 9:30 – 10:00 on most nights, and I’m still doing my best to crank out 2-3 articles/week.

We #3’s are doing this because we want to be like you journalists and this is our way of cutting our teeth. We probably have other jobs and financial obligations that are stopping us from freelancing full-time. Would I love to write full time for a magazine? Hell’s yes. Good GOD, yes. But that’s going to require a lot of time – and a lot more published articles than I currently have on my CV – and in the meantime, in order to keep myself writing and in order to keep myself sharp, I’m blogging. It’s an outlet for ideas and for words.

When you, you established journalist, tell me that blogging is bad for writing, or bad for the industry, or bad for me, it makes me defensive. Because it’s wrong. It tells me that you’re not reading a lot of blogs, you’re just indignant about it in a “Those crazy kids are all over The Google these days! I can’t understand a word of it!” You’ve probably read a few, and maybe you don’t like them, and you’re responding. (Yes, I know. Pot, this is kettle. Hi. Black, are we?)

But you know what? There’s a lot of quality stuff out there, dammit, and I write some of it. Is some of it trash and throwaway? Sure. I bet you write some of those, too. The difference is that you get paid for your throwaway articles. I’m just doing it because sometimes I need a Monday spot and I was really busy on the weekend. And – hey – read the AP feed for an afternoon and tell me that every article that you see is quality writing.

Finally – I read a lot of beer blogs. More than 75% of the time, beer blogs focus on beer reviews. They are usually informative and well-thought-out and (this is important) op-ed. For the most part, they attempt to be fair about the beer involved. 95% of the time, you get fanboy/fangirl praise from bloggers to breweries. I don’t think people really want to be critical, but I do think that the internet is filled with snark. Even when they point out flaws, they generally also point out good things. If there’s incendiary blogging going on out there, I haven’t seen it. I can only assume that it’s me, because all of these other bloggers appear to be nice people.

So opens the comments section. I’m ready. I think. Out with it! Flame on!

Tags Tags: , ,
Categories: blog, media, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 14 Aug 2009 @ 11 35 AM


Responses to this post » (10 Total)

  1. LTS says:

    This is perfect. I saw the link for @beerwars on this article. I read it and I was incensed. This is not just a beer blogging issue at all.

    I am sick of the pompous “journalists” whining about every last thing that may impede on their “turf”. The article in question is a joke. Just because someone has an editor does not make them any less likely to be a shill. You know what? Newspapers sell advertising and sometimes, just sometimes, that includes a gentle nudge to talk about a product. We all know it happens so let’s not pretend.

    Here’s my entire perspective on the subject. Let the public decide whether it wants to believe some poorly compiled piece of crap or if it chooses to flock to better, more informed writing. If a person is of such low IQ and so easily influenced then one of two things are true. First, either they will flop back and forth, wavering their opinion and no one will listen to them. Or, second, they will read one uninformed article, go out into the world and spew forth their knowledge only to find that people generally regard them as crackpots. Either way, I prefer to let the intelligence of the reader determine whether they believe the writing is of sufficient quality.

    If you believe a beer writer is being pretentious and creating a snobbery scene for the craft beer industry, that is their choice. This happens, these days, in every industry discussed on the Internet. Writing an article on not being pretentious is… pretentious. It’s a Sisyphean task at best.

    No flames for you sir. It’s spot on.

  2. Aaron says:

    Hell of a piece. And I agree with the distinctions you make on professional journalism vs. what we in the blogging world are generally engaged in. I’ve worked in public relations for more than 10 years, and spend a fair amount of my time writing, so my blog has been a wonderful way to marry my love and enthusiasm for craft beer with the equally important (in my mind) pursuit of the craft of writing.

    I see myself falling more into your category #3, but also think that to be an effective blogger that puts the time and effort required into developing meaningful and interesting stories (not daily journals of the beer you drank), you have to have a significant element of #2 in you as well. If the whole thing is perceived as an encroachment by professional journalists covering beer, then so be it. However, I’d say that the incendiary, self-serving beer blogs out there rife with spelling errors and poorly researched stories will ultimately die on the bine, as readership will falter, and interest will wane. There will always be an audience for truly unique perspectives and well-written stories, regardless of whether it came from a professional or enthusiast.

    The other significant factor here is community…something beer blogs generally help foster through active participation from fellow readers and other bloggers. It’s a key driver in the rise of social media, and something traditional media outlets have struggled with to some degree. Craft beer isn’t a one-way conversation.

  3. I could not agree more.

    One thing I will add is that the #3’s out there are so few and far between I think that journalists need to relax a little. Additionally not all #3’s out there are looking to become journalists, this may just be one ends to an overall means.

    I have no problem admitting to any and all people I meet why I am doing this. The reason I am blogging is to prove my chops as social media marketing. I want to be the main man for marking craft beers from British Columbia, as I think we have an extremely underrated scene. Although a lot of the brewers are getting on the social media marketing train I do not feel they are doing it at the level they could, and nor should they know how to – their business is brewing beer. The problem for me is just going up to people and telling them that you know what you’re doing is not enough. Just as they had to prove they know how to make a great product by going out and doing it, I have to prove I can get attention in this business sector. How am I going about doing that? By creating a blog, and more importantly a brand in http://truecask.com (under construction haha) that will generate followers and be involved in the beer conversation.

    At the end of the day though, everyone doing their part helps. If no one was talking about craft beer, it would die. If only a couple people were talking about craft beer, its a small following. When a lot of people talk about craft beer, it becomes a movement.


  4. Very interesting post!

    He’s a whiner who is upset that that technology has reduced the entry fee to his once elite world to the point that regular folks can express their opinions too. Boo hoo.

    Hey, last I checked this is still a free country. Web sites that stink, will lose readers, much like what we see happening to the mass media establishment and their lame attempt to capture the essence of blogs. People like the authenticity of blogs, not some product from an editorial board.

    Nobody is forced to visit a website, so far as I can tell.

    And maybe some of us just do it for fun! I’d say I’m squarely in the #2 camp but I could care less about getting into the beer industry or becoming a journalist.

  5. I concur, a great post and a topic long-overdue for discussion. Here’s my $.02– I fall into category #2 and an imaginary #4- drunk blogging*. Seriously though, we do it for fun and I do it to keep up with some old friends who I don’t see too often anymore. Its like drinking together, but online. Sure we whine about not having a lot of readers, but as Scott pointed out, its out of our control and not the point.

    Joining the ‘establishment’ of writing usually requires writing to a more general audience, inherently watering down those said same strong opinions that blogs feed on. So blogs become small focused conversations, which one can build a group out of. This is instead of getting a magazine full of moderately strong opinions that are pre-selected. As pointed out above, we’ve become our own authors, but equally importantly we’ve become our own editors, masters of our domain, to abuse a cliche.

    It is the latter, as much as the former, which threatens traditional media. Much like a cable company would make a killing if they were to offer a la carte selections of cable; or how Hulu, You Tube and other video on demand sites are poised to take profits away from their parent division. User control of output and input is the key.

  6. Thanks for writing this. This guy needs to face the new media (as you point out). It’s not coincidence that news papers are dwindling and even shutting down. How is this happening…I think we know the answer to the question. I myself am occasionally incendiary on our blog, when it’s well deserved. The point I want to stress is one that you have already pointed out. Namely, he expects a degree of literary quality that is journalistic (by the way, I think we write some good stuff). I wonder whether a novelist might have the same criticism of this journalist. But here is where the rubber meets the road. The internet is a not a formal format. I always attempt to speak commonly to the common person. Are we supposed to be writing with aristocratic pretentiousness in mind? I didn’t know. People do expect coherent and cohesive writing but I’m not into being too lofty about this stuff. We are not hurting the industry by speaking to the people that need to hear it most, are we?

  7. VinoVirgins says:

    This is great stuff, We actually set out to blogging about wine because we were clueless about it, but wanted to be passionate about it. It’s a hobby, we do it for fun, everything comes out of our own pocket and we make no claims that we actually know what we are talking about. That’s part of the novelty, we cast that pretentious snootiness aside and just have fun and keep things simple while simultaneously exploring new passion and education. If we weren’t sharing it on the internet we’d still be sharing it with everyone we knew and in circles of people with similar interests. 🙂 Great article!

  8. Lew Bryson says:

    Okay, make me #5: I’m already making a living at beer journalism, and I’m blogging — regularly — as a marketing effort. I get my name out there — more than it is — and I get to write whatever I want, not just what I can sell. And it works; I’ve scored more than enough jobs from editors who saw my blog to pay for the effort in keeping it up.
    And yeah, I think anyone who wants to beer blog, should beer blog. Even if they spend their blog talking about what a dickweed that Lew Bryson is… It’s a free damned press, the most free it’s ever been. Live it, love it.

  9. erik says:

    Lew – I’m so glad you popped in here to input on this. And, yeah, partially because it gives me a little bit of fanboy squee.

    Right on. If you think about it, even if someone is posting about how much of a dickweed Lew Bryson is (which.. I mean.. I don’t think you are, but it’s the example on hand), it’s still marketing that’s going to put eyes on your stuff – and people will make up their own minds, anyway.

    For myself, blogging about beer has already given me more opportunity to be involved in the industry than I ever could have hoped for. It sure beats sitting around my house hoping something will happen.

    And, full disclosure: I love attention.

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