Craft brewing deserves better. Accompanying its seemingly unstoppable advance, so grows the need for a professional core of writers and reporters to cover the trade from an assortment of angles. As craft brewing matures, the quality of the reportage on all things beer should rise to match it. Quality writers are a crucial component in helping craft brewing grow in stature and seriousness in the public’s eye.
In the earliest days of our brewing renaissance, beer writing was largely defined by a small cadre of scribes, most notably Michael Jackson in Britain and Fred Eckhardt in the United States. They wrote about beer in a time before the reading public had any notion that there was more to know than tasteless, bland industrial lager. In doing so, they largely had to invent a vocabulary and style, whether in the form of tasting notes, travel essays, or straight-forward reportage.
After a decade of blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the face and nature of beer writing is much changed. The engaging and entertaining voices of our pioneering beer writers have now mostly fallen silent, replaced by the monotonous, dull hum of prosaic web chatter that comprises so much of today’s commentary on the subject.
We often hear that we’re living in a new age of journalism, that Millennials and the internet no longer need the standards and rules that defined a great generation of reporters. Calling themselves “content providers,” new information purveyors eschew the ethical and professional concerns that help underlie so much of modern journalism.
As a culture that purportedly appreciates truth and honesty, the old world of quality journalism seems more important than ever. At the outset, it’s important to acknowledge the myth of objectivity in journalism. To be sure, fair and balanced is not an achievable human reality. Everyone has a bias, even if it only manifests in the form of personal preference. Subjectivity, opinion, and point of view all have their place in reporting. At the end, there is but one goal: the truth. As a reporter, you have to nail your facts.
This is where quality content is an insufficient self-justification. Information is great, quality stories even better. But readers require context. In an age where conflicts of interest and areas of bias blur lines in ways greater than ever before, disclosure at a minimum is key. To be clear, I long to live in a world where publications receive and pay fair market value for the highest quality content from the most independent sources. We don’t live in that world. The lack of a fair wage also leads many beer writers to take outside work as brand consultants or public relations agents and consultants. These relationships certainly compromise an individual’s independence, especially when left undisclosed.
Until publications and their respective customers see sufficient value in quality content to pay a reasonable wage to produce it, we’ll remain in this holding pattern, a stalemate where questionable players contribute more than they should. Beer writing to date remains a under-valued, and until the time when quality beer content earns fair pay for its authors, the public deserves some form of transparency, the simplest of which comes in the form of disclosure.
Sunshine has long worked as the best disinfectant and it remains the same for beer writing. Whether you consider yourself a beer journalist, reporter, mere blogger, or Twitter maven, if there’s reason that a reader might perceive a basis for bias, then it should be disclosed. Only then, with this most basic of ethics agreed to, can we help better beer advance. ■