Beer critic

The Sessions #86 – Beer Journalism

Jeez, the first Friday of the month has almost gone. That’s important because that means it’s Beer Blogging Friday – sessionaka The Sessions. I’ve participated in every one since October 2012 – that’s 18 Session entries. And I really want to keep that streak going. So here’s my rather hurried efforts. Which probably doesn’t read all that much different to all my other posts given that I bang out the words as quick as possible.

This month’s Sessions host is Heather Vandenengel at Beer Hobo. Her chosen topic is Beer Journalism and here’s what she writes about it:

‘‘What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer? Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers? What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again? What’s your beer media diet? i.e. what publications/blogs/sites do you read to learn about industry? Are all beer journalists subhumans? Is beer journalism a tepid affair and/or a moribund endeavor? And if so, what can be done about it?’’

Being an actual, full-time professional journalist in my day job I’m a bit peeved by Heather’s inclusion of blogs in her definition of ‘‘beer journalism’’. I really don’t see the vast majority of beer blogging as ‘‘journalism’’. And yes, that includes my own blog. For me, a blogger saying they practice journalism is like someone who changes a washer in a leaky tap calling themselves a plumber, or someone thinking themselves a chef because they can cook dinner at home.

Really, journalism is a whole lot more than just banging on about your own opinion for 400 words. It’s about reporting on what other people think, not yourself.

Okay, that’s enough ranting done. And it might have even been a tad rude of me to offer this slight criticism of this month’s host. It’s like I’ve just walked into the party and told the host, ‘‘jeez, that painting you’ve got on the wall is crap!’’.

Anyway, I much like the term ‘‘beer writers’’ (which Heather also uses), so lets go with that – because I reckon that definitely includes bloggers. Because, while I don’t think blogging is journalism, it’s definitely writing. And, like beer journalism, beer blogging can be good or frigging awful. But for different reasons.

I’m a bit of a beer geek (just in case the fact I have a blog didn’t make you think that already) and so I’ve managed to persuade the bosses at work to let me write about beer from time to time. So I do a weekly column as well as write occasional news stories about beer.

I reckon they’re pretty good – because they’re written by someone with an understanding of beer. When they’re not is when we get the bad newspaper and TV stories about beer. Most journos have to cover a wide range of topics and it stands to reason they’re not going to know everything about every single one of them.

So they’ll make a mistake or two. The sort of mistake that a beer geek, who feels passionate about the subject, will get quite upset about (‘‘don’t they know that lager and ale are two separate things? They’re not synonyms for beer at all!’’) Perhaps they might even feel slighted on behalf of beer. Well, at least I do.

As for frigging awful beer blogging, well that happens when a blogger has no idea how to write for an audience. Beer blogging – any blogging for that matter – is littered with examples of writing that is ranty, nonsensical, overbearing, unduly opinionated, poorly constructed, littered with misspellings and any number of other sins against readability.

But both good beer journalism and good beer blogging do serve valuable purposes. The beer journalist (in a newspaper like I am) tends to have to find the middle ground between the newbie and the geek. They have to write about beer so that someone who doesn’t drink much craft beer understands but also with enough knowledge that a beer geek doesn’t switch off. It’s a tricky balance to strike and one I hope I get some of the time.

As for bloggers, well they can do whatever the hell they want. They can be serious and ask brewers the tough questions. They can be a cheerleader for craft beer. They can be a reviewer or a storyteller or whatever. As long as they pay attention to readability. No point in being a beer writer if no-one is reading.


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