Lately there’s been a bit of irritation in beer geek circles over the way beer is covered in the mainstream media.
The complaints have ranged from fundamental errors in the naming of various beer ingredients to getting it wrong about where a beer is made and even writing a story that basically takes the piss and paints beer geeks as people with more money than sense.
James Smith from The Crafty Pint wrote a great piece this week about the image problem craft beer has and suggested a few ways to tackle the problem. He also included some links to a few of the problematic news stories.
As a mainstream news journalist who also writes about beer whenever he can, it’s an issue I reckon I can throw in my two cents worth. But before I begin, I want to draw your attention to this tweet I posted earlier in the week.
I’d like to say this isn’t an entirely accurate summation of my feelings on the issue, due to both the 140-character limitations on Twitter and the fact that I may have been a weency bit tipsy when I wrote it. As a beer geek they are irritating. But as a journalist, I have sympathy for some of the writers as I know why they’ve had to pen the piece.
I’ve always described a journalist’s role as becoming an ‘‘instant expert’’ on all sorts of topics. While we have our dedicated round that we follow and know a fair bit about (mine’s transport and infrastructure) we’ll also be called on to write stories on other subjects, in other areas. This will be for any number of reasons; not enough staff, the person who normally covers that the round is off sick/on holidays or the subject is not big or important enough to warrant someone covering it regularly.
When that happens to me, I have to do the background research so I understand enough of the subject to write the story so the average person knows what’s happened. But I’m sure there are those who are more deeply aware of the issue than me who will read the story and find something to nitpick about.
And in some cases, that’s what’s happening in beer writing. Clearly good beer has reached a tipping point. It’s become a ‘‘thing’’ – and enough of a thing that editors feel that it’s worth writing about. That in itself is no bad thing.
But the job of writing those stories may not necessarily land in the hands of someone who knows a lot about beer. Or someone who even cares that much. And so they may make mistakes that the general public won’t pick up but the beer geeks will.
The odd article aside, I truly don’t believe the journalists writing about beer have malicious intent. They’re trying to do the best they can with a subject they mightn’t know a lot about. So don’t get angry at them – they’re doing the best they can.
But what to do about it?
If you’re a brewer or craft beer bar owner and your local paper gets something wrong about beer, why not invite them over for a beer or two and a chat? You can give them a quick rundown on things – and maybe your mobile number so they can call you for beer-related comment.
If you’re a beer fan, just send them a polite, friendly email (or leave a comment with a smiley -face emoticon at the bottom of the story) correcting them. But above all, don’t go all cranky beer geek, because you don’t win people over by berating them. The last thing we need is people going ‘‘wow, beer geeks are total dicks’’.
Fortunately for the beer geeks in my neck of the woods, I’m the guy who writes about beer for the local paper. I’ve been writing a beer column for about three years now and will write news and feature pieces about beer every damn chance I get. And any time the chief of staff gets an email that mentions beer, they flick it my way and ask ‘‘is it worth a story?’’.
I didn’t get assigned the beer round – nothing like that exists. I just put my hand up to write stuff because I had an out-of-hours interest. And, yeah, I figured I might get some free beer out of it. I do get some samples, though not as much as I would like (how much would I like? Heaps!) but I still write about beer because I enjoy it.
I know that when I started I knew a hell of a lot less about beer than I do know. And I’m sure I got a few things wrong – as will others who start writing about it.