Beer Con 2013: Writing for Craft Beer Panel
San Diego x California
13 August 2013
This past Saturday Craft Beer Tasters was fortunate enough to be a part of San Diego's 3rd Annual Beer-Con. The Beer-Con is touted as being "for beer lovers, by beer lovers" and I can say the event delivered what was promised. How so? Though there were many industry insiders on hand that day from craft beer breweries, craft beer-centric businesses and the like, their numbers were dwarfed greatly by the educated, dedicated, and die-hard craft beer fans in attendance.
A two-day conference, day 1 filled with behind the scenes tours of craft beer breweries and tasting rooms, we didn't join the party until day 2: the lecture based portion of The Con. We were asked by the event organizers, a lively bunch of craft beer enthusiasts, if we could discuss the emerging Craft Beer scene in Mexico. We jumped at the opportunity to present alongside our friends from Mexico and developed a lecture on the past, present, and future of craft beer in Mexico. Soon after this opportunity was presented Ryan Lamb, Editor of Craft Beer publication The Westcoaster San Diego, asked Dr. Q to present on a panel that would discuss "Writing for Craft Beer" otherwise known as craft beer journalism.
The Panel included your's truly Dr. Q from Craft Beer Tasters, LLC, with Ryan Lamb from The Westcoaster serving as moderator, and Cody Thompson from ThreeBMagazine a local online publication that covers bikes, brews, and beers in "America's Finest City" alongside Tatiana Peavey of FugglyBrew.com and TapHunter fame, as well as Brandon Hernandez a "prolific" veteran writer who provides content to a myriad of publications and serves Stone Brewing Company as a communications specialist.
The panel started very light-hearted with us each sharing how we got into craft beer in the first place, and what philosophies lead us to become craft beer writers. Philosophies is an accurate and appropriate term to use as we each have a different philosophy and approach to writing. Something that Craft Beer Taster's takes great pride in is our philosophy to demystify the craft beer culture and ease people into the craft beer scene. Philosophical approach is something very personal to a writer and should not be confused with, nor take the place of journalistic integrity, What follows are some of the thoughts from individual panel members about their expereinces in the craft beer writing community.
On Monday August 12, 2013 in an article entitled "Truth In Beer Reporting and Other Novel Concepts: Insights on Craft Beer and Beer writing from Beer-Con 2013" featured on The San Diego Reader's website, panelist Brandon Hernández shared his philosophical approach to craft beer journalism.
"During a question-and-answer session I was asked why it is that I would report the negative aspects of local brewing operations. Why I would 'attack owners' babies. My reply to that was that they’re not their babies, they’re their businesses. It's a parents job to feed their babies, not the village's. A business depends on the village (i.e., customers) to keep the business nourished. So, any business worthy of existing should fundamentally benefit both the owner and its patrons. While others on the panel stated that, if they came across something negative at a brewery or found its beers to be substandard, they simply wouldn’t write about them, or worse yet, would do their best to find one good beer in their stable to highlight while leaving out information about all the bad beer, I just can’t go that route. As a journalist paid to be an advocate and quality resource for readers, I believe it is of the utmost importance that I provide consumers with all of the information they need to make informed decisions. Basically, I try to provide what it is that I would want to read if I didn’t write and was a consumer looking to get the best grasp possible on the plethora of craft beer available to me as a San Diegan. If writers don’t disclose the bad with the good, there is no way for a reader to be able to discern anything from the prose they put out in their blog or publication."
He went on to say
"I see the truth as the most essential component of reporting on any subject and will afford it to you always."
Something with which I wholeheartedly agree, and will visit later in this post.
ThreeBzine's Cody Thompson approaches craft beer journalism with the philosophy that he exercises journalistic freedom.
"Personally, I have never made or even been offered a dime for anything Three B Zine has written. I wrote a promotional piece for Westcoaster once that was intended to be spun as promotion, as well as once I appeared in City Beat but again, was asked to write a complimentary piece. So, that being said I am not given assignments or compensation for articles. In other words, I don't really work for anyone. Not to say that I don't want to, but I choose to, or choose not to write about things. I also feel as though there are plenty of great things in San Diego in biking, bands and beer, that I want to share and teach about these great things. Instead of tell people 'Stay away from THIS' I want to tell people 'Move toward THIS'".
Tatiana Peavy approaches beer journalism from the perspective of someone writing from the standpoint of someone in the business and political community. Tatiana shared her thoughts about The Con:
"I had a great time at Beer-Con. I do think that some people were quick to jump on their queues and assume that being a beer writer means reviewing beers at all. I enjoy being a part of the craft beer writing community in a unique way, such as learning about the TMD funding for SDBW."
This was referreing to a loss of funds from the city of San Diego to promote San Diego Beer Week nationally. Tatiana went on to say:
"I hope that the conference will have a greater turn out next year. San Diego is one of the top brewing cities and hopefully this wasn't a reflection on the lack of tourism funding due to the Filner situation. I was very happy to see the guys that came all the way from Florida and other states. I also asked Tatiana to comment on Mr. Hernandez' article to which she stated "Beer community aside, the fact that some beer writers chose not to write negative reviews is not an open invitation to up your word count by questioning their integrity or commitment to fans of craft beer."
Going back to a previously mentioned word (philosophy) I must share my philosophy, and that of Craft Beer Tasters, LLC as a whole in regard to journalism, journalistic integrity, and truth in journalism, as it were. I take note with the assertion made by my fellow panelist Mr. Hernandez "Some writers (many, in fact) make the argument that them not writing about a business is the same as passing negative judgment about that business. If they won’t cover a brewery, it's a clear way of communicating to readers that the operation is lousy. But that thinking is severely flawed." Agreed. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I felt the above quote was aimed at me as one of the panelists up in front of the crowd at the con. Whether I am one of the people he is referring to, or not, is irrelevant. As he did decidedly not quote me, though I did say something strikingly similar in response to the audience members question about "negative journalism" is inconsequential at this point. What is of consequence is my integrity. Craft Beer Tasters puts integrity above all else, and to imply that there is no truth in our journalism is to discount everything we have built 24/7 over the last 14+ months. I would indeed much rather share the highlights (not experiences with low-lifes) of my experiences at a brewery, tasting room, bar, or restaurant. Moreover, I stated that I am asked often why haven't I reviewed X beer or visited Y place. I always give an ambiguous reply to the tone of 'There are many places I have visited, have had bad experiences at, and have decided not to report even my negative experience.' This is my Philosphical approach. All publicity, good or bad, is just that, publicity. It is my philosophy as that of a business owner and as that of a journalist that I use my voice to shine light on the positive, and leave the negative in the dark.
As Mr. Hernandez stated in his article :
"some writers (many, in fact) make the argument that them not writing about a business is the same as passing negative judgment about that business. If they won’t cover a brewery, it's a clear way of communicating to readers that the operation is lousy. But that thinking is severely flawed."
This logic was asserted by Hernandez who went on to say:
"if you go by their defensive stance that not writing about a business means said business sucks, that leaves the reader mistakenly thinking a brewery is sub par simply because the writer hasn’t been there yet."
I would say that aforementioned way of thinking is indeed flawed, however, it is Mr. Hernandez' asserted point of view that is the flaw. That way of thinking implies a blanket assumption that that is the intent of all writers. Moreover, by that logic every brewery in the world not reviewed by us, every movie not reviewed by a critic, or every restaurant not reviewed by an unknown eater is bad. That logic is preposterous, and, therefore, likely not a prevailing point of view of the informed reader. I would never use the word "sucks" to describe anything formally for any publication including my own, but that is besides the point. Aside from those on hand at the con, and now those that have read Mr. Hernandez' article, and now this article by extension, a reader could not have made that inference. I would say that it is the train of thought that concludes that the reader is not sophisticated enough to infer otherwise, and, therefore, it is that assertion which is the flawed way of thinking. Given the caliber of the conversations I had with average "readers" who were attendees at the con, the level of sophistication, the breadth of beer knowledge, and over all ability to logic, articulate, and share their thoughts I would say that the Craft Beer aficionado does not live and die on our every article, nor do they hold their breath anticipating our words. No, I believe they are a well-read group of individuals who like our points of view because our philosophical approaches jive with those of their own. I am of the opinion that it is the diversity in our points of view, our voices that the reader wants, but that may be just my philosophy.
Dr Q x Jerry
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