Honesty is Everything

The rights and wrongs of beer blogging and writing, though an example of the worst kind of navel-gazing, is a subject that fascinates us and, as Andy Crouch has kicked this conversation off, we can’t resist joining in.

We’re not qualified to pronounce on ethics, here’s how we feel about a few specific issues.

  • There’s nothing wrong with having an agenda, but don’t make us guess what it is. (Retailers, brewers, campaigners and PR people write interesting stuff!)
  • There’s nothing wrong with blogs carrying ads as long as they’re obviously ads. Helping spam-merchants and search-engine optimisers by ‘seeding’ content: not cool.
  • If you want to give your beer writing away for free, that’s fine with us. If you want to get paid for it, write something that warrants it. As we said on Twitter recently, for us, that means offering some or all of: a unique voice; information we can’t easily find elsewhere; real insight; a new angle; authority.
  • There’s nothing wrong with bloggers accepting or even asking for free beer but, if you’re getting freebies, be open about it and let us decide whether we want to put any store in your reviews. If you don’t disclose it, we’ll work it out eventually and despise you.
  • Some beer writers get good information from their relationships with brewers and breweries, and that’s great. Namedropping is annoying; and if you start to sound like you work in their PR department, we won’t trust what you have to say about anything else.
  • If you are being sponsored by a brewery to attend an event at which the guest speakers are from the sponsoring brewery and you find yourself sat next to the brewery’s PR person drinking free bottles of that brewery’s beer, do try to resist sounding like you’ve been brainwashed: “I had not previously liked Duff beer but after the helicopter ride and cake, I realised what a great brand it is. Hail Duff.”

We get occasional freebies but have yet to ask for any. We don’t carry ads because… we don’t, and why is none of your business. We have met a few brewers now but wouldn’t say any of them were our chums. Evan Rail sent us a free copy of Why Beer Matters (linked above).

UPDATED 09:13 with links to examples of beer writing we’d pay for.

21 thoughts on “Honesty is Everything”

  1. I’m disappointed in the lack of comments following Andy’s post. On the other hand, I haven’t been able to come up with one myself. What is it that “feels” wrong? A sense, I guess, that there should be more transparency – before, during and after the event.

    1. For our part, there’s an instinctive shudder at the idea that bloggers are a body to be exploited/tapped into, and willing to submit to such treatment for treats and some ego-massaging.

      What’s great about blogging (like Twitter) is the looseness of the framework binding the ‘community’ together — it’s not a club or society; anyone can join, without paying dues.

  2. The reason I read blogs is that it is someone’s honest viewpoint, if a blog that I read and enjoy trys a beer and say ‘wow’ then of course I’m going to want to have a taste (I’ll probably give something a go if they say its awful too but then thats me). If someone trys a beer that’s been given to them in a case of stuff from a brewery and says it’s great without disclosing that it’s a PR sample then I would feel very cheated and angry when it’s pushed out into the open.

    Trying and reviewing beer that’s been given to you free is fine but it must be noted as a PR sample or freebie from the brewery. The same way I would expect food bloggers to mention if they dined free at a restaurant.

  3. I thought we was a gang. Stan, I had a hard time leaving a comment at Andy’s place. Maybe others had the same issue. I think it is a great post by Andy as well as you guys above.

    But I have to say that while I make money from beer blogging it is not beer related to any real degree. Likely 80% over the last five years has been search engine optimization but Google Reader is killing that slowly. And while I get samples and am in a project with one particular brewery, I am not offered cash. I am playing with the ideas I write about through the medium of the trade. Usually I end up covering the costs for my participation but not always. I dropped $500 one night on a product launch party after I put the retailer and the craft brewer together. I was a bit surprised that I had to pick up the tab, actually.

    Why don’t I want more money. That is the ethical problem I face. I am not sure why I have not aggressively merged the beer writing into some sort of consultancy like Pete Brown does (and good for him) or into a brewery job like Mark D over there or Canada’s Troy B. I think it is mainly because I like my real job just fine. I have to many obligations to take the leap. It is not a highly ethical position in that sense or at least not one driven by ethics.

    None of which is meant to take away from your points above or those of Andy. It’s just that I don’t seem to fully engage with them personally to my mind. You may disagree and I would be happy to be criticized on the point.

  4. MFB — tend to agree, although freebies are the easiest type of influencing tactic to identify. What about chummy conversations at conferences or festivals? Do those need disclosing? I think we’d feel a bit awkward reviewing a beer and not disclosing *any* connection we had with the brewer beyond the odd Tweet or blog comment. (A brewer recently sent us a book as a present. That’ll get mentioned next time we review one of his beers…)

    Alan — doesn’t sound like an ethical problem, really. If you decided to do what Pete or Mark have done, as long as you disclosed it, there’d be no problem. Pete is a master of full disclosure: every time he has a go at Stella Artois, he mentions that he did work on their campaigns nearly twenty years ago. No flies on Pete.

    Guess what we’re saying is that there are no rules, only things that will make us (as readers) feel cheated, or irritated. Are the advertising bucks (few as they are) worth the possible (note: possible) dent in a bloggers credibility? That’s their call to make.

  5. As an anti-social person I don’t tend to have many conversations at festivals, my husband who is the most chatty bloke you can find has loads. However the idea that friendly chat with a brewer could influence your thoughts on a beer isn’t a goer for me.

    But having said that if I have knowledge about a beer from a conversation with either brewery or brew pub’s staff I mention it in my review such as being recommended Lost Abbey by a Camden barman in the Brewdog pub.

  6. I don’t know what there is to say about this (the beer bloggers conference) non-controversy.

    Look! Look what I uncovered. On their website, even! Transparency!

    Every conference has sponsors. This conference is put on by a for profit company, but Its not clear whether they made any money in past iterations or if they will this go around. If they hadn’t stepped up, there wouldn’t have been a conference.

    Full disclosure: I went to last years PDX conference. I paid my own way, but the sponsorships made the conference extremely affordable. (Beer tourist should start blogs kind of affordable.)

    Also there were lapdances, Bailey, as detailed here:
    The brewery only paid for beer.

    1. Nothing wrong with a conference, or sponsorship, or people going to it. As long as we know who had lapdances off whom, we can make our own judgements about whose commentary to trust.

  7. I’ve never made a dime at beer blogging, or have been offered free beer. I’m not sure if that is because my writing exudes a certain ethical slant, or I’m just a shitty writer.

    I’m leaning toward the later.

  8. Odd those that accept and solicate breweries for “free samples” even those who do disclose it? None seem to feel the need to take the money it cost the brewery, and money they would have spend on the beer, like the consumer that is actually supporting the brewery with $$$ and donate it to a charity. It is the sense of entitlement that I find so repugnant. WHO is a blogger or beertuber that they have the gaul to ask or expect “brewery samples”? NO SHAME, no pride for that matter either. I have no respect for “beer reviewers” who take handouts and really offer NOTHING with their bought and paid for reviews and opinions.

    1. Red — understand what you’re frustrated about but think that’s down to the breweries’ judgement. Most bloggers don’t ask, and very few get any freebies at all. Can’t blame people for asking, and if breweries think it’s a good use of their marketing budget to send out samples, that’s their call.

      Just out of interest, do you work for a brewery yourself?

      1. Bailey,

        It is quid pro quo nature of “brewery samples” for a beer review that is just so rife for abuse. Even those bloggers and beertubers with the best intentions end up getting corrupted because they don’t want the “free samples” to dry up. Breweries are not sending samples out of the goodness of their hearts, they want a favorable review in exchange for the paid endorsement. The sample is a the pay off. Brewers see sending free beer are doing so as a very cheap form of adverstising, the small fry beer bloggers and beer tubers all too willing to recieve them. Some bloggers and beertubers are outright, no bones about, SHAMELESS whores. It has gotten so bad, that in far too many instances these bloggers and beertubers are nothing but mouthpieces for breweries. I’ve made it a point that there would be no mommy blogging on my blog, and that I would only give Honest Craft Beer Reviews. I have made a point that any “brewery sample” sent to me? It is met with the $$$ it would have cost me to buy the beer, with a donation in the brewery’s name to St. Jude’s Childerens Hospital. A FB Page called Honsest Craft Beer Reviews was founded on this very principle. This way I get a beer I want or might not be able to find in my area, the brewery get an honest, fair and objective review, and a good cause gets money I would have gladly spent on beer. I just can not trust any review from people with their hand out, regardless of the fact if it was or was not asked for.

        1. So… by this logic then professional beer (or wine, or whatever) writers who receive samples are also untrustworthy?

          1. Jon,

            Could be. Yes, no doubt. Professiona beer writer is a dubious title at best, but that is another matter. I think it is a good rule of thumb to pay for the beer yourself if you truly want to remain objective. There is always going to be that doubt when the manufactuer of a product is sending you a product for “free”.

  9. I remember when I was a SHAMELESS whore. Those were the days. Beat the hell out of when I was an ashamed one.

  10. Red — seems like you set your personal moral boundary a bit further up river than us. Can’t argue with that.

    Jon — don’t know much about wine reviews or reviewers but have certainly seen articles in newspapers which seem to be “the 10 best beers we got sent free this year”. Not *that* useful, regardless of trustworthiness.

    Alan — we certainly can’t begrudge the “I’m writing a book about beer, send me free beer” guy: if breweries are willing to send him stuff, that’s their call, and he seems to be having great fun receiving huge boxes of beer in fancy packaging.

  11. Its really interesting to see just how strongly people feel about freebies, ads and invites. If it helps, I don’t intend to “monetise” my blog, and I certainely don’t get invites or freebies!

    More interesting is that I am now trying to think about my sources and how I have written about beers brewed by the two brewers I know. One of them I am good friends with, the other is someone I see in a pub now and again and we chat for a bit.

    I really want both to do well, but more so Brewer A who I have known for years. I think because he is a personal friend I am biased as far as I will always try his beer when I see it, even if I have had an average or disappointing pint of it last time round. The problem is, what happens if I come across a beer he has produced which is really really crap?

    Its easy for me to say now but I’m confident I’d be straight up about it. But now am worried that I may have inadvertantly name dropped him in the past. Christ, this transparency thing is much harder than I thought…

    Mind you, I am unapologetically biased towards my good friend’s off license that I used to work at. Its an in joke at (big) work that if anyone so much as starts a question on beer choice I will hurdle desks to encourage them to go there. I don’t have any qualms about this at all – if you look on my Faceache page I clearly identify that I worked there. I hope this candour gives me an honesty bill of health….

    1. Beefy — no-one can live in a vacuum — all you can do is be open about your preferences and prejudices so that people know to compensate if making any life-changing decisions based on them. (Anyone making a life-changing decision based on a beer blog is nuts…)

  12. Tried to leave a comment in Andy’s post, without success… So I’ll say what I have to say here:

    “But isn’t the “traditional” media riddled by exactly the same thing?

    I’ve read about the lavish treatment winemakers can give some reviewers, just to mention one example. Sooner or later something like this (though with a much less generous budget) was going to happen with beer blogging, too. And just like with “proper” journalism, we will have to learn to read between the lines…”

    That said, bloggers should respond to the same ethics code as professional journalists. Unfortunately, just like professional journalists, many of them choose not to, but sooner or later the truth comes out.

    1. Check back at Andy’s — my comment ‘failed’, causing an error, but did actually show up.

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