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:
    http://beervana.blogspot.com/2011/08/revealing-promotion.html
    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. If you real­ly didn’t want to get any­thing out of the deal, you ‘d make them con­tribute to a char­i­ty that you abhor.

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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…)

  13. 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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