Saturday, 22 March 2008

The Professional and the Blogosphere*

A recent "put down" post on another blog from a professional beer writer to a beer blogger set me thinking. I wonder sometimes if those who make a living from beer writing are predisposed ever so slightly, to frown upon us amateurs and have a less than well developed appreciation that blogging is not the same as a well researched and paid for article. I remarked on the "pro" versus amateur distinction here in February, when a different "pro" got into trouble in a similar way. Two instances such in as many months indicate a tension, a dynamic, an uneasy co-existence or, at least to this blogger, a subject to air!

Bloggers usually speak their minds as they choose, pick their own subjects and feel free to give reign to their own thoughts, prejudices and idiosyncrasies. The blog is personal to the blogger - it's what makes blogging what it is and what makes it fun to do. Of course there is serious content and discussion as well as a lot of knowledge, experience and passion. Bloggers get it wrong from time to time too, either in tone, nuance, grammar or fact, but the blog is essentially a pub discussion written down for others to read or ignore, to join in or not. It is not a "paid for piece" and therefore is not subject to professional standards - not that exchanging of money of itself guarantees quality.

So why does a professional beer writer blog? Hopefully they just enjoy it, want to belong and will take the rough with the smooth in this knockabout medium which is the blogoshere. On the other hand, is it because it is a form of media they feel comfortable with or one they feel they must be in on? Why does a professional writer give away his words for free? Are they written for a CV or for the potential attraction of commissions? Is it a bus they better not miss or, maybe like the rest of us, they just want to write, paid or not? Do professional writers feel ever so slightly that bloggers are taking their ground, stepping on their toes and using up their potential material? Is blogging a threat to the professional?

Professional beer writing in the UK, has a restricted audience in the sense that there are few outlets for it and is often commissioned by a magazine or newspaper that probably has no real understanding of the subject and anyway wants it light and fluffy. Serious beer writing in the national press is an endangered species (if it ever was a species at all) and sadly we in the UK lack a specialist beer press to give other opportunity. Perhaps the blog is just a valid outlet for thoughts that don't or can't attract a commission? If so, why not?

Going back to offending, I think we are all guilty of giving out unintentional offence, though amateur that I am, when I offend, I have usually meant to! That may not be an honourable position, if you read Hazlitt, but isn't all writing a personal vanity? In that sense at least, pros and amateurs are as one.

“No man lives without jostling and being jostled; in all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offence.” Thomas Caryle - a Scot of course!

“An honest man speaks the truth, though it may give offence; a vain man, in order that it may”. William Hazlitt

* I thank Stonch for this term which seems to fit nicely.


Boak said...

(please delete if this appears twice)

Very thorough and interesting post. I've often wondered the same things. There are a couple of beer blogs written by professionals (i.e. "published beer writers") which I've almost entirely stopped looking at. They don't respond to comments, they don't go out and comment on other people or link to them.

I'll go back to the ones that are genuinely interesting, of course, but as a rule of thumb, I find the "amateurs" more fun to read, and more suited to the blogging medium Why? Well, you've hit the nail on the head when you say;

...the blog is essentially a pub discussion written down for others to read or ignore, to join in or not...

The interactivity and the spontaneity of blogging is what's fun about it. That said, I think there is also a place for longer, well-researched pieces that you might come across while Googling, or you might make a note of, and come back to when you're in the mood.

I also liked your point about the restricted audience. I hadn't thought of that before.

Zak said...

All writing is based on ego - you have to believe that you have something worth saying in order to have the drive to commit it to paper, web, radio or TV. But that ego is no bad thing - some of the best writers (beer or otherwise) are driven by a strong belief that what they have to say is worthy of attention. If only everyone thought twice before submitting...

I blog (on my website) in order to get people to drink better beer, and to understand that beer culture is something other than five pints of cold fizzy yellow down the pub on a Friday night. I don't blog to be the most knowledgeable, the most widely read, or the most famous (although of course, if we're truthful, there's a bit in all of us that would like to be any or all of these). I've been called a c*nt, a beer geek, and on the other hand, quite a few people have said nice things about me, and on occasion I've been paid to write for publication. But I don't write to garner praise or abuse - I do it, like most beer bloggers, to further a cause - to promote good beer, and to include rather than exclude.

Paul Garrard said...

Can't fault what you write here Tandleman.
I'm sort of addicted to blogging, and it's even better when it's about something I enjoy. I don't claim to be an expert, and whilst I hope that some people read my blog I know that I'll never command a wide audience. But I don't do it for that, I blog for fun. Unfortunately some take this all far too seriously. Long live the amateur!

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Hehe , the sparkler debate always sets sh#t flying, even when the actual debate ends up being about something else.

Stonch said...

Blogging and print media necessarily require a different approach. There's no reason why people can't do both - Lew Bryson and Stan Hieronymus from the USA are prime examples. I do tend to agree with Boak that some people don't really engage with the medium, and as such won't have the desired impact online.

Tandleman, your blog is in my opinion one of the very finest so keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think being a professional beer writer would be a great job, but I doubt I've got the proper method in regards to the "different approach" that Stonch mentions. Also, there's the quiet feeling that one should be deferential to the pros at times because of the career path they've chosen.

I've read that blogging is not only about writing (which I greatly enjoy), but also feeling that you have something important to say in the first place. Which makes me question why I started a blog to begin with. Perhaps it was listening in on the "pub discussion" (nice analogy, by the way!) that made want to chime in.

Very thought-provoking post on an interesting question that's been floating around the beer blogs these days. There's definitely a place for both professional and amateur, but sometimes, for better or for worse, those places collide.