Pete Brown set the challenge. We are all too boring it seems and we need to buck our ideas up a bit and start thinking outside the box. We've settled into a "complacent rut" he says. And you know, I think he has a bit of a point. But only a bit of one. To me, most blogs I read are pretty good, though varying in style and content and some of course are better than others. Wasn't it ever thus? When I started blogging a long time ago (November 2007 in fact) it was due to being inspired by Stonch who has since packed it in. And he isn't the only one. Many have come and gone since then and some were actually quite good. What caused them to go, I can't say, but one thing was for sure, those who blogged then did it for fun and for their own amusement and edification. For most that is still the case, but we do have more "professionals" now and they have a big influence and share of the market, at least as indicated by Wikio? I'll come back to that.
Darren Turpin in a thoughtful piece on his blog said " I've been wrestling with questions like "what's the point?" and "why bother?" and have been on the verge of quitting this blog (and, most likely, blogging in general) several times during the past few months." Well indeed. Who hasn't? But why? For me blogging was a chance to put across my view of beer drinking to a wider audience and my main slant has always been a mix of industry comment and pro pub bias. I don't tend to do detailed beer tasting notes, which to me seems a bit of a nil sum game in a crowded market and which few do well anyway. I like to choose what I think are fairly interesting subjects, then write a piece which is then thrown open to debate. And therein lies at least some of the current problem or malaise. People just aren't commenting any more. There is little debate, which to this writer at least is discouraging. Now maybe I'm just getting my subject matter wrong, but then if that were the sole reason, everybody who does write interesting things would be flooded by comments. But they aren't and when they do get comments, it is generally words of agreement from fellow bloggers. How have we arrived at this point? Well Twitter has a part to play and a bit of the blame to shoulder. It seems easier just to write inane and boring posts there, than to take the time to write a thoughtful response to a blog post. I have little doubt that blogging has suffered from that. Maybe too it has all got a bit cosy? Maybe we have through this cosiness, driven off the casual reader and commenter? Maybe it has all just got as bit complacent, cliquey, self congratulatory and just too bloody nice? Or maybe it is all too boring and samey and just not worth commenting on?
Back to the professionals. When I started blogging there was little by way of blogging from the "professionals". Now we have Pete, Zak, Melissa, Dredgie, ATJ et al, quite prominent in our blogging world. Yes they do self promote, mutually support, name drop, and the rest but while doing so, generally just are annoyingly better writers than the rest of us. It can make you feel a little inferior at times, not just because of the writing, but who they know, the places they are invited to and the like, but is it a contributing factor to making blogs boring? I really doubt it. In fact most of it is to me at least, very interesting and enhancing, but it is a factor in the sense that it is in the beer blogosphere and it is happening and it may just have an effect on other writers. Have they brought about a subtle change in the way we do things? I first tackled what I called the" uneasy co-existence" between the professional and the amateur way back in March 2008. You can read it here. I think then though the beer blogging world was a different beast. Much more independent. At least my post seems to imply it was. So now as more professionals have come in, has it put others off? Maybe. Has it put commenters off? I would think not, but clearly something has happened, as blogging has become a little more competitive than it used to be and sometimes at least, a bit less edgy and it was a kind of edginess that Pete called for. To blame the "proper" beer writers would be inaccurate and wrong. In my view the pros enhance blogging on the whole, by upping the standards, making you think more about what you write and often, just writing very good pieces that are great to read. (Some are more inclusive than others, but you could say that about anyone.) So it isn't them. But I think there is a collective feeling that something has changed.
Assuming we agree it has all gone wrong in some way, how do we make blogging meaningful again? Well I think like Darren, there probably isn't a need to. Is lack of variety the problem? I don't believe so. Beer blogging is still incredibly varied. Darren pointed out some of the types we have doing it. A diverse lot indeed and there are still plenty who write, not about the big wide world, but their local scene. And why not? For most of us, we'll just continue to write our blogs as we wish to. It's probably all we want out of blogging. It may be boring from time to time, but for me, like many others I suspect, it is about the writing. I do it for me. I don't want to become a professional beer writer, I don't particularly feel the need to use my blog to convert people to anything other than (perhaps) pub going, properly kept beer and sparklers, though I do want to open people's eyes a little to the beer world I see. Isn't that what everyone does? Mostly I want people to comment on what I say, even when they disagree with me and I am discouraged when I get few or none. Do others feel the same?
So, yes we can do some things to improve matters, or rather those who feel there is a need to can. For those, I would urge more challenge, more grittiness, more disagreement, less cosiness and maybe the odd row. This is blogging after all. It should be opinionated and open to challenge and comments should be made where possible. It should be fun (always) and controversial (sometimes). We should recognise that blogging and bloggers may inspire or irritate, but we should call it as we see it, whether you are a disgruntled old soak, an evangelising idealist, a dewy eyed cheery beery sort, or just someone who wants to write in their own way about their local beer scene.
So we should keep blogging in our own individual and idiosyncratic ways, but whatever we write, it shouldn't bring about indifference.If we are doing that then we are all getting something wrong.
I keep changing this trying to get it better, but bugger it. Just let me and the rest of us know what you think.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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