Monday, 30 May 2011

Influencing and Shaping

Ten Inch Wheeler has upped sticks and moved to WordPress from Blogger. No, I'm not following him there. Seems too much like hard work, but it got me thinking as I amended his link in my list. I thought "Time I updated my links list."

I noted though as I looked at my list, that there are a lot of new bloggers around and some old ones (and they probably were the old ones) have dropped off the perch, so if you'd like to be on my links list and aren't already, just let me know and if I like the cut of your jib, I'll add you. I'll be getting rid of those that don't blog any more too, though it saddens me that so many of the older generation of bloggers (not as old as me probably) have turned up their toes, handed in their keyboards. It cuts down a lot of the range of opinions and attitudes in British blogging and that isn't good.

 I was similarly struck by this note in his website about the Beer Blogger's Conference by Matt Eley who seems to be a pretty cool dude himself:  I thought , it will be packed with the same rotund beer monsters you find at festivals up and down the land who have discovered another forum to push forward their views?  Wrong, wrong, wrong!  In fact I could not have been wider of the mark. Instead of either of the above scenarios I found myself in a room full of people so young and fashionable that it could have been a scene straight out of Hollyoaks. 

Well really?  Young and fashionable in beer blogging is clearly good it seems. Had everyone just stepped off the Hollyoaks set? Did Matt simply not notice the odd podgier or older person? Did he just ignore them, or more worryingly, were there none?  Is the inference that social media is just for the young and trendy and by extension, the future of beer drinking and writing? Worrying thinking I'd venture.  Referring back to my first paragraph, diversity in beer blogging has seemed to me for a while to be in decline - oh not at the more scholarly end of things, where Martyn Cornell and  Ron Pattinson put in the graft - but in general beer blogging and that cannot be a good thing.  Nor am I  sure that I can fully agree with Matt's other observation that "despite the well documented struggles of the UK beer market the ‘next’ generation have their fingers at the ready to defend, promote, praise, hold to account – and indeed consume – our national drink" 

 In Diary of a Hop Head, another young thing says " What I saw on display was a group of clued up, modern and trendy people who are setting the industry standards.".  Setting the industry standards? Perleeese..  So back to Matt.  Is the future of British beer drinking in safe hands as he asserts? I don't doubt the "praise" bit, nor the "consuming" - though what is consumed needs to be examined quite closely . Does it follow that fashion, rather than the obvious inadequacies of a lot of British brewing, explains the gaderene rush to drink and promote exotic keg craft or bottled beer, often imported, in trendy bars or at home,  by many younger bloggers?   That can be glossed over no doubt, or denied, or explained away as generational, but what cannot be is the "holding to account" by many bloggers.  It doesn't really happen, with an overt agenda of "cheery beery" and a very uncritical eye. (Only today Beer, Birra, Bier wrote "Generally I don't see the point in posting negative articles on this blog, I'm usually of the mind that if you don't have anything good to say then it's better to say nothing at all. ")  

Since writing the above I have seen this by two Dutch attendees.  Here's a flavour translated from the Dutch (by a translator package - not me.  I personally don't go as far as the Dutch blog  in directly relating benefits given, to generally uncritical coverage of beer. The reasons for that are far more complex,  but  you do need to keep a measure of distance and independence.

"Okay, okay, beer is more important in England than in the Netherlands, but these are all people who are not employed by breweries. Who would not let themselves be guided by excesses provided by a supplier and still remain objective?
Well, not really. They really let themselves be guided by such actions. Many bloggers in the UK admitted beer that they  write only when they like something. If not, then they just shut their mouth.
And shutting your mouth is exactly what not to do as a blogger. You find something, you have an opinion, you let us hear. Tell everyone what you think about everything around you. Is anything good? Shout it from the rooftops! Is something not good? Yell as loud. If you are afraid to lose all your free beer then do something else. Only if you're critical, your opinion is relevant." 

It is clear that there is an increase in beer blogging in the UK, but are numbers alone enough to give both momentum and credibility?  It seems to me that the number of comments on blogs is decreasing all the time, so clearly something odd is going on.  Has Twitter largely marginalised UK blogging? Is it a broad enough church, or does it myopically concentrate at what is cool, sexy and exotic? Is blogging about beer in the UK at least, becoming a young man's (or woman's) game?  Is it partisan and/or uncritical? Is the diversity still there? Is holding to account not part of the blogger's remit? Who does or doesn't blogging influence?

Is the future really assured?  My jury is out, but at least I'm secure in the knowledge that we are all getting older (even the young and beautiful) and things will change.  One way or another. 

This piece took me ages to write and still isn't exactly as I'd like it.  The aim is to spark off some thoughtful debate.  Please comment in that spirit.


Tyson said...

So the conference was full of the "young and fashionable", was it? I can see why you didn't go:)

jesusjohn said...

I have all but given up on blogging (I say 'all but' - I haven't posted since October and see no imminent sign of getting back to it).

The main reason for me personally was that I don't feel I have anything to offer that isn't done better elsewhere by others who are more dedicated to it as a hobby than I am.

I love beer and I love the idea of getting the word out about good beer in all its forms. But I found my readership seemed exclusively consisted of the already converted or fellow bloggers. I had some interesting exchanges but didn't really see the point of going on. I can still have those exchanges on blogs I like - such as this one - or on twitter.

I do agree with you that much of the 'cheery beery' consensus is indeed fashion-led and the blogging world's sense of its agenda-setting importance can grate. I also dislike the lack of bad reviews and, looking back, can see I was as guilty as anyone of not dedicating a post to a bad pint.

This said, any group of enthusiasts will have a bias to the new and exciting.

To that end, I think the 'craft keg' thing marries two 'new' appearances: a) good keg, which is a very new thing indeed in the UK; b) US beer, over here in greater volume in specialist bars over the past two years. I tend (*tend* - there are exceptions) to believe the hyper-hopped US-style beers north of 6-7% ABV are better kegged, so if you like this style - very fashionable and, indeed, very good - you may well find yourself eulogising.

I couldn't agree more that blogging ought not to be the reserve of the young and thrusting - but if it's any consolation, I'd say the age range of beer bloggers is more evenly tilted to the, shall we say, more mature segment than political blogging (being a journalist, I read quite a bit of political blogging and it seems most of that is written by wannabe undergraduates or thereabouts) - though beer could do with a few more female bloggers, for sure.

I guess I'd end this overlong nonsense by saying that, at the end of the day, it's only blogging. It's a hobby.

Most of the time, I'd rather be in a real pub sinking a few pints of something cask-conditioned and 4% than reading about a 10% bottled beer I may have one of in my life.

Kristy said...

I offer you a scenario......

"Real ale is suffering a terminal decline I'd like to do something about it"

"Oh really and what do you suggest?"

"well what I thought is that we could tell people they're drinking the wrong beer and over 40 years get 100k to agree with us through the medium of free Wetherspoons vouchers"

"And is there another way?"

"welllll, we could get 70 bloggers on a room and over the course of 48 hours they could tweet about how great all beer is and reach 74k people"

"Sounds like a plan to me"

And that's what happened and that's what we need more of if we are to get the beer category out of decline and take on wines, spirits and ciders.

Matt's right, it was a bit like Hollyoaks - not because there was a dearth of older, portly people but because of the attitude that prevailed - that beer, all beer is to be celebrated. Not because of how it's dispensed or marketed but because of how it tastes - that should be the industry standard and these people are setting it in spades.

You are the first to assert that all CAMRA members are not the same and yet very comfortable stereotyping bloggers as only interested in "exotic keg craft or bottled beer, often imported, in trendy bars or at home". For every young, sexy blogger writing about the new and exciting there as many writing about the traditional with a critical eye.

Twitter hasn't marginalised beer blogging - it's enhanced it. It allows people who might never come across a beer blog to get involved, get excited and get drinking - that can only be a good thing.

Cheery Beery it might be but beer is under enough attack without us fighting amongst ourselves - leave that to the Daily Mail - the future is only assured if we can keep people drinking beer.

Just as you want to celebrate the diversity of beer we must celebrate the diversity of beer writing or we're all doomed!

Kristy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rabidbarfly said...

I've not seen comments decline on my blog, quite the opposite, but then I do get all anarchical and set out to put noses out of joint sometimes, cynical maybe but just checking you older folk are all still awake!

jesusjohn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jesusjohn said...

...I'll add one last thought.

I came across a comment by Mark Dredge along the lines of blogs being the latest news media and bloggers being 'citizen journalists'.

I'm a sinecured journalist so sure, I have an axe to grind. But most blogging is, more or less, 'I had a great beer - this was it - and here's an interesting fact about the brewery'. Super, diverting stuff - but Woodward & Bernstein it ain't.

The best beer blogging *journalism* by far was Pete Brown's series tacking neo-prohibitionists in 2010 - nothing else comes close.

Interestingly, the one post I did which I felt was a pretty decent stab at actual journalism got the lowest hit rate of anything I published and only one comment. And yes, I am sufficiently vain to link to it:

Tandleman said...

Well just one point of correction. I said:

"Does it follow that fashion, rather than the obvious inadequacies of a lot of British brewing, explains the gaderene rush to drink and promote exotic keg craft or bottled beer, often imported, in trendy bars or at home, by many younger bloggers?"

What I did not do is claim that all bloggers are the same. I said the above in the context of what two attendees wrote about the young and fashionable and though I did use the words "many" and "young" it was posed in a question, not a statement and I did add that could be qualified by explanation or argument.

Tandleman said...

Tyson. You and me both.

tankard said...

jesusjohn said...
"I'd rather be in a real pub sinking a few pints of something cask-conditioned and 4% than reading about a 10% bottled beer I may have one of in my life."

Hear! Hear!

StringersBeer said...

Of course, the Hip Young Gunslingers were attending a marketing fest sponsored by the industry, complete with usual judgement warping & ego-bloating freebies. All in all a jolly good way of reaching out "to influencers (such as beer bloggers) who will then have contact with the public"

Mark said...

There was a mix of people there from 20-60, some dressed like Hollyoaks characters, others more smartly attired. The nature of the event is more inclined towards younger drinkers, however - compare the Conference to the CAMRA AGM and you'll see the difference (was there anyone who looked like they may have heard of Topman?). The event attracted a certain crowd more than others, though it isn't a snapshot of beer blogging. More younger people starting to blog is surely just representative of the online medium of blogging and how anyone can take part, but that's it's the younger generation who are taking it up and exercising their voices.

Cheery beery it might be, and we've discussed this before, but I personally don't want to be negative on my blog because there's so much good beer out there that I'd rather celebrate it than make examples of the bad ones (and I might have got a bad batch, may have been in a bad mood when I tried it... so many variables). If I get a bad beer then I'll tell the person who makes it directly who can then address it, not announce it to the world online. Others are negative and that's their choice.

And if the 'fashion' is to talk about 'exotic keg beer' then so be it. As far as I can see, most people write about the beers they enjoy and of that's what they are drinking, then great. The best thing about blogging is that everyone can have their say and talk about the particular things which interest them. Just because you drink in the pub a lot more than at home doesn't mean everyone else should.

Twitter has increased and developed blogging, not marginalised it. It allows for more conversations to take place with more people.

And there is so much diversity in beer blogging, jump from you to me to Ron Pattinson to Hopzine to Stuart Howe to The Beer Nut to Hardknott Dave. What a huge variety of content!

As for influence... Blogs are influential because if someone wants to find out something about beer then they will likely search online and often they will find a beer blog with the result on. They are also read by beer lovers (bare in mind that the majority of people who do read this won't comment and only a very small number will - the influence goes beyond what you think it does).

JJ - 'Citizen journalist' is not my phrase, it's one used by others. It's about the new way in which news and information is gathered and passed, mostly in social media. It's not the best term because it's limited. It's also not right to use a journalistic approach to blogging because journalism is largely a one-way broadcast and social media is two-way - some things are written to be read, some are written to be discussed.

jesusjohn said...

Mark said: 'JJ - 'Citizen journalist' is not my phrase, it's one used by others. It's about the new way in which news and information is gathered and passed, mostly in social media. It's not the best term because it's limited. It's also not right to use a journalistic approach to blogging because journalism is largely a one-way broadcast and social media is two-way - some things are written to be read, some are written to be discussed.'

Mark, with the best will in the world, that doesn't half sound patronising. I'm a media professional - I know my onions.

Journalism is very much an increasingly two-way affair (and, indeed, the neo-pro Pete Brown pieces are a case in point). I'm not saying beer blogging should be highbrow journalism - I'm saying it (mostly) isn't.

I was, however, making the point in reply to your comment that:

'Blogs are the new form of media and the new journalists. Not having 'training' doesn't matter and that's the great thing about citizen journalism - anyone can do it.'

i.e. if anyone was saying blogging *should* be journalism, it's you.

Ghost Drinker said...

I think I could be in with the youngest crowd at 24, but many people have often told me I have the views of a 60yr old Yorkshire man. (A beast which is not really let lose on my blog for fear of mass controvosy ;)!)

Martyn Cornell said...

Well, Sturgeon's Law applies to beer blogging as much as it does to every other human endeavour, of course.(I must rush to add that everybody here is part of the 10 per cent …)

I have to say that, rather like StringersBeer, the grizzled cynic within me suspects the reason why a company such as Molson Coors sponsors an event like the Beer Bloggers' Conference is less because it sees beer bloggers as genuinely hugely influential and more (with the greatest respect, Kristy) because it's a tremendous opportunity to justify a marketing budget to be spent on cultivating "young social media-savvy opinion-formers". Afterwards the screen-inches of blogging comment on the event and the number of times the company's name is mentioned can be added up and presented in a report to the board …

Mind, I may just be saying that because, being out of the UK, I wasn't there and didn't get any of the free booze and grub, and also because I'm most certainly not "young and fashionable" and I've never watched Hollyoaks - as one of the "older folk" in the beer blogging community (even older than Ron P, though still younger than Roger P) I'm getting to an age where, if someone says "hip" to me, my first thought is increasingly likely to be "replacement".

Personally, though, I'm delighted to see younger beer bloggers arrive, it proves beer isn't solely the province of old farts, and if their puppy-like exuberance is a little grating, well, they're still learning. If they think they're going to be influencing and shaping the industry, they'll soon discover that a Michael Jackson comes along extremely rarely, and even a Pete Brown has very little power. (And a Martyn Cornell has absolutely no power at all.) What I hope they'll learn is that blogging should be done purely for the fun of it, aiming to please yourself first, and if you happen to entertain one or two others at the same time, that's a bonus.

Kristy said...

Martyn - your cynicism is heart breaking!

A valid point nonetheless but one which for us just isn't true (of course she'd say that I hear you cry!!). We sponsored this as Molson Coors - a name that to most drinkers is not recognised and nor do we plan it to be - if it was just a marketing ploy we would have used Carling (or maybe Worthington's White Shield) as the sponsor name so that we get the marketing brownie points you describe.

We didn't because we genuinly see bloggers as influential to the category - more people talking about beer in a positive way is a great thing.

Ultimately that should help us spend our marketing budgets in the future you could argue but that doesn't detract from the fact we are involved in this because we believe it's important for beer.

That said we could maybe look at Worthington's branded hip joints and then you could give us a lovely write up to show the board!

Tandleman said...

At mine and Martyn's age, I'd imagine it might be more like replacement hip joints!

RedNev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RedNev said...

As I wrote on my own blog: 'Any pretence that this "conference" is anything more than a jolly beano is completely demolished by the fact that it is sponsored by Molson Coors, manufacturers of Carling, Caffreys, Worthington, Coors, and Stones among many others. As the conference website excitedly explains: "The company [Molson Coors] generously agreed long ago to fund the actual conference center [sic] costs, a significant sum, making it possible from the beginning that this conference would be in London. If you are attending this weekend, please make sure to thank MolsonCoors when you get the chance!"'

It's hypocritical to criticise CAMRA for accepting Wetherspoons vouchers while at the same time seeing no potential conflict of interest in Molson Coors' sponsorship of this event.

For the record, as a member I believe that CAMRA should stop accepting JDW vouchers precisely because it implies a conflict of interests.

Tandleman said...

I think you are wrong on both counts. While Molson Coors may be a beneficiary, they were probably wise to get in on this event. While you can say it was just a beano, electronic media has a big place to play and even if they are wrong about how bloggers either now, or in the future, might influence things, it is surely a sound investment for them. MC are doing a lot of things (not everything) right at the moment and it would be churlish I think to deny that.

As for CAMRA and JDW vouchers, how can they buy influence from CAMRA anyway? What is the conflict of interest in the country's largest seller of cask beers encouraging CAMRA members to drink in their pubs where a large selection of cask beers are available?

RedNev said...

I don't agree I am wrong on either count. Of course it will be a sound investment for them [MC] - why do you think they did it? Also, nothing I wrote said or implied electronic media are unimportant, but a conference of beer bloggers paid for by a multi-national brewing company cannot have any real bite and will only be a nice themed holiday for the people concerned. Good luck to them - I hope they enjoyed themselves - but you can't read read any more into the event than that.

Recruiters use JDW vouchers as a sweetener to get people to join CAMRA, rather than the chance to join a campaigning organisation. I've heard the patter: join CAMRA and get £20 of JDW vouchers. Not, you'll note, join CAMRA and help campaign for real ale, which is the reason why you and I joined, TM. I didn't actually say there was a conflict of interest; I used the word 'implied'. I was writing about perceptions of the relationship between JDW and CAMRA, which I don't believe are helpful, and that view is borne out by one of Kristy's comments.

Gazza Prescott said...

"please make sure to thank MolsonCoors when you get the chance"

Just this one comment should make anyone who knows owt about good beer run a mile.

Since when have MC made anything remotely close to acceptable (And if anyone mentions the garbage coming out of "Bass Museum" or whatever they call it these days I'll laugh)?

It's just so obvious that they are buying column inches, goodwill, good reviews, media exposure and all the other tawdry crap that goes with it and, if that's what people want to associate themselves with, their blogs aren't the kind of thing I want to read.

To be honest, I only look at a handful these days as most are cheery-beery, vacuous, let's all say how "awesome" everything is crocks of crap.

Bloggers? Know-nowt nobodies (with a few honourable exceptions...!)

John Clarke said...

Careful Gazza or Martyn Cornell will be off on one again!

RedNev said...

Gazza: that sentence jumped right off the screen at me too, and I agree entirely about CM's motives. You're just more forthright than I was!

And before anyone mentions Doom Bar again; it was unremarkable before CM's takeover and it remains so. It seems to me that a multinational brewing corporation taking over a small real ale brewery was something to be opposed a few years ago in ale campaigning circles, regardless of the old, familiar, perpetually broken undertakings to keep the beers going. Now it's seen as a positive sign - a step in the right direction. Are we so easily satisfied with such crumbs nowadays?

Steve Lamond said...

Add me if you like Tandleman. I feel like I probably met you at BSF a couple of years ago, but as I can't see what you lookm like and I'm crap with names I'll just have to find you this year!

HardKnott Dave said...

I'm so pleased I'm still young and fashionable.