In the Craft beer world the number of fluff pieces is increasing, and it is hurting Craft Culture.
With a multitude of blogs, online pieces as well as newspaper and magazine pieces available to the reader, the average media consumer has to choose what they invest their time into wisely. Separating the wheat from the chaff can be overwhelming at times, especially on a topic that one is passionate about.
It is beyond the scope of this article to compile a list of articles to enjoy or to avoid. Rather, it is aimed solely at one source – the writers of “fluff pieces.”
What is a fluff piece? Oxford dictionary defines fluff as “…writing perceived as trivial or superficial…”
If one considers this further, then a fluff piece in craft beer fails to do certain key things.
- Ask difficult questions
- Fairly evaluate
- Delve beyond the superficial
- Present a balanced viewpoint
Conversely, a fluff piece or fluff author is likely to commit the following sins.
- Fails to write pieces that expose things that may be viewed negatively (Everything is not always awesome)
- Bases things on personal opinion with a lack of adequate training/experience
- Tends to place extreme importance on his/her personal opinion without openly exchanging with others
- Asking/Begging/Demanding products and opportunities from brewers to “review”
- Writing without a real purpose (other than to get access to beer/brewers/events)
- Often forgoes or downplays the importance of formal beer education (It’s MY opinion)
Our dear fluff writer often states standard excuses for their writing choices.
- I’m popularizing the beer/brewer
- I’m helping the little guy start out
- I can do lots of good if I avoid the negative
- I NEED to keep a positive relationship for access to the brewers/breweries
This is not to say that Craft beer writers shouldn’t be positive or optimists. Of course they should be, as they are writing about something that the enjoy and it is a topic of growing interest to many. But with a public voice comes a responsibility to temper enthusiasm so that the reporting can be fair and balanced. A writer’s voice should be used to present an accurate picture to the reader in order to illuminate.
The writer needs to understand that in an interview scenario for example, there is an interplay between the two parties that have goals that need to overlap yet are also somewhat at odds with each other. The interviewee has a particular idea/image/product etc that they want to put in a positive light, and the interviewer should want to explore that as well. But where problems occur is when the ideals of truth and beauty are blurred someone by the spinning of words and hype. This can be attributed to the author as much as the person being interviewed.
Does this mean that the writer must be hostile to the beer/brewer/brewery? Of course not! But there is a need, on occasion, to delve into things more deeply than some do. For example if Brewery X sells off ownership to Conglomerate Z and states that “nothing is expected to change” (or other similar statement that is common in such cases) a logical assumption would be that the writer would ask how things (service, culture, product) would not be impacted by the event. Failure to ask these basic questions turns the piece into a press release of sorts, which then become little but the voice of the company in question and not that of the author.
What about pieces of writing that are solely the work of the author?
Certainly in such situations the author in entitled to far more leeway, though there is a need to declare things such as personal bias, preference etc. We should be able to discern a few thing however
- If a writer is reviewing something, did they pay for it? Was it a gift from a neutral party? Did someone with a vested interest provide the object of review? (some writers are audacious enough to state that reviews of such should be assumed to be free or paid. It would be best to always declare such things or include a disclaimer in the footer of the piece)
- If a writer is discussing something that they are normally not fond of (say a particular style of beer for example) the reader should be informed. Better yet, the writer may want to include the opinions of others that are not opposed to the subject matter
How does fluff actually hurt?
There are many ways, but to highlight a single yet common example, imagine someone new to the Craft beer world that seeks out the opinions of someone more experienced than themselves. Should they not be able t0 expect reasonable, unbiased, and expert writing that is able to inform, entertain and delve deeply into something that they are passionate about? Rather than reading that EVERYTHING IS AWESOME, they should be told that Brewery Y makes beers that are average at best, Beer W is full of DMS and oxidized hops, and that the local beer festival is not welcoming of pets and children.
If we, the consumer of Craft beer writing, demand better writing and an end to fluff, we will all be far better off.