As of today (31st May) I have officially been employed as a fully-fledged member of the beer industry for a year.
The past twelve months have been a complete whirlwind and the most exciting and stressful time of my life. From visiting tiny breweries in rural Catalonia, to flying visits to see BrewDog in Aberdeen, this job has allowed me to travel to places and do things I never would have dreamt I would be able to do, let alone get paid for, and I’ve made countless new contacts and friends along the way.
However, it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows. I’ve faced more criticism, scrutiny and abuse than I ever thought possible for someone who writes about beer to endure. The transition from beer blogger, enthusiast and drinker to journalist has not been an easy one, and I’ve often found myself on the wrong end of abuse and attacks from brewers, industry figures and writers I used to look up to and respect.
At times, I’ve felt desperately miserable, alone, jaded and ready to throw in the towel. My mental and physical health have suffered, and I’ve found it increasingly difficult to switch off from my job. How do you draw the line between where work ends, and where your social life begins when both are so intrinsically linked?
I’ve watched, with great sadness, as other beer bloggers decide that the hassle, aggravation and anger directed their way as a result of writing about this industry is no longer worth their time of day. It is a sad indication of the toxic nature of the current discourse around craft beer that these people have lost their drive, passion and enthusiasm to write about something that continues to bring them great joy to drink.
It is somewhat ironic that the latest twitter shit-storm I found myself embroiled in just last week was centered around a story on the subject of mental health. And so, at 11pm on a Thursday night, when I ought to have been relaxing and spending time with friends, I found myself reading people attacking my work, questioning my integrity and giving me abuse from the other side of the Atlantic.
The brewer in question, and those who leapt to criticise my story, were completely unconcerned about the impact their words would have upon my own wellbeing, despite being themselves vocal advocates for greater discussion around mental health in the beer industry. Presumably they don’t consider the welfare of those who write about beer to be as important as that of the people involved in brewing, supplying and serving it…
I’m not going to go into too much depth here explaining why I firmly stand behind the story which I wrote, but if you want to understand my position then take a read of Jeff Alworth’s post, in which he quite correctly points out that finding out something new and informative, and not simply providing good press, is the true role of a reporter.
Jeff’s post could also be taken and applied to any number of ‘controversial’ stories I have written over the past 12 months, many of which have resulted in significant backlash from the subjects mentioned in them. Seeing their words reported ad-verbatim in the cold light of day, there seems to be a tendency amongst some brewers to panic, backtrack and attack the publication in which they are quoted, rather than acknowledging their comments may have been misjudged.
Take the example of Garrett Oliver, who attempted to claim that I wrote a story after eavesdropping on him (despite a photo clearly showing me recording our interview) or Paul Jones at Cloudwater, who accused me of clickbait for reporting on his speech at The Brewers Congress (in which, it transpires, he got his dates mixed up). The result of these false accusations? More abuse directed at not only the publication, but also me, the reporter.
Of course, we are all loath to admit to our own mistakes, and sometimes it is easier to blame others instead of accepting responsibility. I’m still learning in this role myself, and in hindsight I would probably have done things differently in each of the three situations I have described in this post. But does this mean that they constitute bad journalism? Absolutely not. By picking up and focusing on the most interesting part of a wider discussion, I was able to generate a huge amount of debate, spark further conversations and bring new readers to my publication’s website. I’d say that’s pretty good journalism in my eyes.
Heading into my second year as a full time beer writer, I feel increasingly conflicted about my decision to turn my hobby and my passion into my living. There is no question it has given me countless opportunities and a more varied and interesting day-to-day work agenda than I could ever have dreamed of. However, it has also been a massive strain on my health and has definitely tempered my enjoyment of beer and its surrounding culture.
To date, I’m not sure that has been a price worth paying.