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Friday, October 12, 2012

Stenographers and Bubbles

It's a big week for craft beer. Some 50,000 beer fans have descended on Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. These fortunate folks will be sampling more than 2,700 beers from 578 breweries. The great bulk of the participating breweries are small. But make no mistake: craft beer is big business these days.

Corresponding with the GABF kickoff, there was a story on the CNBC website yesterday. The story, No Bubble for Craft Beer, is essentially an interview with Charlie Papazian, founder and president of the Brewers Association. Papazian talks about craft beer's rising star in recent years and flatly says there is "no [craft beer] bubble," despite concerns expressed by some in the industry.

Is there a craft beer bubble?
Look, I love that fact that we've seen the growth we've seen. There are more than 2,000 operating breweries in this country today, more than we've had since breweries were small and strictly local. The number of great beers out there continues to multiply. Terrific, right!

Still, I am increasingly uncomfortable with what passes for journalism in the digital age. We continue to see an erosion in the basic principle of objectivity. People with significant job titles or responsibilities are afforded a level of reverence that simply isn't in line with objective reporting. Journalists are stenographers.

In this case, what was Papazian supposed to say? Please recall this is a guy who virtually launched the craft beer movement in this country. Was he supposed to say the industry is at risk because recent growth has, in fact, been too rapid? Of course he wasn't going say that. Because saying so would be very bad PR.

Mid-2012 brewery count
And, yet, there it was. An article that presented one point of view...that of the person being interviewed. Perhaps the author might have considered digging a little deeper or talking to someone who is concerned that a bubble may be forming. What happened to objectivity?

Please understand, I don't always expect objectivity. I have friends who simply repost press releases and related promotional info on their blogs. They generally aren't getting paid for their effort. Even though I frankly think every press release should be evaluated, I have zero problem with citizen journalists whose blogs are primarily (and blindly) promotional.

That is not the case when it comes to supposedly reputable publications, whether online or traditional. People who get paid to function as journalists ought to be held to a higher standard.

Do I think there's a craft beer bubble forming? I'm not sure. But I hear a lot of brewers talking about it. Here's one question I would have asked Papazian or someone else had I been writing the story: "Are you concerned that even if there isn't a nationwide bubble, there may be bubbles forming in areas where the brewery count is especially high?"

Sadly, stenography is not journalism.

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