To most of you the title seems juvenile and uneducated for a Craft Beer website but I thought in light of a continued growing concern I might open this to discussion. My opinion is based on the recent revelation that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is seriously undertaking the investigating and potential prosecution of "bloggers" who do not disclose their sources after a product review. You heard that right, a blogger's opinion matters especially to the FTC.
I read this article and started to reflect on years spent reading through newsprint, websites, and looking at flyer's for a chance to arrive and savor four or sixteen ounces a great craft beer. I think back on those years spent discussing at uncomfortable lengths with my recipients the underpinnings of their craft. Whether my "thoughts" were appreciated or they were just being polite I have no idea. Today I often can be seen behind the table pouring that beer at a festival and answering those same echoed questions. The reason behind my unwillingness to grow tired of answering the same questions about IBU, Alcohol, or the difference light versus dark is simple, I don't work for one of the three tiers of craft beer.
The three tiers of craft beer are brewery, distributor, and retailer; all of which are responsible for providing one thing to everyone, beer. Whether you are that brewer, or that distributor, or even that bar, everyone of you drink the same beer and all have concerns when someone discusses their thoughts on that beer or where its sold. Most in the industry spend time reading magazines like Malt Advocate, Beverage World, The New Brewer Magazine, or other "industry print". The caveat of this however is generally the time an event is mentioned to the time it is reviewed is often months away.
The other medium which is the main focus of this discussion, blogging, is often shunned 'cept those rare times when it is the digital companion to an ink and paper publication. The rest of us, reside in a sort of basement with minor glances of being noticed mostly because an aspiring brewery, bar, or restaurant is looking for free advertising or because our words are well written and respected. Those who write in this oft derided medium spend hours or days scouring through article and calendar looking for that one piece of information that will lead them to a post. The payoff from all of this is usually a few comments from someone or the addition of another RSS subscriber. 99% of the bloggers out there in their craft of focus never see the light of recognition minus that which they receive from their family and close friends.
The article which is posted below outlines that the FTC will start enforcing a full disclosure policy, essentially forcing people to outline their relationship to the product they are endorsing. Additionally if this individual is compensated they risk being punished if they don't report these "gifts". For someone like myself does that mean I need to rebuke a brewery rep or bar owner when offered a free pint, for fear I might be influenced to give a positive review? For a craft beer guy like myself I am mostly immune to the new enactment since most of the time I am paying for my own beer to review on my own website. However thought if I purchase my own ale or lager am I conversely entitled to a tax write off? The other factor to take into this is what does this to do sites like Beeradvocate and Ratebeer where people are not forcibly required to record where they received the beer?
The larger concern however remains on when will the industry as a whole start respecting the words of a blogger when those same “writers” are soon to be placed in the same category as a professional print media writer? I would liken the current plans by the FTC as the equivalent of a room filled of pot smokers and less one person who isn't wetting their lips on said roach. Yet when the cops bust the place they don't ask if you have been smoking or not, they incarcerate you just the same. Kind of makes you wish you weren’t in the room don’t you? But that is the reality of what is facing us as amateur writers.
In the end when these rules go through people like myself will have to start acting like professional media even if our peers don’t see as us such. Hopefully as we near the overlap of traditional media with digital 'not for profit’ reporting people like myself can sit here knowing that the words will be appreciated more by all of our peers and not just a scant few.