housekeeping

Proud to be #notsponsored

There’s an age-old argument between reporters and editors that goes something like this:

Editor: What’s going on with [Issue X]? We should do a story.

Reporter: (groaning) You’re kidding, right? I wrote an article about that a few weeks ago.

Editor: So what? Nobody remembers.

Now that I no longer have any skin in that particular game, I’ll admit the editors were usually right. When I worked in newspapers, I can’t tell you how many times I received angry emails or phone calls from readers accusing us of not covering an issue … and I had written a front-page article, like, a week before. (And this was back when people read newspapers!)

The moral of the story being, it’s common for writers to overestimate the audience’s collective memory and/or attention span. While advertisers have long understood the importance of hammering home their message through repetition, creative types — maybe out of a misplaced sense of vanity — bristle at the thought of no one remembering their golden prose.

I related this story to a friend who asked why I recently started using the #notsponsored hashtag on social media posts, considering I’ve already been pretty overt about my editorial independence from the beer industry in my bio and by posting a written sample policy here on the site. Like the editor in that newsroom parable, I believe it’s presumptuous to assume that everyone who encounters Original Levity somehow knows who I am and/or what I stand for.

Part of my recent rethinking of Original Levity was to embrace it as a multi-platform brand with different kinds of content in different places for different people, instead of being mainly a blog that had some social media accounts attached to it. There are people who follow me on Instagram and Twitter who have never visited this site, and maybe never will. (And that’s OK, by the way.) I like Instagram, but let’s face it: it’s also a fertile breeding ground for shady influencer marketing, so I wanted a way to set myself apart in terms that social media users will notice and understand. And so, I adopted #notsponsored.

This is probably a good time to add that I’m not slamming creators who post sponsored or branded content and are open about it. Advertising and partnerships are often what makes it possible for bloggers and outlets to tell stories about exciting places or things. Far be it from me to tell anyone else how to run their business if they’re running it ethically.

Ideally, there would be no need for a #notsponsored hashtag if all influencers clearly labelled sponsored content as such. There are guidelines in Canada around disclosure — but the consequences for influencers who don’t follow them seem mainly centred on being held liable for amplifying an advertiser’s false or deceptive claims about a product, as opposed to sanctioning people for hiding a relationship with an advertiser.

The problem is, for many businesses the very appeal of influencer marketing lies in disguising the fact that it’s advertising. The beer industry isn’t immune: there are breweries that compensate people in cash and/or free stuff in exchange for artsy product shots and hyped copy that create an illusion of cachet and passion for the product. It’s important to point that I’m not talking about the common practice of breweries sending samples to a wide group of people for potential reviews, with no strings attached. I’m talking about business arrangements between breweries and influencers to talk up the beer. It’s a transaction — a hidden transaction, at that.

Independence and transparency have been my modus operandi in all my years of beer writing. #notsponsored is another way of letting people know my philosophy, but the most powerful demonstration is through action. #notsponsored is a hashtag. Honesty and integrity aren’t.

Back with a vengeance healthy dose of indolence

If conventional wisdom dictates that blogging exists under a “publish or perish” imperative similar to academia — that you have to keep up a steady stream of content to keep people coming back — then I guess my unplanned five-month hiatus could be viewed as a mortal blow to Original Levity.

Luckily for me, I didn’t start Original Levity for the conventional reasons, like making money via advertising or clicks. While I certainly view the blog as a way of keeping my personal brand out there after leaving daily journalism a few years ago, my main purpose from the beginning was to create an outlet for my beer-related brain droppings outside of regular contributions to publications like Avenue Edmonton.

“Let’s take a relaxed attitude toward blogging and watch the baseball match.”

The simplest explanation for my absence is that life has been busy over the past few months. But on a deeper level, I was wrestling with my motivation and something more existential: I have spent my entire adult life writing for a living. Coming home from work to sit down in front of a screen and write some more was starting to feel, well, a lot like work. And I’ve been struggling with that.

I’ve recently started putting together a couple of new posts, but it didn’t feel right to come back after five months and act like I never went away. While mulling over what to say, I came across a blog post that articulated many of the things I had been feeling, titled The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies Into Hustles.

Sometimes, being a good writer means stepping aside and recognizing when someone has said something better than you ever could — and that was the case when I read this passage: “It’s OK to love a hobby the same way you’d love a pet; for its ability to enrich your life without any expectation that it will help you pay the rent.”

What that doesn’t mean is that I’ll write for others for free — that’s not a hobby for me: I’m a professional writer, and I’ve earned the right to expect to be paid for my time and effort in the 25-plus years I’ve plied my trade in newspapers, broadcasting and, more recently, magazines.

This blog, on the other hand, is a hobby. I’ll gladly write for free when the person in charge is me. But as the old expression goes, “You get what you pay for.” Absent the prospect of a paycheque (or any need for one) my output will vary accordingly.

Now … if a five-month holiday from posting doesn’t kill a blog, telling people, “Don’t expect anything new here!” surely will. So let me say in no uncertain terms that’s not what I mean. Stick around (or maybe, more accurately, come back), because I have plans.

While I’ve never really cared about clicks, one thing I’ve always wanted with Original Levity is engagement. What the past few months have taught me is that different people engage in different ways. Rather than stubbornly expect everyone who’s interested in what I say about craft beer to come here, I’m going to talk to people where they’re most comfortable hanging out and engaging — whether that’s discussing an interesting beer article I share via Facebook or Twitter, checking out Untappd to see what I’ve been drinking lately, or following my beery travels on Instagram.

By no means does that spell an end to this blog. While I want to use different channels to reach people more frequently, to me this is still a valuable venue for storytelling, reviews and opinion. To that end, I recently visited Alley Kat Brewing here in Edmonton and had the privilege of sampling every vintage of its Olde Deuteronomy barley wine going back to 1995. Watch for that story in the coming weeks.

When I started this blog in April 2018, I invited people to join me for a beer and some interesting conversation. My invitation is just as sincere today: the only difference is, you may find me in a few different places. Please don’t let that throw you. I’m just as thirsty and chatty as I’ve always been.

Original Levity Collage

An Untappd resource comes to Original Levity

Since starting this blog a few months ago, I’ve been wrestling with some Untappd potential.

A priority of mine from the beginning was to give people a steady diet of interesting and entertaining things to read. Ensuring I could do that meant (a.) I produce the aforementioned content, (b.) I use the associated social media channels to tell people about the good stuff on here and (c.) I keep the social media tasks and associated technical stuff to a sustainable level so I can focus my limited time on actually writing things.

When I initially did this calculation, Untappd didn’t make the cut. My Untappd account, which was under my name, had long been linked to my personal Twitter handle — and without that tangible connection to Original Levity, I didn’t feel the time I spent checking into beers would bring any value to the blog or its readers. Combined with my not-insignificant reservations about the usefulness of rating sites (which may be worth a blog post of its own someday), I let my account go largely dormant since launching the blog.

A couple of things recently changed my mind. The first thing was I discovered the WordPress Untappd widget while visiting someone else’s blog. I figured this was the answer to my quandary about linking my Untappd checkins to the Original Levity brand. As you can see, there’s now a listing of my 10 most recent checkins on the right-hand side of the blog. I changed my Untappd username to Original Levity and linked it to the blog’s Twitter account, so any checkins will automatically produce a tweet in addition to showing up here.

But the most decisive factor was that I often have people ask me what I’ve been drinking lately. If I put aside my qualms about the helpfulness (or lack thereof) of rating sites and view it simply as a vehicle for answering those questions — and possibly pointing people to some good beer or away from the bad stuff — then it’s a useful addition.

This is a good time to add that Untappd checkins will not replace the more detailed beer reviews I do here.  I may offer some quick thoughts and a score a beer that’s new to me, but more often than not, it’ll likely be more of a “current mood” tweet — particularly if it’s a beer I’ve had many times. View it as no more than a simple listing of what’s currently in my fridge at home or on the menu when I’m out for a beer.

Likely the biggest impact on the site will be design-wise. Putting the Untappd listings in the righthand sidebar works for now, but I’m wondering if there are other themes that would better accommodate it and improve the overall look of the blog. Stay tuned — and send me a toast on Untappd next time I check in.

Welcome to Original Levity

Repeat after me: beer should be fun and bring people together.

It should be stating the obvious, considering folks have been gathering and drinking beer for centuries. It is truly a social lubricant, as they say. In many ways, the craft beer movement has only helped solidify beer as a drink everyone can enjoy: people who never liked pale mass-produced lagers can try a fruited Belgian lambic or an intensely citric and aromatic New England-style IPA and realize that they’re beer people, after all. They just didn’t know it.

But it seems every movement, as they expand, has that small minority that wants to keep it to themselves. Snobs. And craft beer has ’em, too. Don’t get me wrong: beer is wonderfully complex and diverse and should be respected and appreciated every bit as much as fine food and wine. Snobbery and exclusivity shouldn’t exist in food and wine (there’s a separate conversation to be had about that) — but it’s particularly antithetical to beer, considering its proletarian history.

I’ve always tried to keep this in mind when I write about beer, but occasional reminders are always welcome. I got one the other day, when I was at the grand opening of Red Bison Brewery in Calgary. I was chatting with a group of friends about some of the new breweries in Calgary and Edmonton when a woman sitting with hers at the end of the table (the brewery has communal seating) piped up, “Sorry to interrupt, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation and it sounds like you’re speaking my language.” We ended up talking about beer for a few a minutes before I went back to my friends and she returned to hers. I’d say it was a welcome intrusion — but it wasn’t an intrusion at all.

My recent encounter at Red Bison was a lot like how I envision this blog: a place where anyone with an abiding interest in craft beer or someone who’s just curious about it can drop in, join the conversation and not feel left out. My training as a journalist taught me to write for a wide audience and that’s my intention here. I also think being inclusive is the beery thing to do.

The values of honesty and transparency I learned as a journalist are also cornerstones of my relationship with you, the audience. My mission, in addition to hopefully entertaining people, is to write knowledgeably and engagingly about craft beer and point people to some good beers along the way. That means being independent. I’ll still have my opinions (what would a blog be without them?), but they won’t be influenced by any business relationships I have with anyone in the beer industry — because there aren’t any. If I’m a fan of a particular beer or brewery, I guarantee you my endorsement hasn’t been paid for. Fancy product shots may excite brewery marketing reps, but I’m not sure they tell a reader anything about whether a beer is good or not.

Before anyone grabs their popcorn waiting for the negative reviews to roll in, something to keep in mind: a byproduct of my independence is that I pay for the vast majority of beer I drink, and I tend to spend my money on beer I already like or on new releases from breweries with a proven (to me) track record. If you want to know more about my approach, check out my about page or my policy on beer samples.

Despite all the journalism talk — which is done, I promise — Original Levity isn’t a news site. Blogger burnout is a common phenomenon and I want to avoid it by starting sustainably: look for quick hits with my thoughts on the latest beer l’ve tried or some pics from a recent brewery visit. Really, that’s actually how blogging started and I think it’s a good place to take it again. That doesn’t mean there won’t be longer-form articles and profiles of Alberta beer folks when time permits or the story warrants it. That also doesn’t mean I won’t get serious if the topic calls for it. I guess Original Levity will be like a lot of conversations had over a beer: friendly, engaging and lively, but occasionally serious. Oh, and there will be hockey. Beer and hockey are a classic pairing and two of my loves. I definitely plan to work in some hockey talk.

Grab a beer and join me, won’t you?