Shoddy journalism promotes ignorance, does disservice to Pint Bill’s progress

scbrewers

South Carolina’s Pint Bill hasn’t gotten much attention from the mainstream media since its introduction last month. Instead, the main sources of information and education about the bill are blogs – this one included – and the social media arms of the state’s breweries. Having been a professional journalist for about five years, I can understand why that is: The bill is more or less a niche piece of legislation that affects a small segment of the population and understandably takes a backseat to other, more pressing issues. While I’d love to see more ink or airtime dedicated to educating people about the bill, I don’t fault newspapers and TV stations for focusing on other issues.

With that being the case, it’s paramount that news organizations which do decide to give the Pint Bill some time in the spotlight do one simple thing: Get it right. Give the facts as clearly and concisely as possible; be informative and direct; and don’t shortchange an issue. That’s Journalism 101, and in the case of the Pint Bill, it’s really not that hard to get all the facts out there for folks.

These are apparently foreign concepts to Kirk Brown of Anderson’s Independent Mail. This past Saturday, March 23, Brown penned a short write-up on the Pint Bill. I was excited to see the legislation finally getting a little more time in the public eye, but Brown’s story was at best a shoddy, poorly written throwaway piece, and at worst an outright ignorant misrepresentation of the bill that should have been spiked from the start.

Let’s begin with the lede paragraph on Brown’s story:

Visitors at breweries in the state would be able to sample more high-alcohol beer under a bill that the South Carolina House of Representatives approved last week.

On the surface, yes, this is true. Under HB. 3554 – and S. 423, its S.C. Senate counterpart – someone visiting one of South Carolina’s breweries would be able to sample more beer that may be high in alcohol. As I’ve detailed previously, the new legislation increases the maximum on-premises consumption amount from four 4-ounce samples to 64 ounces in total, which could be spread among samples or full pints. And yes, those full pints could be filled with higher-alcohol beers of up to 14 percent ABW (alcohol by weight). This much is true.

But from the get-go, Brown perpetuates the ignorance so many people have toward the legislation and South Carolina’s craft beer culture in general. (More on that later as well.) Why use “high-alcohol”? Having that adjective present that early in the story – and without any other description of beer –  injects a bit of bias in just the first sentence. Why not just say “beer”? Or why not mention all the low-alcohol beers people could try? Sure, I could go in and have a pint of some massive imperial stout, but I could also get pints of a session beer or, more likely, a beer with a moderate level of alcohol. Beers with an ABW of 4-8 percent are what constitute the majority of what any given brewery in this state sells, a fact Brown neglects to mention.

Of all the breweries I’ve toured – both inside and outside of South Carolina – I’ve seen one, maybe two beers with an ABW of anywhere close to 14 percent. And if someone had a sample of one of those beers, they weren’t chugging it; they were sipping it and enjoying, as one should. Immediately focusing on just “high-alcohol beers” plants a seed in the reader’s mind, and as the story progresses, more and more skewed information only serves to insult the reader’s intelligence and does nothing to further or deepen their understanding.

In fact, that fostering of ignorance is continued in the second and third paragraphs:

According to existing state law, people touring more than a dozen breweries scattered throughout the state can only have four two-ounce samples of beer with less than 8 percent alcohol content.

The bill sponsored by Rep. J. Derham Cole Jr., a Republican from Spartanburg, would allow brewery visitors to sample 64 ounces of beer with an alcohol content of up to 14 percent.

That first sentence is blatantly false and shows that Brown didn’t take time to read the law. Patrons at SC breweries can sample “no more than four brands of beer brewed at the licensed premises” per day. If a beer is above 8 percent ABW, the pour is limited to 2 ounces. Anything below 8 percent, you get 4 ounces to try. So saying “people … can only have four two-ounce samples of beer with less than 8 percent alcohol content” is flat-out wrong and again grossly misinforms the reader. Brown again focuses solely on the high-alcohol portion of the current law.

Let’s continue:

As part of floor debate on the measure Wednesday, some House members expressed concern that the higher limits in Cole’s bill could cause some brewery visitors to become intoxicated.

Rep. Rick Quinn, a Republican from Lexington, said drinking 64 ounces of beer with 14 percent alcohol would be the same as consuming 19 domestic beers.

Responding to Quinn’s comments, Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg said, “That is a pretty severe buzz.”

At this point, I began to physically bang my head on the table. Those paragraphs show the extreme ignorance and misunderstanding so much of South Carolina’s population has toward the craft beer community, and highlights precisely the mentality that needs to change in this state.

No one – NO ONE – goes to a brewery with the intended goal of getting drunk. And if they do, they’re an idiot and not someone who actually appreciates the quality and care that goes into making craft beer. It isn’t an issue now with the current cap on volume per visitor and it won’t be if the Pint Bill passes. Why? Because that is not the culture of craft beer drinkers.

We – that being craft beer fans – go to breweries to get educated on how each one does things differently. We go to see what special techniques and methods each respective brewery uses in the brewing of its beer. We go to sample new and inventive local beers and to meet like-minded individuals. We don’t go to get smashed. If we wanted to, we could go to any bar in any city in any state and do that. We go to breweries to experience, share and enjoy, not get tanked.

Let’s say the Pint Bill passes and I visit a brewery that does have a 14% ABW beer on tap. Should I choose to order that beer, it would likely be the only full pint I’d have there, and I’d spend a good bit of time drinking it. Sure, the end result could be that I might get drunk, but chances are high either I or whoever was also enjoying a beer that high in alcohol would make sure to pace ourselves and not get drunk.

(Note: Quinn’s proposed amendment – which would basically leave the current law unchanged – failed to pass by a vote of 64-49. A little too close for comfort, though.)

Brown doesn’t bother to mention the extra liability brewers and breweries will take on if the Pint Bill passes. Brewery owners know full well they’re at fault if a patron at their establishment dies or kills someone due to drunken driving, and I’d expect they’d do everything in their power to prevent that from happening. Like any good bartender, brewers know when to cut someone off when they’ve had too much and call them a cab. If anything, the new law would make brewery employees become even more vigilant and mindful of their patrons.

As I mentioned before, the biggest issue I have with this article is Brown’s perpetuation and promotion of the ignorance most people in this state have toward breweries and the state’s craft beer culture. That ignorance and misunderstanding is glaring in the comments on the story, which includes these gems:

May as well take the rest of the session off if they can’t do anything but pass bills to allow more drunks or should I say drunker people on the roads. They should be trying to get rid of alcohol and nicotine.

Should be amended to require each brewery to administer a breathalyzer to people as they leave.

South Carolina is making it harder for a person to enjoy an after dinner smoke and easer (sic) for a man to get drunk and wipe out an entire family with his car or truck. Yep, makes a lot of sense.

I can’t tell if this is wanton stupidity or just ill-informed ignorance, but it shows just how little most people know – or are willing to learn – about the culture. To them, we’re all a bunch of drunks just looking for the next opportunity to get plastered. They’re the kind of people who think alcohol in any form is evil, as is anyone who uses it. They couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

My friends who know me well know how passionate I am about craft beer. (If you’ve read this far, you probably figured as much, too.) And while they joke about it, they know I’m neither an alcoholic nor someone who drinks just so I can become intoxicated. I drink fairly regularly, and sure I have a bit too much from time to time as a lot of people do. But in those situations I know how to act responsibly and do whatever I can to keep myself and everyone else safe. I’d wager that most people who truly appreciate and respect craft beer are the same way.

But (much) more often than not, if I’m enjoying a craft beer – whether it’s sessionable or high alcohol – I’m taking time to appreciate the intricacies of it. I’m picking out the flavors the hops and malts impart, or looking for notes of something new and different. I’m taking my time, appreciating the craft and skill that goes into making whatever’s in my glass. Unlike your average frat boy slamming a case of PBR because it’s Thursday so why not, I actually respect my beer, and I’m not wasting my time drinking to get drunk.

In Brown’s defense, the piece was a quick-hit sort of tidbit that lacked the depth or detail of your average news story. Had he been given more space to work with – or should anyone else take time to write about the Pint Bill – I’d hope a more complete and thorough analysis of the law and its intent would be given. But what was published this past Saturday was pathetic, unfair and did nothing to actually educate people about the legislation. It leaves people misinformed and does a disservice to the legislation and the paper’s readers.

South Carolina lags its brother to the north in this area. In Charlotte alone, there are seven breweries and more coming online soon. And let’s not even get into how huge Asheville is for North Carolina’s beer scene, much less the culture of the Southeast – hell, the entire country – in general. North Carolinians already have the rights and privileges the Pint Bill would give to South Carolinians. And you know what? You don’t see dozens of people killed on their roadways because some idiot had too much at a brewery. They realize it’s a privilege and they don’t abuse it. I suspect South Carolinians would be the same way were they given those freedoms.

So here I am, having dedicated a couple of hours and a few thousand words to writing about some throwaway piece on some bill in the Legislature. Why waste the time and energy? Because the people who actually give a damn and know what they’re talking about are vastly outnumbered by people who just don’t care, or worse, don’t want to. This bill is about so much more than letting people drink more. It’s about supporting the smallest of small businesses in one of the country’s growing markets, and in a state that prides itself on support those small businesses and the growth of the free market. It’s about giving South Carolina breweries a chance to grow and contend is an increasingly competitive field. It’s about giving people more freedom and responsibility instead of not even giving them a chance in the first place. It’s about seeing a culture and a profession I’m deeply attached to grow and thrive, and knowing there are people in positions of power who want to see the same.

I do this because I care about informing others. That’s more than I can say for some people.

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5 thoughts on “Shoddy journalism promotes ignorance, does disservice to Pint Bill’s progress

  1. Nicely written – it’s a shame that there aren’t those in the mainstream media that fight on behalf of craft brewing legislation. In the state of Florida, we’re fighting our own battles with post-prohibitionist policy (i.e. the 64 oz growler bill). Hopefully, this piece will shed at least some objective light on your state’s current policy issues.

  2. Nicely done. I live in Toronto, Canada, and have family in South Carolina. I deeply appreciate the craft brewers in the state, who are operating on the frontier of ignorance. I do applaud the SC legislature on their current and proposed legislation. I will also point out that your neighbour a to your far north (Canada, eh), Ontario specifically, are still stuck in the dark ages with government controlled monopoly of liquor distribution. We cannot even enjoy growler fills on any premise. We can purchase filled growlers from local breweries, but nothing like “the Lodge” or “Growlers Tap Room” exists up here. I always look forward to visits to the South where it almost seems more relaxed than here at home. Keep up the good fight. Cheers.

  3. Pingback: 5 Myths about Beer and Beer Drinkers | This Is Why I'm Drunk

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