What We Lose When Print Goes Away
Last week we learned that two more regional beer publications were ceasing print, Northwest Brewing News and the Oregon Beer Growler, reflecting a truth inescapable over the past couple years: this is a brutal time for print beer magazines. In today's guest post, the former editor of the Oregon Beer Growler, Matt Meador, reflects on what we lose when these sources disappear.
By Matt Meador
I was new to craft brewing media when I took the helm of the Oregon Beer Growler magazine but I wasn’t new to Oregon craft brewing. I’d come from food and wine writing into brew writing accidentally but I wasn’t too worried — I came of age in the 1990s Portland music scene, fueled by smallish craft breweries like Widmer, Deschutes, and Full Sail along with the big-but-local Henry Weinhard. I was a minor artist who created countless music posters for the bands accompanying Portland’s vibrant nightlife. And beer accompanied everything we did. I had almost placed beer off limits for writing because I didn’t want something I enjoyed so much to become work.
So I took on the challenge of editing the Oregon Beer Growler. I assumed command the same time the Growler shifted formats from a standard tabloid to a glossy booklet and I knew the publication’s overseers were carefully monitoring the financial viability of the magazine. The new layout cut editorial space and numerous regular bits the old format had featured. I was hoping for a year to finesse the smaller format and shape it into a useful, entertaining and profitable little publication.
I had less than five months. In that time, we restored a few things we’d inadvisably cut. We were in the process of instituting real-time web coverage of brew-related events (sudden pub closings, anyone?) which would also be featured in our print edition. We carefully figured out what usable editorial space we could expect each month, space we could devote to these newsworthy events.
Why did we not know our available editorial space? Because we were advertising revenue-dependent. All our efforts were underwritten by our advertisers. Our printing costs, mailing costs, technology costs and staff costs were covered by the ads we sold in the Growler. We never knew what we’d sell but, at the end, it wasn’t enough.
Coming from 1990s Portland like I did, I can say with absolute certainty Oregon’s unique craft brew movement was enormously enhanced by its fans and by those who wrote about the brews and the people who created them. Portland’s many weekly alternative newspapers were chock-full of brew stories or of music or nightlife stories with a brewery right in the background. Portland’s night scene was heavily influenced by these newspapers and the writers who celebrated everything great about Portland’s weird, wonderful, woodsy, hipster, sometimes-long-shot, always-atypical vibe.
But back at the 2019 Oregon Beer Growler, we were fighting a battle we didn’t win. Our challenge was perhaps best illustrated by one well-established Oregon craft brewery who refused to advertise with us. Each month, the brewery’s marketing people would repeat: “we don’t need to advertise our beer, it sells just fine without advertising.” This highly successful brewery — as was its right — was solely focused on a hard return for any advertising expense. That’s okay, I guess — it’s sound business to spend carefully. But this brewery saw no value in supporting the publications devoted to promoting and celebrating the Oregon craft brewing industry.
From my perspective, these publications — periodicals which have changed over the last 20 years, even morphing into a number of notable blogs — are worthy of support from the industry. I will argue that these publications have played a major role in building and shaping the internationally-known Oregon craft brewing scene. Put another way, the fantastic uniqueness of Oregon craft brewing has been enormously enhanced by those who love to write about it.
So as we lament the demise of yet another industry publication, we’re stupid to pretend it was inevitable. The Oregon Beer Growler wasn’t a fly-by-night out-of-state rag out to scam money from innocent advertisers. It was an Oregon-grown magazine produced in Oregon by Oregonians who cared deeply about Oregon craft brewing. If the industry itself sees no value in such an endeavor, then it’s not the same passionate craft brewing movement I loved long before I wrote about it.
Matt Meador is the former Editor of Oregon Beer Growler.