Well, it’s been quite a ride over the last few weeks as The Whisky Lounge Blog hosted our first ever Big Debate! There’s been plenty of argument, counter-argument, in-depth analysis and controversy – which is exactly what we were hoping for.  

If you missed any of our discussions, here’s a quick list to help you catch up:

Week One – Intro: Fake News

Week Two – Connas: Misleading Press Releases

Week Three – Matt Chambers: Lazy Journalism

Week Four – Angus MacRaild: Genuine Fakes

Week Five – Whisky Online: An Auctioneer’s View

One of the main reasons we decided to do this Big Debate was to highlight the lack of quality journalism in mainstream media coverage of whisky – particularly around important issues such as fakes.  Instead, what little coverage whisky gets on mainstream platforms seems restricted to annual ‘Supermarket Whisky Wins Competition’ pieces or simple regurgitations of press releases bigging up whisky as an investment – without any sort of examination of the motives behind these press releases, and exposing a complete lack of fact-checking, analysis or critical thinking.

It’s this absence of critical thinking that we at TWL are most worried about.  Why is it that the best that whisky can expect from mainstream coverage is a fluff piece about a big auction price, or a clickbait article about fakes?  Does this lack of depth reflect whisky’s niche status in the overall drinks category or a deeper malaise within journalism itself?

There’s no doubt that these are troubling times for journalism in general.  It seems inevitable that physical newspapers will soon be a thing of the past, unable to cope with the double-headed existential threat posed by free online content and growing ecological awareness of the energy and waste necessary to sustain them.  The information age is a new paradigm that the traditional media institutions have struggled to adapt to, with traditional income streams decimated as advertising revenue migrates to online channels and consumers stop paying for quality content.

Therein lies the rub: as consumer willingness to pay for quality decreases, so dwindles the motivation – and, ultimately, the ability – to produce it.  The generation of Media Studies graduates from the early years of this century found that the stable, well-paid careers in journalism they expected to be waiting for them were a chimera.  The choices for this generation were stark: leave the industry, work for free or – for the lucky – get a job as a staff writer churning out the short, undemanding content that the new paradigm requires.

As the demand for eye-catching online content has increased so has the urgency of the deadlines. Sadly, the nature of the business now means that there is neither the time nor the financial incentive for writers to explore their subjects.  Long-form journalism is in its death throes because the new generation of content consumers lack the inclination to go in-depth.

The democratic nature of the internet has led to the removal of the traditional barriers to entry for new writers: talent, qualifications and a questioning mind are no longer necessities. So while the public’s attention span decreases and web content takes over from print media, are these shallow, superficial ‘news’ articles all we can hope for?

We don’t know the answers to all these questions, but we think it’s important to ask them and we’ve enjoyed discussing some of them in this debate.  Many thanks to all our writers – and readers – for your time and support.