Earlier today Sprudge broke news that the Specialty Coffee Association of America was effectively canceling the regional barista cycle for the United States Barista Championship. That news broke across the Sprudge Media Network this morning, in a news release on the Sprudge main page and also in the form of a press release from the SCAA on Sprudge Wire.
Sprudge was offered an exclusive on this story by the SCAA—we were never told why, but we'd like to think our work covering these regional competitions in person over the last 5 years surely informed their decision to give us the exclusive. The Sprudge Media Network also operates SprudgeLive, a website dedicated to covering coffee competitions, including United States Barista Championship and its regional events. In preparing our story we were given access to advance SCAA press materials and interviews with SCAA principals before they were made available to other publications; this kind of pre-reporting is common when an organization, small business, or individual comes to a publication with an exclusive.
The SCAA only asked us to be fair. No agreement for positive coverage was made prior to publishing, and indeed, some trepidation was expressed towards us on behalf of the SCAA as to how we'd be covering the story. An SCAA request to preview the feature before it ran live on Sprudge.com was ignored. It is not Sprudge policy to solicit editorial feedback or approval from subjects of stories, beyond fact-checking of specific quotes.
Statements about Sprudge having promised a positive spin on this news are false. The story we wound up publishing today on Sprudge is a lot of things—fact-based, a little wistful, and hopefully informative—but it does not support, nor does it decry, the SCAA's decision to cancel the American regional barista competition cycle. It's a news feature, one meant to leave plenty of room for hot takes on other coffee web logs.
After that story broke, several trade publications did follow up with their impressions of this news, including Barista Magazine, an American specialty coffee trade publication founded in 2005 by Sarah Allen and Ken Olson. Barista Magazine's article makes several false claims about Sprudge.com's role in breaking this story, including repeat implications that we had a role in developing “talking points” for the SCAA to use for wider outreach. Sprudge was never reached for comment prior to this feature being published.
In a private memo by the SCAA's Tara Smith published by Barista Magazine, Smith provides assurances to her internal team that we did not provide to her. We did not promise the SCAA anything whatsoever regarding this content other than a standard press embargo on holding the news until Wednesday, June 24.
After receiving an email request from Sprudge.com co-founders Zachary Carlsen and Jordan Michelman, Barista Magazine editor Sarah Allen has updated the publication's feature to reflect several reporting errors. What follows are the false statements we addressed in our email to Barista Magazine:
1. Quote from Barista Magazine article: “Sprudge and the SCAA developed this pretty spare list of “talking points” (posted at the end of this editorial) to be used in response with the official release the SCAA planned on having Sprudge exclusively present, and present as a positive thing for the industry. But we have a lot more questions:”
We did not develop a list of talking points with the SCAA. Barista Magazine's publication of those talking points in an internal memo to SCAA board members was the first time editors at Sprudge saw them. Both we and our contacts at the SCAA can attest to this. This statement is false.
We never agreed to “present as a positive thing for the industry”, in writing or verbally, nor does the feature we published in any way make that claim. This statement is false.
2. Quote from Barista Magazine article: “We are also troubled by the method in which the SCAA chose to exclusively announce this information: through the mouthpiece of a website—Sprudge—that they vetted in advance to agree with them.”
No such vetting or confirmation took place—we did have preliminary discussions with the SCAA, but no formal commitment to agree with the decision was made, in writing or verbally, and our published feature in no way agrees with the decision. This statement is false.
3. Quote from Barista Magazine: “Was Sprudge paid to align itself with the SCAA? We don’t know. But if Sprudge worked with the SCAA to develop “talking points” to defend the decision to eliminate regionals, we’re not sure what to believe.”
SCAA is an advertising partner on Sprudge, as is clearly listed as such under the “Proudly Sponsored By” list that appears on the sidebar of each page on Sprudge. We were not paid to work on this particular story, nor do we offer a paid model for native advertising at Sprudge. This leading question falsely implies wrongdoing, and could have been easily answered had editors of Barista Magazine ever tried to reach out to representatives of Sprudge. No contact was ever made.
4. Quote from Barista Magazine article: “TALKING POINTS” DEVELOPED BY SCAA/SPRUDGE (obtained by Barista Magazine)
We did not develop these talking points with the SCAA. This is a false statement.
Folks in the American specialty coffee community are moving through a complex mixture of grief over the loss of the regional competition circuit, and we get it. We want to be transparent about our reporting, and everyone here feels confident about our actions as a news organization.
Our article describes the cancellation of this competition structure, and our fond farewell to a year-round world we've been honored and happy to participate in year after year. It is unfortunate that we've been painted as casualties in the flood of valid feelings throughout the barista community about this loss, but to those who've read to the end here—we appreciate your hearing out our side of the story. We loved these events, the regional barista competitions, and we showed that love by showing up and reporting on them year in and year out for the last half-decade.
Sprudge readers are invited to sound off in the comments below.