A Note From The Sprudge Offices

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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.

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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.

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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. 

 


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  2. Danz

    24 February

    So if I understand your article correctly, the following statement from Tara Smith is a lie? –

    ‘Sprudge will be making the announcement tomorrow on their home page, and Peter [Giuliano] and I had a very positive call with Jordan [Michaelman, of Sprudge] today; Sprudge will be our ally and supports the direction 100% and is prepared to develop a positive perspective on this change. The SCAA Communications team is ready to manage the conversations that occur on our social media pages, as well as emails and phone calls, but we also wanted to share some talking points with you that may help you respond to any inquiries you receive. The press release is also attached; this was developed specifically for Sprudge and will not be immediately released.

    If you have any questions or concerns please let me know. We expect the article to hit the home page early to mid afternoon tomorrow PST; I’d like to ask you to please keep this under wraps until then to retain the value of the exclusive for Sprudge and to ensure we can manage the conversations effectively on our end.’

    Jordan, you are claiming that this phone conversation didn’t happen?

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  9. Corey

    1 July

    So if I understand your article correctly, the following statement from Tara Smith is a lie? –

    ‘Sprudge will be making the announcement tomorrow on their home page, and Peter [Giuliano] and I had a very positive call with Jordan [Michaelman, of Sprudge] today; Sprudge will be our ally and supports the direction 100% and is prepared to develop a positive perspective on this change. The SCAA Communications team is ready to manage the conversations that occur on our social media pages, as well as emails and phone calls, but we also wanted to share some talking points with you that may help you respond to any inquiries you receive. The press release is also attached; this was developed specifically for Sprudge and will not be immediately released.

    If you have any questions or concerns please let me know. We expect the article to hit the home page early to mid afternoon tomorrow PST; I’d like to ask you to please keep this under wraps until then to retain the value of the exclusive for Sprudge and to ensure we can manage the conversations effectively on our end.’

    Jordan, you are claiming that this phone conversation didn’t happen?

  10. Jewels

    25 June

    I guess I will add to this by saying that I asked an SCAA employee in Gothenburg about a rumor I heard about the regionals being cancelled. Her reply was that if that wa true the sponsors would be informed before anyone else. We’ve been sponsoring for awhile now and our notice was Barista Magazine. (We don’t follow sprudge) super disappointing.

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  12. Mark

    25 June

    Maybe this retreat from a fair and impartial competition exposes the need for another source of coffee “rules and regulations” than the SCAA. I hope that someone, or some”ones” can take this opportunity to clabber together a better, more neutral, and may I say, “more respectable” source of coffee officialdom. I think everyone agrees that the SCAA has been tainted many times over by certain of it’s officials, and certain questionable decisions that have been made. Maybe an East Coast version of the SCAA would be a good answer? Thoughts?

  13. Stan

    25 June

    For competition moving forward it looks like two options will be available to Baristas. 1) You are grandfathered in. 2) You go to BGA camps.

    This seems prohibitive to many Baristas. Especially if the camp is not in your city the cost is very high for most. (How much is it for the camp? I have heard some number but could not find costs anywhere.)

    This is an unfair question to ask Sprudge but, was the cost to the barista not included to this? I understand the factors such as the regionals not being sustainable, but is this new model sustainable for baristas? Especially for those who do not work for a bigger company?

  14. Lawrence

    25 June

    I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of all the coffee publications in existence, but if we’re going to bemoan the journalistic ethics of publications then actually taking simple steps to ask someone for their side of the story instead of throwing out baseless accusations might be the first step.

    And this comment from Barista Magazine on their article:

    “We appreciate your comment, Liam. We understand that Sprudge disputes the claims in the email we received, and we have posted their objections. However, we have not heard from the SCAA that what we reported is not correct. (We have calls out to them.)”

    Everything is innuendo, where they could have said “we’re waiting for a response from SCAA” but they toss in since they haven’t heard anything (wink, wink) about their reporting being incorrect.

    They should rename the article “Sprudge Receives Questionable Exclusive, SCAA Competitions Cancelled” based on the contents of the article. :)

  15. Ryan

    25 June

    There’s nothing wrong with getting an exclusive news story.

    HOWEVER, there is something wrong with publishing a news story with only ONE source of information.

    In this case, the lone source was the SCAA and their press release. Any journalist wtih any credibility knows — and I used to be one — that you seek multiple sources and get reaction from people directly affected by a news story, who have the expertise to have an informed opinion on the story.

    Sprudge did not seek on-the-record reaction/quotes from other sources, such as people in the industry. Also, all the holes and unanswered questions regarding the SCAA’s plan should have prompted follow up inquiries by Sprudge before posting their story.

    That’s why this wasn’t perceived as being neutral. It’s impossible to be neutral when you rely on a sole source and repurpose an organization’s news release.

    Sprudge was obviously giddy about getting an exclusive, embargoed story. But they forgot the rules of reporting: Due diligence, objectivity, and multiple sources.

    It’s understandable why people would interpret Sprudge as being a mouthpiece for SCAA in this instance. What else are people to conclude when you simply regurgitate what the SCAA puts in their release without any reaction to balance the story?

    At least be honest about how it was handled, and call a spade a spade.

    While this is, after all, only about coffee, and not reporting about a government’s decision to enter a warlord conflict, sound reporting still matters. Especially to the people affected by the SCAA’s decision.

    • Ryan

      25 June

      Phone autocorrect strikes again. The above should say, “wartorn conflict.”

    • Sprudge Staff

      25 June

      You make some fair points here Ryan, but behind the scenes there was significant additional reporting done on this story, with several follow-up interviews now sitting in our editing queue. We still plan on publishing them at a later date, but this story is changing, and may not be the same story at all in another few days as the SCAA responds to the popular outcry around canceling these events.

      We respectfully disagree with your depiction that our news break was “regurgitating” — you don’t need a hot take from us up front for us to be journalists. It’s okay to just report the facts, which we sought to do neutrally, but even then, it wasn’t totally neutral—our article expressed sadness and melancholy over the events being canceled, and voiced opinion editorially that “these events will be missed.”

    • Zac

      25 June

      I get the need for fact checking, but I’m not entirely sure what in this story would take a second source. It’s a combination of distilled press release and regional comp history.

      I’m also not clear on how you are supposed to break the exclusive that includes on-the-record reactions from third parties about the breaking news that you just broke. Deloreans maybe?

      I’m #TeamSprudge so maybe I’m biased, but I didn’t read this article as anything but a neutral piece with a hint of coffee nerd lament towards the end.

      • Ryan

        25 June

        “I’m also not clear on how you are supposed to break the exclusive that includes on-the-record reactions from third parties about the breaking news that you just broke. Deloreans maybe?”

        You’ve hit the nail on the head. That is the conundrum. How do you break an exclusive in this case, and also approach other sources, without risking a leak? In this instance, you probably can’t.

        So what does that mean? it means, if you want to maintain impartiality and balance in your reporting, you can’t agree to the SCAA’s terms. It means you can’t agree to exclusivity, if it means you can only report the news release.

        Trust and impartiality are the currency of journalists. The only currency really. Without that credibility, you have a big problem.

        So, in this case, how do you maintain impartiality — which requires telling both, or multiple sides of a story — without seeking reaction from people directly affected by the SCAA’s decision? You can’t.

        Understandably, Sprudge wanted to be the first to “break” this story. But the cart was put before the horse. They were given the opportunity to break a news release, not a news story. This gave some people the perception of a coziness existing between Sprudge and the SCAA.

        Normally, when an organization, person, or government puts out a news release, it is not exclusive to one particular news organization. Of course, the announcement being issued still remains the focus of the story, but it, alone, is not the entire story. A fair, balanced, and impartial version of this story would have included reaction from people affected by the SCAA decision.

        If getting preferred/exclusive access to the new release precludes you from getting the other side of the story, unfortunately you have to say no — although, it may be a hard pill to swallow. But that’s the kind of decision news organizations make everyday to maintain trust and credibility.

        I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. or be pedantic, I’m just saying that it’s no surprise people have been critical of how the news was disseminated. A bargain was made: We’ll give you first and exclusive access to our news release, which you can present as breaking news on your wire, however, you won’t be able to tell any other side of the story when you break it, because that would jeopardize exclusivity. It’s a choice.

        Journalistic credibility is a high bar. And respected and accomplished journalists have been ushered out of newsrooms for single missteps such as plagiarizing a sentence or a seemingly benign conflict of interest. It’s not that they haven’t done great work, had a great career, or haven’t been highly skilled at their jobs, but once your trust and credibility take a hit, you’ll have a hard time restoring it.

        Anyway, specialty coffee brings out a lot of passionate reaction in people. And this story is no exception. I like Sprudge and I like specialty coffee. But I’m also a former journalist, so old habits die hard.

        I hope everyone finds a nice solution to the absence of regional U.S. competitions. Otherwise, it looks like they’ll be missed by many.
        Cheers

  16. JoeMarrocco

    24 June

    Typing on a phone: apologies for weirdness.

    Couple things:

    1. The above Joe was not me.

    2. I respect both publications involved here. This situation is rough. We have layers of emotions as an industry today, and those emotions cloud judgement.

    3. If people within the SCAA were giving different stories to different outlets, although the outlets conflict it is information that is still viable and points to our need for clear communication from and within that organization. I do not believe that Barista Magazine would publish baseless information. Maybe I am naive, I don’t know. I do believe that there was likely a source for that information, just as there was a source to the information Sprudge obtained.

    4. If we continue to be toxic in the way we digest news and get angry at the messengers we will miss the bigger picture. Both outlets have shared information worth considering. As an industry we should probably ponder for a while, cool down, get creative and solve this problem with something bigger and better than ever.

    • Sprudge Staff

      25 June

      Thank you for this measured and considered reply, Joe. And of course we assumed you were not the grammar-adverse “joe” in the previous comments.

  17. M.C.

    24 June

    Why are we concerning ourselves with how this news came to the world when the real questions should be pointed at the SCAA about how the U.S. will be represented in international competition? No details are apparent on how these magical 50 contestants will register and exactly how the first come first serve process will work. It seems littered with loopholes and the potential for the SCAA to reorder registrants to fill out the field any way they wish. We will have a national competition with maybe some of the best, mostly the popular kids and perhaps some that don’t even rank in the top 500 let alone top 50? It feels like the process is being put into the hands of a few instead of being a true opportunity for baristas to compete and advance based on skill and performance. No doubt the SCAA could’ve reached out to local coffee communities and found a way to still hold qualifiers that maybe weren’t as grand in scope and allowed for the grassroots spirit of competition to flourish. Focus on the real questions. Sprudge is a great site that works hard to inform and explore our community.

    • Sprudge Staff

      24 June

      This is a fair question to ask—specific details on how exactly next year’s USBC competitors would be selected were not provided to us, and when we asked questions on this topic (and also about how much next year’s USBC registration would cost), we were told the decisions were still being evaluated. We’d imagine that as with any new system, the first year’s implementation will be focused on pretty closely by concerned parties. The SCAA isn’t entirely sure yet how that’s going to shake out—we’ll definitely follow up our reporting with more information on this specific topic when that info is made available, hopefully well before next January’s open entry periods.

      • Goatman08

        24 June

        A good question to ask, is why did they make this announcement without having those details worked out in the first place! I don’t make changes at my shop without already having a plan of action. I feel as if they are doing this just to change things up, which is fine, but why make the announcement now and without details?

  18. joe

    24 June

    You where “paid” by the exclusivity of breaking the story. You wrote in two different paragraphs about how Sprudge Wire is where to find the press release. The article was just as much about you writing the article as it was about the story itself. You’re self-congratulatory in the know brand of journalism is bizarre. You’re excitement to break stories is confounding considering you’re often weeks late with regards to other stories. I suppose if you’re not breaking it it doesn’t matter? Where is the piece about Blue Bottle closing wholesale? Is it on any part of your “media network” at all? You guys are finally being called out, good for Sarah and the other real journalists out there.

    • Roman Leal

      24 June

      The SCAA chose to give the exclusive to Sprudge. You can’t blame them for taking the opportunity. Unlike the SCAA, Sprudge is a business and they operate to make a profit. Breaking the news of this event ASAP was an obvious choice. It’s a huge story.

      • Roman Leal

        24 June

        I’ll also say that the tone of the article was decidedly neutral. Sprudge’s coverage has been the most level-headed and responsible journalism so far.

    • Kerri

      24 June

      Agree

    • Kate

      25 June

      Not sure if “your” trolling because of “you’re” appalling spelling and grammar but FYI, news is news. If any other outlet had been given this exclusive, they would have taken it. If Sprudge says they were not paid, I believe them. Just because they are favourable to changes (i.e. disagreeing with you) does not mean that underhanded things happened. There are some notable people, including Kyle Glanville, who have expressed a positive attitude (or at least not a negative one) towards the changes. Do you also think he was given a sweet, sweet under-the-table pay packet by the SCAA? Perhaps the SCAA did not choose to announce this in the right way, and maybe points could have been ironed out more, but you cannot be angry at Sprudge, a news outlet, for doing what news outlets do – break big, juicy stories. It’s world-rocking for sure, and lots of people are upset, but the amount of shade being thrown in all the wrong directions is totally unwarranted. If you are angry, express your displeasure to the SCAA in a level-headed, adult manner. To reiterate: just because someone disagrees with you does not mean that they are engaging in wrong-doing and shady methods and bad journalism. I am pretty f-ing tired of the petty, childish, mud-slinging sorts of debates that erupt on the internet accusing each other of impropriety because someone has the audacity to have their own differing opinion about a situation. That’s just how life is. Get used to it, learn to talk about it in a calm, grammatical manner, and come join the rest of civilised society. We will welcome you to the discussion then.

      • Kim

        25 June

        And this is why I love the coffee community. Well, one of many reasons. Passion for a subject does not automatically equate with being irrational about it.

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