In the spirit of Blogging with a capital B, I present some thoughts on the Pitchfork folding-in and the ever-changing world we live in. I'm no expert, I am literally just some guy.
I believe this will be an independent venture for as long as I do it because I don’t have much in this world to call my own besides my cat and my taste. The heckler in the back of my head says it’ll always be independent because nobody wants to buy it. He’s not wrong.
From the moment I entered journalism school, I knew I wasn’t entering a lucrative field. Cowardice or rational thought saved me from the news desk and I learned how to write ads, then the ad business changed. In the recession, no one could afford anything and small businesses got careful. Print didn’t have extensive metrics like the internet, so there was no way to justify a big expensive print campaign that maybe never had eyes on it. Soon, the only thing I talked about in job interviews was SEO and my ability to capture an audience with a voice I was confident in. That also didn’t matter in the next couple of years. The brevity I strove for was the opposite of what is rewarded. The best-performing results are packed with everything, casting a wide net to get whoever they can. It's not viable to be an individual.
There’s something to be said about being everything to everyone and Pitchfork’s drift from independent music site to its current form. The chorus of sad nerds claimed the shift to “poptimism” ruined the site’s credibility. History’s losers, reviewed poorly (under the site avg of 7.3, usually), spoke of the site as “trash” as if they didn’t give that little number in the corner power over their existence as recently as that morning. It was an echo from the “Go woke, go broke!” crowd, sunglasses selfie in the pickup truck and all.
The claim that Pitchfork wasn’t doing well didn’t ring true to me. Folding or selling a company is a classic union-busting technique to get rid of organizers. Last year, we saw what Epic did to bandcamp, a property that wasn’t even doing poorly. Why should we believe anything the people in charge tell us, anyway? Anna Wintour couldn’t take off her sunglasses to look a camera in the eye as she laid employees off over Zoom. How could I take a statement from someone like that at face value?
The idea that you can please everyone is one that Pitchfork mostly shut out from the start. They’ve always reviewed popular bands, but they never sought to please anyone. The “poptimism” never felt like a shift to less substantial music than the old indie classics. If anything, the attitude towards music was more curious than ever. To someone who hasn’t read the site in years, Pitchfork was John Cusack as Rob Gordon in High Fidelity: A stodgy hipster of a bygone era whose pants are too tight or too loose depending on what year it is. Most recently, Pitchfork just sounded like someone in search of a good time and good vibes, it didn’t matter what genre it was.
In the same regard, the wide net approach and a search for good vibes didn’t make engaged listeners. It no longer spoke to one guy, it spoke to everyone. Pitchfork was a one-way conversation, the same way that The Bible is. It’s always subsisted on rage-clicks and conversations around it but never with it. That’s great for cultivating loyalists but religions continue and branch off because of conversations in places of worship. This blog has a comment section and you can reply to my emails. People don’t do that often (I’m unimpeachable and I assume most readers take my word as the Lord’s), but the option is there.
Whatever comes next in terms of a “Big Music Site,” if we get such a thing, it’s going to need an element of conversation. It can’t be a one-way street, because that doesn’t make you good enough these days. A new site can’t be the “most-trusted voice in music” because it’s new. It hasn’t built any trust. Trust comes from a dedicated, loyal readership that may not talk to you, but talks about you to enough people and holds you in high regard, likely because they agree with you or you’ve told them what to think.
Make no mistake about it, however cynical I am of Pitchfork’s rise to prominence or its coverage (A 2022 album for 2023 album of the year? Get real.), its reduction in staff and coverage will be a big blow for all of us. That’s not just because I don’t live in a world where I can own a Richard Neutra home for telling you to listen to new punk rock 7”s, but also because we didn’t have anything like it and we probably never will again. I don’t like to live in the past, but a mourning period is allowed.
Back to the bigger matter: Layoffs at The ‘Fork and the LA Times, with culture writers axed first. It’s no surprise that the bullies who buy media outlets buckle under the first sign of pressure, take their ball, and go home. Cowards are most afraid of what they don’t have. These people may have money and notoriety, but they’ll never have integrity. They’ll never do what’s right. They got to where they are by stabbing backs and by selling out. Faced with that gut feeling of right and wrong, they consult the bottom line and think the money will save them. When someone doesn’t value money the same way they do, they can’t handle it. As workers organize and align, showing support with one another, the bullies are stabbing the ball with a pocket knife instead of just taking it and going home.
I know it seems fruitless when the nails that stick out are all getting hammered. Being yourself doesn’t pay, being a lackey for a rich guy doesn’t pay either. “There’s no point in striving.” It feels like swimming against the rapids back to a capsized kayak. And there’s a hole in the boat, too. It’s not always going to be like this. “The center cannot hold” as Yeats said. Will we see a Second Coming? A New Blog Golden Age? I have no idea. I saw Anti-Flag perform on the day that one of those doomsday cults said that the Second Coming was upon us back in 2011 and nothing happened. They mentioned that they wanted to fill sex dolls with helium and send them to the heavens during their set, which didn’t happen. I haven’t seen a joke apocalypse, let alone a real one.
There’s a strange human predilection to believe you’re living through the end times, as if your generation will be the one to finally bear witness to the horrors. So many people before us were wrong, why would I be right?