It is a very interesting time to be putting words on a screen. As I sit here, typing in relative futility, knowing only a small amount of people will ever read my opinion, it is hard not to wonder if there is a point whatsoever. When all is said and done, does it even matter that another small amount of my prose is fed into the overstuffed super-being that has become the 21st century internet and the blogosphere it has spawned?
Thankfully, this is just the pessimist in me that wrestles with these wretched thoughts. The optimist in me (who has a much greater command of my brain and my fingers, and truly believes that the finale of Lost was good no matter what anyone says so you can all go jump) knows that I am barely out of university, and have just begun my foray in to the big wide world of writing, wherever I may land inside of it, and that I do this out of love and passion. I’m sure that even Salinger had moments of doubt.
The reason these pessimistic sentiments have come to the fore in recent days is because I have felt a huge amount of trepidation surrounding the industry my blog is primarily concerned with; popular culture journalism. Magazine sales are in decline, seemingly every single person with Wi-Fi access has a blog making originality very scarce and music websites are popular, yet all struggling to find their niche and tap into a wide market and, of course, make a profit from what is essentially a free resource.
It has led to some worrying trends that I have begun to notice more and more as I cast my eye over the many and varied pop culture magazines and websites that are available to myself, a man with an insatiable appetite for pop culture and an extremely limited social life. As I scan the myriad of journalistic reviews which I happen upon daily, the single most worrying trend which has emerged is the sacrifice of journalistic integrity in a desperate bit for survival and profit. It is Darwinism at its core, survival of the fittest, and everyone is just doing what they can to compete in a world where people can literally download, listen to and post a review of an album themselves all from a mobile telephone device.
After all we saw the futility of most media on Monday when the rumour and conformation came through that the United States had successfully carried out an operation in Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden. Social networking sites ran abuzz with the news, giving anyone with a Twitter account all the information they needed and literally making 24 hour news channels stall for time until President Obama confirmed the news.
This is hardly a new trend. Newspapers and magazines have supposed to have been dealing with ways to combat social media for years. Any rational thinking person would think that the best way to make themselves (pop culture review magazines) relevant would be to make themselves essential…elevating the level of journalism and review to a level of excellence so high that it becomes necessary reading, proving inconceivably that any old asshole who knows a bit about Neutral Milk Hotel album tracks can’t just start a blog, spout uninformed opinion and gain a dedicated yet sparse following.
But it seems to me they have gone down a different path. After reading a review of the excellent new Fleet Foxes album on NME (pointed out to me by my friend who also writes a blog that almost single-handedly makes the case for the internet age with the kind of witty, in-depth, considered, music centric articles that often read better than anything published in the
rag, mag above) I was almost shaken to my very core.
The writer, obviously some london-ite who loves any new band for 3.4 months before they sell out in his eyes, a pair of glasses that he has absolutely no need to wear considering his perfect 20/20 vision, mocking other people consistently then going to volunteer at some charity to chastise others for ‘not helping the poor’ all while spending $380 a month on vintage jumpers and just generally being a know it all try hard hipster, decided to throw the review process out the window, and instead used personal attacks and attempts at humour to review the album (for an example of why personal attacks on people, no matter how hilarious, are never good writing, see above).
Considering Fleet Foxes as a band do not have anyone with the surname Gallagher in it, this article was deemed acceptable by the magazines editor. So this journalist continued to write an unimaginably smug attempt at humour, claiming that he considers the Fleet Foxes, amongst other things, ‘canoe music’. Saying more things that don’t matter and are only funny in his head he describes them as ‘the soy latte house-band at Starbucks’ and finishes the review with a pun that would make Rodney Dangerfield blush (‘canoe dig it…no thanks’). It takes him a full two paragraphs to put away his daddy’s thesaurus and even mention the Fleet Foxes album in any capacity…presumably because he ran out of insults.
I read this article a number of times, and was confounded for a number of reasons. One, I could not believe that a reputable magazine like NME could actually deem it publishable, knowing full well the backlash it would inevitably receive. Two, having had more than 23 minutes to listen to the album (Which is another worrying trend with the online review industry. Albums that are crafted for months, sometimes years are given 45 minutes and a cup of tea to be digested and are given a subjective star rating. Often, especially to bands at the lower end of the spectrum, this can make or break a career), I can assure you that this album from the Fleet Foxes is wonderful (But if you don’t trust me because of my checkered past and numerous unpaid parking tickets, then check out the reviews online, the album is receiving almost universal praise).
But there have been many instances, especially in the magazine sector of popular culture journalism where examples such as this pop up. Publications routinely pick off a medium to high scoring album and give it a terrible review, either to draw ire or gain notoriety. In my humble opinion, it also represents the desperation of the magazine industry to get some online buzz, or presence. NME could give the album the 8 it deserves, sure…but if it did I would have moved on to the Explosions in the Sky review and not given it a second thought. Also, in comment boards on music reviews sites such as The AV Club, where the Fleet Foxes album scored very highly, posters would consistently refer to the NME review. Now this would no doubt have resulted in a few people purchasing the magazine or many visiting the website out of curiosity. And, true to form, here I am talking about that NME review, days later. It’s shitty journalism, its capitalism and marketing at its best, and its Darwinism as I mentioned before. And it fucking sucks.
So what is the answer? Is there an answer? You do hope that the industry will self regulate and that the demand for quality journalism will win out over marketing tricks. But to me, it does just seem like a hope for the time being. But I just want to make one thing clear, I don’t wish to be accused of McCarthyism either. I am not just naming names, and I also deeply respect work that many people do in the industry I am obsessed with. Most magazines and websites handle the current situation with aplomb and continue to put out articles and reviews better than I could ever imagine putting my name to, and I do understand that desperate times do call for desperate measures. I just noticed a current trend, and a review that especially pissed me off, and thought that my blog, even in some small way, though also consistently contributing to the problem, could help.
Everyone go and enjoy the new Fleet Foxes album…it’s much better than NME think it is. And that’s the canoeth.