Put a Fork in Pitchfork?
As Condé Nast rolls Pitchfork into GQ, what's next?
Back in 2008, I was an editorial intern at this music site called Pitchfork. You may have heard of it. I had a few simple jobs there: I would lug the gigantic buckets of unsolicited CDs that would get sent to our Wicker Park office here in Chicago up from the ground floor up from the ground floor yoga studio to our open studio space on the second floor. There, in complete and total silence (virtually no one in the office would speak out loud, instead opting to use AOL Instant Messenger), I would then take on my next task of the day: transcribing interviews reporters had conducted with artists and fact-checking them.
I really wish people could hear some of that audio because the text doesn’t do a lot of it justice. Like this line from our “Guest List” segment where The Mountain Goats John Darnielle was asked what his favorite TV show was and he responded without missing a beat, “THERE IS ONLY ONE TV SHOW MY FRIEND: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT. There used to be two TV shows: ‘Law & Order’ and ‘SVU.’ ‘Law & Order’ is still good. You know, I'll watch Sam Waterston do anything. But really, ‘SVU’ rules the roost right now.”
But first, real quick: here’s the part of the newsletter where I ask you to consider signing up for the free version if you’re new here and ask existing free subscribers to consider upgrading to the paid version.
It was a neat experience that really did teach me a lot about media. I got to work in the same office as some legitimate p4k legends: Scott Plagenhoef was editor-in-chief at the time, Mark Richardson (a truly delightful human being, a contrast to Plagenhoef) sat just a few feet away from me, Amy Phillips was there, Chris Kaskie… I’m just realizing now that none of these names mean anything to 99.9% of my readers. Anyway, these were all big names at Pitchfork, and Phillips was there up until this week.
I interned there for a semester and even played on the company softball team. Good times. One thing I never got was my own byline. I always kind of figured I’d come back and pitch someone over there a story or ask to review an album, but as it was bought up by Condé Nast in 2015, that lost a bit of its luster. And now, it seems like Pitchfork itself is going through a new sort of transformation.
Max Tani at Semafor reports this letter to staff from Condé Nast head Anna Wintour:
Today we are evolving our Pitchfork team structure by bringing the team into the GQ organization. This decision was made after a careful evaluation of Pitchfork’s performance and what we believe is the best path forward for the brand so that our coverage of music can continue to thrive within the company.
Both Pitchfork and GQ have unique and valuable ways that they approach music journalism, and we are excited for the new possibilities together. With these organizational changes, some of our Pitchfork colleagues will be leaving the company today. I want to thank [editor-in-chief] Puja [Patel] for her leadership of the title for the last five years. She has been a wonderful colleague and advocate for the brand, and I’m grateful for her and her and the team’s many contributions.
Members of the Pitchfork team will hear more about their reporting structure in meetings this week. There are no additional changes at this time as we focus on our internal team structure and operations. We will of course keep this team updated first when any new decisions are made about the transition.
Over at Defector, Israel Daramola has a great piece titled Music Journalism Can’t Afford A Hollowed Out Pitchfork. Whatever your feelings about p4k (and, oh, I know people, especially musicians, have very strong feelings), you should check it out. From the piece:
Plenty of people found reasons to criticize Pitchfork over the years—speaking as a former contributor, readers got way too hung up on those damn scores—but the site unquestionably earned its status as the last remaining major music blog of importance. To see a publication like that, which owes its cultural cachet to the people who produced so much good work for it over the years, gutted and then tossed aside by some executives who are trying to overthink their way toward a few more percentage points of revenue, is extremely depressing. Whatever the new GQ-infused version of Pitchfork plans to be, it will have to go about its business without the resources and structures that previously allowed it to shine a light on the kinds of artists and subjects nobody else cares to cover.
It is hard not to see this development as a true indicator that we're nearing the endpoint of robust, meaningful music criticism as a concept. The idea that music journalism has no value is one of the most pervasive thoughts circulating among the suits who control the industry. What those people continue to deprive us of is smart, varied music coverage produced by actual journalists, most of whom now find themselves being squeezed out of an industry that only rewards slavish devotion to the biggest pop stars, or a constant courting of drama, gossip, and violence that is only tangentially related to music.
I’m not sure what will happen to Pitchfork. There was good. There was bad. A lot of what people are mourning (or celebrating the death of) died long ago. It’s a matter of point of view.
Anyway, here’s a David Bazan song that shows the sometimes… contentious relationship artists had with Pitchfork: