Friday, July 24, 2009

"Several Dozen Steps": The Demise of the Music Magazine Industry

Print journalism is in a nosedive.

Newspapers are closing daily.  People just aren't reading the news like they used to.  Supposedly, it's because they're turning to the Internet for their daily fill, but the economy certainly isn't helping.

Music-related publications aren't exempt.  Several music magazines have fallen in the past few months.  The two heavies were Blender and Vibe.  Their implosions have left yawning chasms on the landscape of music journalism.

The remaining pillars of print music journalism are keenly aware of their precarious positions.  Rolling Stone has made this abundantly clear with its frantic scrabbling.  Two Jonas Brothers covers in a year?  The formerly respectable rock 'n' roll mag is doing its best to cling to its remaining life, but the days are numbered.  When RS falls, what's left?

We at Apollo's Cred have said a little about working toward a new kind of arts and entertainment journalism.  We want to improve upon the formula that has clearly been failing.  Let this screed elaborate upon that position.

Is it any wonder the medium of print journalism is collapsing spectacularly upon itself?  It's an institution averse to improving itself and hellbent on defending outdated ideals.  The music magazines, in particular, embraced recent cultural/technological sea change like it was a cactus full of bees.  One of my personal experiences as a journalist-in-training might help illustrate this fact.

Over a year ago, I was given an assignment by my magazine writing professor: Pitch a freelance story to at least one real magazine in order to get a taste of the industry.  I chose the (now defunct) Blender because it seemed like the least competitive of the music magazines I read religiously.  I even had a small glimmer of hope that I might get my first real paid byline.

My pitch e-mail, for a simple album review, was ignored.  I sent a followup, as I had been taught, and my perseverance was rewarded with a response.  It didn't feel good at the time, but in retrospect, it spoke volumes about the reasons behind the magazine's failure.  I have included a screenshot of the e-mail for authenticity:


This was from the editor of the reviews section.  I didn't remove his name from the e-mail; he just didn't bother to sign it.  If you're really interested in finding out who he was, I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard.

In any case, I was hurt.  The professor was almost as taken aback as I.  This was, she said, the rudest rejection letter she'd ever read.

It's obvious that this editor had not only forgotten when he was in my position.  Several dozen steps?  If "a couple" means two, "a few" means three, and "several" means four or more, then this man was suggesting that at least 48 steps separated me from writing for his esteemed publication.  It's hard to believe that he completed such a rigorous journey to reach his position.

Worse than his hyperbole was the foundational meaning of his letter.  I, at 20, was "entirely too green" to write about popular music, an art that has historically been a young person's realm.

Blender's "established" writers were the very same ones responsible for a very positive review of Soulja Boy Tell 'Em's debut album, a stinker with a novelty hit single.  These guys were trying, and failing, to remain "hip," overcompensating for time passed by vigorously pandering.  Unfortunately, even though a younger voice (or "several") might have saved them, they chose the low road instead, putting down the writer who was standing where they'd stood years before.

Was this abject refusal to inject much-needed new blood into a formula that was clearly failing?  Was Blender too proud to admit its own shortcomings, choosing instead to collapse in a rotting heap of egotism and newsprint?  It certainly seems that way.

Clearly, as someone outside the organization, there's no way I can really know what Blender could have done to save itself.  But maybe, just maybe, a change would have done it good.

Bye bye, Blender.

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