Pitchfork: Online Music Criticism in Perspective

There’s a great piece about Pitchfork Media in the most recent issue of The Columbia Journalism Review. Via a series of visits and interviews with Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber, balanced against some commentary from veteran rock critics such as Robert Christgau, author Kiera Butler gives us some worthwhile insight into Pitchfork’s role as a leading arbiter of independent music taste in recent times.

The story itself is interesting enough – how Pitchfork grew from a teenager’s basement into a music institution in ten short years. But the author also delves into the zine’s editorial process, which should attract great interest. Pitchfork’s selectivity has long been the subject of heated discussion by the envied and the envious (respectively, bands and artists who do and who do not receive the Pitchfork mark of approval), and Butler’s portrayal of this process as an ad hoc one could certainly stir these arguments up.

Not to stir things up myself, but setting aside the observer effects that can attach to informal ethnography, there are ambient cultural and technological influences that may be at play when it comes to music and its valuation: the self-reinforcement of subcultural territorialism (or even informal nepotism), aesthetic ideologies in the background culture, and the Internet’s role in the changing nature and role of music criticism. And so forth.

I could go on, but I’ll save it for the Zine to Blog series. Here’s a fun bit:

A data network engineer at The University of Chicago actually took the time to figure out and test the formula for writing a rock record that Pitchfork would review positively. Fun times.

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