Music journalism is now a redundant concept
Recent re-reading has included Jajouka Rolling Stone by Stephen Davis, a music journalist whose credits also include biographies of Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. After only a few pages of re-reading Stephen's book I was struck by the quality of the writing. Now, good though Jajouka Rolling Stone is, it would be presumptuous to claim it is great literature; however, what struck me is that by comparison with much current music journalism, the writing is refreshingly competent and readable.
Elsewhere there has been discussion about the future of classical music journalism, during which Oliver Condy, editor of BBC Music Magazine, is quoted as saying that "music journalism must be recognised as the skilled profession it is, and should be respected and remunerated accordingly". Which implies that music journalism is no longer recognised as a skilled profession, a proposition that merits further consideration.
Music journalism, as practiced by Harold C. Schonberg, Ernest Newman and others, was once a profession defined by the skills of its practitioners, who were aided and abetted by the narrowband nature of the then dominant print media. But in recent years two things have happened: narrowband print has been replaced by broadband digital media, and the quality of music journalism has declined in parallel. It is not the purpose of this post to speculate whether the two are linked, but it may not be a coincidence that the 1993 publication date of Jajouka Rolling Stone predates the advent of texting and tweeting.
Despite Oliver Condy's assertion, music journalism does not have a God-given right to be recognised and respected as a skilled profession. Particularly when a leading music journalist is described by a senior industry figure in the New York Times in the following words: “For me it’s beyond belief how any journalist in five pages can make so many factual mistakes. It’s shocking. Also, he really doesn’t understand the record business.”
Paradigm shifts mean that print based ‘music journalism’ is being replaced by digitally enabled ‘music knowledge’. At the apex of the music knowledge pyramid are today’s leading writers such as Paul Griffiths and Alex Ross, who are there because they are good writers, not because they are members of a recognized skilled profession. While across the broad base of the pyramid is a mess of bloggers who may be unskilled and, incidentally, unremunerated, but who contribute in varying degrees to the sum total of music knowledge. Music journalism as a profession is a redundant concept within this new knowledge pyramid, and a large part of the blame for that lies with the very people who are now telling us that that music journalists deserve recognition, respect and commensurate remuneration.
* Read my discussion with Stephen Davis about Jajouka Rolling Stone here.
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