Churnalism is destroying classical music

There are many, including this writer, who experienced schadenfreude at the news that Grigory Sokolov has refused the 2015 Cremona Music Award because Norman Lebrecht is a previous winner. But allowing ourselves anything other than a quick chuckle would be a mistake. Because Grigory Sokolov's brave gesture does not just lambast Lebrecht: it also criticises everyone in an industry that has replaced artistic integrity with gimmicks and sensationalism. In his immensely important study of social media Terms of Service Jacob Silverman defines churnalism as "cheap, disposable content repurposed from press releases, news reports, viral media, social networks, and elsewhere, all of it practically out-of-date and irrelevant as soon as someone clicks Publish". If that sounds dreadfully familiar, read on as Jacob Silverman describes how:
More toxic than this focus on quantification has been the way in which digital media has adopted the general tenor of the viral Web - its speed and wayward attention, its unrelenting profligacy, its treatment of every piece of content as another bit of ephemera to consume, without context or much explanation, before moving on to the next one. With rock-bottom advertising rate, journalists must produce immense amounts of content and flog it relentlessly on social media, where hyperbole is standard practice. Quick takes on the day's news are praised as "must-read." The word "breaking" is thrown around indiscriminately, usually all in caps, as if each micro-scoop is revelatory and must be read immediately. "Exclusive" is another widely used bit of inflationary rhetoric; what it usually means is that the reporter re-wrote the press release before any other outlet or that a PR rep turned to him first, expecting favorable coverage.
Yes, that describes Slipped Disc very well. But it also describes the music industry with painful accuracy. The BBC - Lebrecht's sometime employer - treats every piece of music as another bit of ephemera to consume before moving on to the next one; with BBC Radio director Helen Boaden declaring that "the creation of snackable access to classical content is the key to audience engagement". Lebrecht has achieved his dubious preeminence with the full support of many prominent musicians. Will they now be principled enough to defend him by declaring that Grigory Sokolov is wrong? Universal Music - another Lebrecht employer via Sinfini Music - has perfected the art of tilting the creative playing field to its own advantage. Will Sinfini run the Sokolov story? Coming to that, will Slipped Disc run the Sokolov story?

Not only is churnalism destroying music journalism, but the zeitgeist of the viral Web is also destroying the integrity of classical music. Lebrecht's debased journalism was not a disaster waiting to happen: it was a disaster that had already happened back in 2007. When will the classical music industry wake up and realise that its obsession with churnalism, gimmicks and sensationalism may well trigger a much bigger disaster?

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Anonymous said…
Intelligent and insightful commentary as always. It is a brave stance by Sokolov - and a necessary one too, to highlight the tabloid level to which a good deal of classical music "journalism" and broadcasting has sunk.
Pliable said…
I have read Jessica Duchen's tacit defence of Norman Lebrecht - see link below - and I find the language used in it deeply disturbing. Yes, I have used harsh language to criticise Lebrecht and others. But those criticism has always been directed at their professional standards. To turn this debate into a personal one and accuse anyone who holds views different to your own as motivated by "bitterness through jealousy to political ideology and, at worst, megalomania or a chemical imbalance" is, to put it mildly, unhelpful.

In particular Jessica's suggestion of "chemical imbalance" as the motivation for a writer is particularly disturbing; as that expression was part of the vile rhetoric used to justify the social engineering of the authoritarian regimes that she professes elsewhere to despise so much.

I hope that on reflection Jessica will see fit to redact her post.
Antoine Leboyer said…
How revealing of the state of this art (I do not want to say of this "industry") that leadership comes from someone like Sokolov who is a pure outsider: no web site, no tweeter account, no recording contract ... and artistically, someone who is simply different and personal.

There is both artistic and personal integrity on Sokolov in concert and in his life.

We need more like him and less NLs ...
Unknown said…
just to clarify the official position of CremonaFiere, organizer of Cremona Mondomusica and the Cremona Music Award, I’d like to inform you that CremonaFiere launched the Cremona Music Award, which is given within Cremona Mondomusica and Piano Experience since 2014, in order to reward the international personalities that have arisen in their respective areas of interest in the world of music.

In 2014, we awarded:
• Micheal Nyman (“Composition” category)
• Alfred Brendel (“Interpretation” category)
• Norman Lebrecht (“Communication” category)
• FuturOrchestra (“Project” category)

These people came to Cremona to receive the prize, except from Norman Lebrecht, who was unable to come and sent a video message.

This year, our Artistic Committee considered to award:
• Krzysztof Penderecki (Composition)
• Grigory Sokolov (Interpretation)
• Corinna Da Fonseca Wollheim, music critic of the New York Times (Communication)
• Stefano Belisari aka Elio (Project)

Maestros Penderecki and Belisari, and Corinna Da Fonseca Wollheim have come to Cremona to receive the prize, while Maestro Sokolov sent us a letter to refuse the prize, justifying this choice with the presence of Norman Lebrecht among the people awarded in 2014.

We don't want to discuss the personal relationship between Maestro Sokolov and Norman Lebrecht; we are just very sorry about Sokolov's choice, especially considering that Franco Panozzo, Sokolov's manager, sent us an email on August 4th, 2015, saying that Maestro Sokolov would have been very happy to come to Cremona to receive the prize, if he had been in Italy during Cremona Mondomusica. We also have to say that before that (June 29th, 2015) we informed Franco Panozzo about the people awarded in 2014, Norman Lebrecht included.
So we have been surprised that just a few days before the prize-giving ceremony Maestro Sokolov took this decision.

Best regards
Paolo Bodini
Anonymous said…
JD's pleading that writers such as herself and NL are mere "minnows" is disingenuous, as she obviously wants us to respond by saying "au contraire, you and your writerly cohort are incredibly important in our profession". I do find this kind of "journalism" and cliqueyness really quite sickening
Pliable said…
More on churnalism - -
Unknown said…
Mr. Bodini,
If you value your fund reputation, you would not put Lebrecht on the same level with so respected people like Grigory Sokolov and Krzysztof Penderecki.

It should be better for you to apologize.
Pliable said…
More on the Cremona Music Awards -
Jessica said…
Dear Bob,
I just found this now.
My comments did not refer to Norman Lebrecht. I said as much in my post and this remains the case. There are other writers on earth.
Your commentators are welcome to disagree with me and I with them, but I'm not redacting anything on demand.
Have a nice Christmas.
Pliable said…
Jessica thanks, for that, but I am perfectly well aware that the one specific comment did not apply to Norman Lebrecht as you wrote:

"If it's any comfort, most of us writers try to serve the art we adore by offering something we hope is worthwhile... But a tiny minority, for all I know (and I'm not speaking here of Mr Lebrecht), might have different motivations, which from the look of it could include anything on the spectrum from bitterness through jealousy to political ideology and, at worst, megalomania or a chemical imbalance."

What I objected to strongly, and continue to object to, is your branding of those whose views do not accord with your own definition of "worthwhile" as suffering from "megalomania or a chemical imbalance".

But this debate is doing no more than generate the remorseless self-interested virtual noise that I wrote about in a later post. So let's leave it at that.

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