National Sawdust has not only taken a keen interest in monitoring and evaluating the current state of music journalism and criticism from its inception, but also more recently has pursued an active role in fostering its continued health – partly through community-minded evolution – with The Log Journal. And if you’re reading these words now, it’s a safe bet that you’re concerned about music journalism, too.
Naturally, we talk regularly with journalists, critics, institutions, and other influential figures about the state of our collective affairs. Starting now, we’ll be sharing some of those conversations with the reading public. In weeks and months ahead you will see interviews with and essays by key figures like Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette, Bay Area pianist and freelance journalist/broadcaster Sarah Cahill, and other prominent thinkers and doers in the field.
To set the stage, we’ll direct your attention toward a provocative essay newly posted on Reverie Report*, a Medium-based webzine that covers topics relating to technology, innovation, and culture. Written by Jason Gross, founder and editor of the pioneering webzine Perfect Sound Forever, the bluntly titled “Can Music Journalism Exist At All?” is preamble to a panel Gross will oversee at the SXSW conference in Austin, TX, on March 16. Panel participants will include Rachel Brodsky (Paste), author/editor Chuck Eddy, and Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune, Sound Opinions).
Gross lays out his preliminary assessment in equally blunt terms:
I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret in journalism that no one wants to admit right now. Nobody has a specific, long-term answer about how the whole profession is going to thrive, much less survive, in the future. To be fair, there’s a good reason for this problem – that answer doesn’t exist.
The chief problem, in Gross’s view, is not the message, but the media:
Make no mistake though – as lofty as we’d like to think our written/virtual work is, it’s still a product. The problem is that we don’t recognize how to get our work out effectively to consumers the same way that tech companies do in an age when writing’s evolved from print to the web to mobile and social media.
Gross laments a condition that finds journalism continually chasing behind the freshest, shiniest media platforms, widgets, and apps in search of new ways to move its product, from AOL and MySpace to Facebook and Snapchat. The future, he suggests, resides in a faster, tighter, closer bond between journalism and technology – and, as importantly, insightful journalists and platform-savvy technicians. Specific ideas presumably will be the topic for discussion at SXSW.
Of course, one must also ask how journalism and criticism might/must adapt intrinsically and fundamentally, and to what extent longtime conventions and expectations regarding length, form, and authority might have to be altered or abandoned – certainly a germane topic for discussion at a moment when even The New York Times is experimenting with abbreviated snapshots of classical-music events.
Meanwhile, food for thought. We’ll be eager to learn what transpires next week in Austin. – Steve Smith