Emergency Inbox Infinity (Pitchfork Edition)

Emergency Inbox Infinity (Pitchfork Edition)
Me at 1:51pm EST today.

I'm breaking from my usual Friday release schedule because I had to write about this immediately.

As I begin to type this it's been about two-and-a-half hours since media reporter Max Tani broke the news that Pitchfork is set to be "brought into the GQ organization," and I've already speedrun a few stages of grief. Initially, I almost laughed at it, in between a you've gotta be kidding and here we go again reaction.

This feels like the final domino to fall in terms of tentpole music publications, but the reverberation of the penultimate one (Bandcamp)'s faceplant had started to peter out, hastened on by news of a Pitchfork Union victory in early December. In retrospect, that union triumph most likely accelerated the inevitable and gave the Condé Nast board reason to gesture towards the site and say, 'See? We can't possibly work with these people.'

I woke up excited to share a review of the new Infant Island album that I'd written for Pitchfork. After Tani's tweet, I thought the album's masterful portrayal of chaos was a fitting accoutrement for the last untainted look, as well as the first doomed one, that most people would take at the site. After that, I'm shocked and appalled to say that I went into something resembling grindset mode: alright, let's get it, no gods no masters, I'll take what little I can get from remaining publications and then it's Inbox Infinity or bust, baby.

So I dove into the promo emails that had piled up while I took an extra bartending shift earlier this week and started plugging away at them. I got to one that interested me, went to log that album in my Notes app page of release dates, and then it hit me: do I even need to be doing this anymore? I keep that note so I know when to start pitching coverage. I looked back at the pieces I've written in the past year, and of the stuff tied to new releases, the majority are Pitchfork reviews, and most of the rest are interviews for SPIN, a publication I swore off around the time I started this newsletter. Suffice to say, this got me feeling a lot less cavalier.

Of course, my situation isn't as dire as the staff who got laid off today, reportedly comprising 50% of Pitchfork's workforce. There are amazing writers and editors (including one on parental leave!) who are now jobless. If it were just layoffs, it'd still be a devastating gutting of the site, but like the Bandcamp news from a few months ago, it's more than that. It's the corporate language that signifies the beginning of the end: "evolving our team structure," "best path forward," "new possibilities," "members of the team will hear more about their reporting structure." No one knows exactly what Pitchfork will look like under GQ, but it won't be getting any bigger than it is now, which is already diminished from its pre-Condé Nast peak of the early 2010s.

I've written for GQ a few times in the past and had a good experience doing so. They have intelligent, capable editors and writers. But there's something inherently problematic about Pitchfork being subsumed by it, beyond shrinking prospects for music writers. Over the course of the last eight years, Pitchfork editorial staff have made a concerted effort to make their coverage less white and less straight and less male, both in the writers they employ and the artists they cover. It's led to a much richer display of music criticism than the narrower scope of the site's early days. While GQ of course does not discriminate in their hiring practices, and covers a wide variety of subjects, the fact remains that it is literally called GENTLEMAN'S QUARTERLY. Consider that one of Condé's stated reasons for acquiring Pitchfork in 2015 was bringing the site's "very passionate audience of Millennial males" into their "roster," and this whole thing gets even more gross.

For myself and most other music writers I know, landing a Pitchfork review is a near-universal career goal. It obviously isn't the goal—it guarantees little to no windfall of cash or clout—but I've always viewed it as a merit badge that vouches for a writer's legitimacy (plenty of other ways to get that legitimacy, for what it's worth). When I got my first pitch accepted there in July 2021, it felt like a moment that I'd been working toward for years. Though I wasn't grinding my knuckles into a pulp pitching them for a decade—I probably only sent five or six over the course of two or three years before one landed—all of the work I'd done for other publications (big, small, awful, great) felt like it was in some small service of getting me there. I recognize that this is foolish, that this did not make or break something that has been more of a side hustle than a career for most of my adult life, but it felt good.

As of this morning, I've written 18 Pitchfork reviews. Some came excruciatingly difficultly; some poured out of me in 90 minutes; some looked like Jackson Pollock paintings when they came back marked up with editors' comments; some were barely touched before publishing. In every single case though, I can say that whichever editor worked on it put an extreme deal of care into the process. There's literally nowhere else that I've encountered anywhere near the attention to the craft of writing and editing that the current (former?) Pitchfork reviews team has, and that includes college classrooms. Losing the art of the album review as a whole, across publications, is the bigger danger here, but losing even a shred of that team's tenacity would devastate me.

So I'm fucking bummed out, man! This hurts. Not just as a writer, but a reader and a listener. Despite their reputation for snark, Pitchfork impacted the lives and careers of so many artists for the better, in ways that feel unthinkable for other publications to match. That level of influence has dimmed in recent years, but the level of criticism, in my mind, has generally remained strong. I hope it continues to, but with the way things have been going in music media, it's hard to retain that hope.

While I wait to see how this all pans out, I'll continue doing Inbox Infinity, reading other talented writers' newsletters, and keeping my ear to the ground for news of a Defector-style, writer-owned music publication.


Don't worry, all of the usual features, including Inbox music picks, will return on Friday.

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Jamie Larson