“Rolling Stone”, rolling press (towards the abyss)

This post comes from the daily newsletter of the Culture department of Release, sent free of charge every evening.

Reference in the musical press since 1967, the American magazine Rolling Stone presented in an email sent at the end of last week a rather unusual offer entitled the “Rolling Stone Culture Council”: the newspaper indeed offers to write for its website … for a fee. For 1,500 dollars and an entrance ticket of 500 dollars, that is to say a little more than 1,600 euros in total, the client-editor can join “One of the world leaders in the entertainment press” and “Shaping the culture of the future”. If, at first reading, the proposal has enough to drop the most firmly attached arms, it turns out a bit less bewildering when we look more closely. The offer is in fact intended exclusively for “Influencers, opinion leaders and more broadly professionals in the music and event industry”. The candidates will be selected by the editorial staff of the magazine after interview and their writings, which will also be proofread beforehand, then possibly published in a dedicated section of the site, separate from the other articles of the newspaper. In other words, Rolling Stone is putting together a very unusual but very transparent ad-editorial offer – advertising in the form of a newspaper article.

In perpetual quest for a sustainable economic model

However, the practice has been common since the second half of the 1980s, even if widely criticized for its abuses – the main one being that these papers often advance masked, presenting themselves as articles among others, without clearly visible mention of the advertising aspect. , manipulating the reader, even, in some particularly devious cases, the author himself. In this context, the offer of Rolling Stone has at least one advantage: it plays with transparency. Its formulation, on the other hand, hurts a lot. For journalists first, who know only too well the harsh law of written content without pay, to enjoy exposure that would supposedly benefit them. Then for the image of Rolling Stone, journal which has drawn up one of the most comprehensive accounts of musical revolutions since the end of the 1960s, supported by such prestigious feathers as Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Patti Smith, PJ O’Rourke, Lester Bangs or screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, before being bought in 2017 from its founder, the exalted Jann Wenner, by the Penske Media group, and who seems to end here like yet another shell of content, an empty shell open to all the winds of publicity. For the profession, finally, in an abysmal crisis of credibility and authority – because who cares at this time of streaming platforms, YouTube and other TikTok, apart from a minority (the famous niches), a profession entirely devoted to the critical accompaniment of musical creation, when new products are made available simultaneously and worldwide, in a frantic race for numbers and the occupation of media space and your time?

Read alsoHunter S. Thompson, trashy news

The pandemic has only accentuated the current crisis for the music press. In perpetual quest for a sustainable economic model, the most famous as well as the most confidential titles of the Anglo-Saxon press have continued to experiment with formats, mediums and cooperation with the most diverse interlocutors – from artists to major brands – to extend their influence and stay afloat. But the switch from the free model to others in part or in full paid seems even more difficult than in other areas of the media; several titles which have been the subject of large-scale commercial operations have thus had to close or undergo restructuring reducing their editorial staff to grief, and forced their employees to reorient themselves, or even reinvent their profession. Many journalists, including influential feathers like Todd L. Burns (formerly head of Red Bull Music Academy or Resident Advisor) had to resolve to launch their own personal “media” in the form of paid newsletters, in particular via the Patreon or Substack platforms.

Importance of critical voices published by these magazines

An alarming clue among others on a profound transformation of the sector, which could, in the long term, deprive us of an essential player in the music ecosystem, criticism; or at the very least considerably reduce the diversity of its voices, which are also historically limited by structural inequalities (racism, sexism, etc.) for a very long time. However, and we cannot repeat it enough, the specialized media have played an even greater role in the evolution of the musical landscape since the advent of Web 2.0, that is to say since technology allows the public to access music news in real time. The change in promotional strategies for new products, of course, has not only been beneficial for art and artists; for those who follow it closely, certain shenanigans have also been able, by force, to end up giving the news of the releases the aspect of an uninterrupted flow of which the media would be nothing more than almost automated relays, even channels. media reduced to a minimum advertising that does not speak its name. But the excesses of the sector and its titles, in an almost uninterrupted crisis for two decades, should not make us forget the importance of the critical voices that they publish, how they have accompanied music since the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s, especially in its ongoing dialogue with tribes and creators. Their endangerment is a worrying signal for the cultural press, but also for the music itself, unless the general public accepts that it is curled up for good on the most local scale, to leave all the room. to mastodons who no longer need musical criticism for a long time. In any case, artists and readers alike will be the losers.


Olivier Lamm

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Lelo Jimmy Batista

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