Pitchfork Scales Back

Spencer Kornhaber covers the merger of Pitchfork with GQ for The Atlantic.

Yesterday, Condé Nast’s chief content officer, Anna Wintour, announced plans to merge Pitchfork into the men’s magazine GQ. This decision was made after a careful evaluation of Pitchfork’s performance and what we believe is the best path forward for the brand so that our coverage of music can continue to thrive within the company,” she wrote in a staff memo. On social media, many of the site’s key writers and editors, some of whom had been on staff for more than a decade, announced they’d been laid off. Much is still unknown about Pitchfork’s future, but music fans have reason to worry we’re losing the most important culture publication of the 21st century.

Pitchfork has had an outsized influence on the musical landscape over the years. That much is indisputable. Whether they has been a positive force is probably debatable. I remember a listening party with Josh Kolenik of Small Black a few months ago where he related that he stopped reading reviews of the band’s work after a negative Pitchfork review. Scathing criticism from Pitchfork can have a chilling effect on album and concert ticket sales and affect a musician’s livelihood. I’m not sure that they deserve a pass on their snobbery, especially when their dismissiveness is so impactful.

Ernie Smith from Tedium is effusive in his praise of the online publication.

I would argue that Pitchfork, despite the criticism it has received, has often been great, but its efforts in the past few years to rethink its approach to music coverage have been welcome. I think a telling moment in Pitchfork’s history came on August 19, 2019. That was the day that the website, in a clear course correction from its past, did an appraisal of Taylor Swift’s first five albums, records that it would not have been caught dead reviewing a decade earlier. It was a statement of the kind of site Pitchfork needed to become—one that accepts that our influences come from the mainstream and the underground.

It’s great that Pitchfork broadened their horizons. They needed more diversity. There is only so much we can read about bands with animals in their names or that sound like plumbing companies, and heaven knows Sufjan Stevens has had enough coverage to last him a lifetime. However, I’m not going to pretend like it’s super brave to give Taylor Swift some attention. Sailing with the prevailing cultural headwinds doesn’t take heroic effort. I read the occasional article on the site, but I’m just not sure that they are doing anything that’s particularly laudable or that we should have a day of national mourning for their declining fortunes.

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