Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pitchfork batting averages

This guy has taken the time to compile averages of Pitchfork reviewers' ratings. He admits himself that it's statistically flawed, since he takes the first 40 results in our search engine for writers who have a ton of reviews (that would include me), but I was still fascinated to see it. It would be cool if we did a statistically accurate, in-house breakdown like this, to see which writers are harshest, find out who seems to prefer indie rock to hip-hop, &c. Could actually be very useful. I'm pleased to see I'm neither the harshest nor the nicest, falling right around the middle of the scale. There are other things to consider - Plagenhoef, for instance, has such a high average because as an editor, he writes fewer reviews, and when he does, it's generally something he likes and wants to bring attention to. Still, great project.

This comes on the heels of yet another slanted, sloppy NYT article about the site. I understand that plenty of people have axes to grind against Pitchfork, what's shocking is how often this grinding takes place in respected journalistic organs. I'm not looking for a puff piece, but I would like to see an article that engages with the site on a realistic, modern level, instead of making snide comments that haven't been valid vis-a-vis Pitchfork for at least a couple years. This article, at least, has some kind things to say about our writing. But check out this gem:

But in a downloaded, mashed-up, genre-crossing musical age, Pitchfork may fall outside the mainstream. Craig Marks is the editor in chief of Blender, which covers a lot of musical real estate, not just indie rock but also rap, industrial and pop.

"With us, it's about the songs," he said. "Pitchfork is like this utopian hippie outpost, where people are pure and bohemian and have great values. Their implicit message is that there is a huge corrupt recording industry and they have decided to band together and fight the good fight."

Right, Pitchfork only covers indie music and hates the mainstream - maybe three to five years ago. This is just plain lazy. Even a cursory read of our content over the last couple years will reveal a bevy of mainstream rap and pop reviews, as well as loads of dance music and electronica. In fact, if there is a Pitchfork bias, I'd venture to say that it's in favor of mainstream music these days, as the site reacts against the righteous indie stance with which it began, and which so many articles frustratingly refuse to acknowledge is a thing of the past, focusing on outdated sterotypes instead. (Not to mention the fact that our stable of writers has expanded broadly in terms of size and tastes, to the point where we have someone on staff who's qualified to review most any genre you can think of.) And really - industrial? Then there's this:

Much discussion on the site is about who has sold out and who has not, about how the Mainstream Media is clueless about music (guilty as charged, in my case, anyway) and who is actually down for the cause.

This is just a gross inaccuracy. The person who wrote this article either hasn't read the site in years, or they managed to only consult the archive in doing their research. The Mainstream Media is clueless about music? We just dropped a 9.5 on Kanye West (much deserved, BTW). This is not an isolated incident, mainstream rap and pop draw high ratings on Pitchfork regularly. Its' widely acknowledged that "indie" is a hollow set of signifiers, and while it's fine to like indie music, it shouldn't be brought to bear critically. Pitchfork is going or has gone popist. When will this be acknowledged?

While so much user-generated content on the Web is tendentious and full of flabby partisan attacks, Pitchfork steps up to the plate with a rigorous rating system, serious (if idiosyncratic) critical standards and a roster of 40 or so talented young writers.

We're talented, sweet! But user-generated? Sorry, most of us are professional writers, at least part time. As in we write for professional publications, for money. You can't just log in to Pitchfork and write a review. This misinformation is in the New York Times, and I doubt we'll be seeing a correction notice.

It's great that we're getting all this press, and a lot of it at least grudgingly acknowledges our influence. But I've yet to see the definitive Pitchfork article that takes on our flaws (I'm not saying they don't exist, I'm saying they're too often identified with outdated information or just wrongly) and our merits in a way that's balanced, current and realistic. Is that so much to ask?