Music Journalism Has a Problem
Should newspapers ask writers to shill for celebrities?
Music journalism has always had a conflict-of-interest problem.
But usually the corruption came from the music business, not newspapers. A lot of it boils down to the ethical standards of individual writers.
A few music critics turned double dealing into an art form. I’ve seen journalists review albums or concerts they produced themselves. Others get all sorts of freebies in ways that look dangerously like influence peddling. One prominent critic even prodded musicians into recording his own compositions—which they sometimes did, hoping for favorable treatment.
But I’ve never written for a newspaper or magazine that encouraged this.
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I still remember my first paid job with a professional media outlet, back when I was in college. My editor Paul Emerson—who hired me ten days before he died—gave me one absolute rule during our short time together.
He told me never, ever, under any circumstance, write a review of anything in which I had a personal interest.
I was surprised when he said that. I thought this hardly needed to be mentioned. I couldn’t imagine any self-respecting critic doing this—revealing their corruption in print where readers could see it, and it stays on the record.
But, nowadays, almost nothing in the music world shocks me. I’ve pretty much seen it all.
But that’s not entirely true, because I am shocked that newspapers are now part of the rot. In some instances, editors demand bias from the outset—and I’m not talking about political news. For heaven’s sake, this is happening over songs.
I’d be curious to know how this approach would have worked for a “Michael Jackson reporter” who heard rumors of molestation.
Many have criticized USA Today’s recent decision to hire a “Taylor Swift writer” and a “Beyoncé writer.” I had no problem these hirings initially—I applaud both of these artists and appreciate the scope of their cultural impact.
But then I saw the job descriptions.