Oh boy. So, I’m going to answer this and that’s probably enough to upset people over at Pitchfork or whatever who are legendarily embattled, but I don’t think I’m being vindictive, here…
When it comes to Pitchfork and scoring, I would say that you would be shocked by just how democratic the rating process is. Without giving much away (because I don’t think that’s fair to Pitchfork), it goes something like this: In general, a record is discussed by the writers and generally, through that, the site arrives at a score consensus. Then reviews are assigned or fit to a writer (usually that writer has sent a pitch). So, in a sense yeah, the reviews are controlled by the editors because they assign someone whose opinion on the record (especially if it is a notable or relevant record) fits the view of the site. This really isn’t that different from how every publication assigns reviews. The one difference I would say is that Pitchfork is rarely going to give a review over to a critic with a cool point of view if that point of view doesn’t fit the editorial stance, especially if that stance is negative. Yeah yeah yeah, I work for SPIN, so this is probably a bad example, but SPIN let Rob Harvilla rip Watch The Throne to pieces (he gave it a 6). I don’t think Pitchfork would ever do that. At least not anymore.
One example (which again, I will keep vague because it just doesn’t seem necessary to provide the specifics) that did stick in my craw (and was one of a number of annoying actions that made me decide I ultimately didn’t want to write for Pitchfork anymore): A certain buzzing artist was not well-recieved by most of the writers whose opinions on the given genre that this artist operates in are usually valued. One of the people in charge of P4K was pushing hard for the artist and for the most part, the writers who care passionately about this type of music were just like, “I don’t know, man, the album’s all right, but that’s it.” Finally, the review of this record came out and the artist got a ‘Best New Music.’ And I noticed it was written by a writer new to the site. It felt a little weird for a number of reasons. 1. Why are you asking for the opinions of the writers if you’re ultimately going to blow them off? 2. This particular artist was very buzz worthy and SEO-friendly. 3. I don’t know anything about this, so this part is pure speculation, but it seemed creepy to assign it to a new writer who you know, is going to be easier to persuade because hey, they want to keep writing for the site they just started writing for, you know? Don’t waste your time guessing who the artist is, that’s not the point, and it’s not who you probably think it is.
So, that sequence of events put a bad taste in my mouth. It represented what, to me, was a bit of a shift in the site’s approach to reviewing, which suddenly seemed more SEO-oriented and buzz band-friendly around mid-2011. The act of editing seemed to take a backseat, though to be frank, the editing even when they did edit, tended to be kind of half-assed. I don’t know anything about Scott Plagenhoef’s exit AT ALL, but I feel like the site’s approach shifted once he left. Of course, everybody who works for anybody ever feels like at some point or another, “It all changed, mannnnn,” so take this all with a grain of salt. My frustration with Pitchfork was probably exasperated by my increased involvement with SPIN, who let me do whatever the fuck I want, and pay me more, and whose staff I just get along with on a personal level, much better. Which is all just me really saying, I started to dislike writing for Pitchfork when I could, professionally, start to dislike writing for Pitchfork. I stopped writing for them because I didn’t feel good about writing for them, but I only did that when I didn’t feel like I was squandering an opportunity. I’m a fucking phony like the rest of them.
I want to stress that when I was hired by Pitchfork in November of 2010 (Summer of 2010, Pitchfork put out a call for writers and I submitted a resume; that’s how I got hired), it was a total “Holy fuck!” moment for me. The teenaged me would’ve shit out of his dick with excitement. Within a few months though, I kinda already felt weird and a bit cynical about the site. One time, on the staff message board, someone whose name I didn’t recognize was kind of being aggressive about certain peoples’ reception to a certain record, and I looked the dude up and he was like, part of the advertising team? That gave me the creeps. Also, I just never felt like I fit in. I’m probably just not a good fit over there.
I also think Pitchfork kind of brews this embattled cult mentality that’s really toxic. You see this even now on say, Twitter, when one of the writers or editors is all, “Who me? What us?” any time anyone calls them out for anything. You guys are the big dogs! People are gonna criticize you! I mean this is the site that obnoxiously promoted the fact that they would now be premiering music like NPR and plenty of other sites, as if they had just invented some amazing new thing. You know, I admire the fuck out of Pitchfork for not succumbing to the slideshow disease, even with their year-end lists where it would be justified, but they tend to ramp up their integrity rhetoric in a way that’s off-putting and even, troll-ish. Sure, they don’t do slideshows, but the news is often super short, gossip-y garbage clearly aiming for firsties, and the track write-ups are like sub-FADER level, these days.
Um, I also think their pay is pretty shitty (though they do pay on time, which almost nobody does). And I know it’s a separate aspect of the site’s branding/entity/whatever, but finding how much they paid for Animal Collective the year I went to Pitchfork Festival when I was writing for them, and thinking about how much they pay their writers was a low-key “what the fuck” moment. This past summer, the PRI show Marketplace talked to Ryan Schreiber before Pitchfork Fest and presented Pitchfork as a site that is thriving when music publishing and even just music writing is on the decline. It infuriated me because the whole angle of the story, supported by Schreiber, was that P4K thrived because of its integrity. That is part of the story (it’s a brand that people trust), but well, you know, if a site pays their writers about a quarter of what sites of similar popularity pay, then it’s going to be a lot easier to stay afloat. And like I said in the previous paragraph, the angle that they’re just so much less craven than other music publications is some bullshit. Pitchfork won’t like this, but I kind of don’t care and also, this is definitely not me being vindictive. As anyone who follows me on Twitter can probably attest, if I wanted to send out cheap shots and air someone out, I would have no problem doing that. I fucking love cheap shots! I get a sick fuck charge out of taking the low road! But here, I feel like I am being fair but honest about my experience with the site.