Credit: Slate

Pitchfork’s slow death is a bad omen for music

By Daniel Brophy

Music Editor Dan Brophy analyses what effect Pitchfork becoming part of GQ magazine might have on the music world at large.

On January 17 2024, it was announced that online music publication Pitchfork would be folded into GQ men’s magazine, an outlet of its parent company, Condé Nast. GQ’s leading content creator, the fire-breathing dragon that is Anna Wintour, announced the move via a memo emailed to Pitchfork’s staff: 

“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… Both Pitchfork and GQ have unique and valuable ways that they approach music journalism, and we are excited for the new possibilities together.”

Wintour confirmed that the acquisition led to an undisclosed number of layoffs (eight, as confirmed by the Pitchfork Union, including the editor-in-chief Puja Patel). The union condemned the handling of the situation, stating that “Condé Nast provided no further information about the future of the premier music publication, demonstrating once again a lack of regard for the workers who have contributed to the company’s success”.

This situation, however, isn’t new. When Condé Nast acquired Pitchfork in 2015, a publication famous for its almost 20 years of independence since 1996, it changed hands over an undisclosed sum and laid off 270 employees. Its chief digital officer Fred Santarpia offered a simple explanation for the decision: to add “a very passionate audience of millennial males into our roster”. Condé Nast were the saviours of Pitchfork, a decision supposedly inevitable due to a decline in social media traffic and weak advertising.

Condé Nast owns GQ, Vanity Fair, and the New Yorker, three publications which exude class, style, and elegance; and of course, elitism. While there is an argument to be made that Pitchfork is an elitist, pretentious, and purposefully subversive force within the musical landscape, there is an even stronger argument to be made that Pitchfork has always been a voice for independent music. For the people.

Ryan Schreiber, who founded Pitchfork as a teenager in 1996, wrote on the app formerly known as Twitter: “Extremely saddened by the news that Condé Nast has chosen to restructure Pitchfork and lay off so much of its staff, including some who’ve been integral to its operations for many years / decades”.

The situation regarding Pitchfork in 2024 should scare us. We are helpless to the worst excesses of neoliberalism, where the music elite (major labels and mass media corporations) couldn’t give a damn about music. While anyone who knows anything about Pitchfork knows about its subversion, its monopolisation of musical opinion, that time it gave Discovery a 6.4, they will also hopefully understand how important it is to provide a respected critical voice to a corporatised landscape.

Pitchfork began as the spearhead of the blogosphere in the late 90s and 2000s. Its word carried untouchable cultural currency and influence, acting as a voice for independent music all over the world. Without Pitchfork, Arcade Fire may have never broken into the mainstream, Turn on the Bright Lights may never have earned the respect it deserves, Broken Social Scene wouldn’t be understood rightly as one of the greatest independent bands of all time. This list could go on forever, that’s how important the ‘Pitchfork effect’ was. And even after it was bought out and became more than a ‘dude blog’ or a pillar of indie sleaze, Pitchfork continued to promote independent music, appreciate the unheard, and of course remained as contrarian as it ever had been (well, maybe not as bad as it was in 2005, but that’s another story). It brought us priceless moments of cultural importance, everything from predicting the rise of TikTok to the Fetch the Bolt Cutters 10.

If Pitchfork being folded into GQ means the end of Pitchfork as we know it, the music world needs to fight back. It’s not just about Pitchfork, it’s about integrity. It’s about standing up for independent voices, every great artist who could and should be discovered, the joy of musical discovery. 


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