Pitchfork and the Mob
Pitchfork 2013. Photo: edward stojakovic/Flickr

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Pitchfork and the Mob

Why did the site need to sell when it already had a fulfilling media existence?
October 16, 2015, 4:57pm

Diving into internet content usually depresses me.

When I'm feeling particularly 'down', I'll load Pitchfork.com in order to feel my [internet] age. I'll yearn for the days of 'meaningful' reviews, indie news narratives, and a time when the internet felt like it only existed to curate culture for Millennial males before Millennial males became a highly commodifiable niche. Before Drake and Taylor Swift were the most popular internet artists. A time where something as simple as a web page could 'break' artists influence album sales, tour dates, and festival lineups.

Back then, we millennially-maled for the love of ourselves, not because we had to deliver pageviews for scalable media companies looking to add #value to their portfolio.

This week, Pitchfork was acquired by Conde Nast for an undisclosed sum.

While the content of the music site already skewed towards the mainstream, the real question that popped into my head with the sale is, "What is/was independent media?"

Is it a spirit captured in the voice and content stream of a site?

Is it a context in which a website was founded?

Is it a branding mechanism?

Is it lack of adherence to editorial or content farming standards?

Is it existing outside of traditional monetizable streams?

Is it building a media brand that is perceived as not being 'part of the machine'?

Pitchfork had been the posterchild for independent media on the internet, and not really because of the branding of the 'indie' music genre. Offices across the country. No investors. Masters of the music livespace with two major music festivals in Chicago and France. Ventures into #longform, video, and other emerging content verticals/mediums. Writers writing about niche niches of music from a niche POV that could only be understood by niche thinkers.

Why did the site need to sell when it already had a fulfilling media existence?

It seems as though one of the last great websites that hadn't fully taken on the spirit of the Big Box Content Farm had now 'gone Big Box.'

Is the Millennial Male still reading cultural content farms?

As a failed content farmer, I'm always in awe of successful content farms. Even if a content farm was built for the sole purpose of getting tons of pageviews, momentum must be acquired somehow. Cultural traction within a collective worldview happens on some level. You have to feel the thrill of tapping into something that people want to consume.

While Pitchfork rode the indie-wave, it built a model that was meant to outlast indie, blogs, pretentiousness, snark, and even 1-D HTML-based 'internet content' itself. It was a place where the self-obsession of the Millennial male 'came of age,' finding a place where all of our theories on the interconnectedness of culture, art, and music 'meant something.'

Even if a farm was able to define and disrupt for a small window of its lifetime, that is the momentum it needs to become 'valuable' financially and culturally. The site has a golden era that gives it the 'authenticity' factor as pages of meaningless fodder continued to populate failed indie blogs.

It seems like after achieving scale, there really isn't much else to do. The entire point was to attract eyeballs while maintaining an authentic brand. Why not have the people who are the best at selling premium advertising experiences do it for you? Continue to 'do stuff' while you are ensured it is monetized by a brand like Conde Nast that is #legacy enough to be there 'forever.'

A forever that can potentially last longer than the internet.

Is the Millennial Male 'backlash' real?

I've always loved Pitchfork because it is a perfectly named website. It somehow forecasted the mob mentality that would eventually go mainstream on the internet. The mob is bigger than ever. The mob grows faster than you would even believe. The mob is more violent than ever. The mob tastes blood every day, and no one is safe from the mob.

I was surprised to see that the 'online reaction' to Conde Nast's acquisition focused on the new owner's proclaimed desire to engage the Millennial males. The mob's claim was that Pitchfork had 'gone hard' on the poptimist_feminist angle recently as a diversionary effort to 'pretend women were into the site.' Then they just sold it off the 'strength' of Millennial male readership. This means they hate women?

Something as well-intentioned as an initiative for intelligent female voices to speak on intelligent female topics was instantaneously invalidated. A 'good idea' was an ingenuine tactic for page views to pander to a mob that may or may not even be reading the content. The mob is searching the internet for content and media silos that deserve to be mobbed, not followed and enjoyed.

These days, 'selling out' isn't what gets you judged. It's being forked on the mob's sharp weapons that focus on hating hate with hate.

Why did the site need to sell when it already had a fulfilling media existence?

The ironic thing is that Pitchfork is part of the wave of media that directly contributes to constructing today's critical minds. Loading the website every day helps people feel connected to 'culture' [via music]. It arms Millennials with perspectives from which to approach the world and culture.

Sometimes it feels like the great constraint of internet content is that people can only walk away with black-or-white judgments, instead of comfortable existing in the grey that makes cultural criticism worthwhile.

The broken critical mind built upon the Millennial content farm is looking for a reason to join the mob, not become a critical mind that positively influences the community with immersive discussion. The mob seeks to turn every content farm into a comment section of post-degenerative comments.

Who are 'the real people' behind a 'massive media acquisition'?

When Ryan Schreiber first started Pitchfork, he had no idea how the internet would 'shake out.' There was no telling that social justice warriors would overtake a medium called Twitter. Indie may or may not have been a thing. It was probably just one man using the internet as a way to connect with people. Sort of like a social network, but even more desperate, insane, AND pure.

Somewhere at the genesis of 'independent media projects' is a spirit to deliver a perspective of the world (or a particular content niche) that feels like it should 'actually matter to real people.' An overall feeling that a line of coverage is underrepresented to people. A way of thinking and approaching the content that 'the world' naturally produces in a meaningful way. Independent media rises from a collective feeling that there has to be something different out there.

I'm not sure if independent media will happen again on the internet because content farms turn 'independence' into a branded process of scaling meaningless pages to Facebook trend consumers. 'Independent media startups' begin with the purpose of getting acquired or absorbed into a pre-existing media body.

The question about Pitchfork that always intrigued me was about Ryan Schreiber as the branded 'founder.' How did he know that it was time to 'get out of the way'? How did he authentically scale his website? How was he able to trust a team of writers to move a voice into the future? How did he know that the #livespace of Pitchfork Music Festival would be a necessary #brand_evolution? Why even bother with a print version of a magazine or a 'beautiful app'?

It was all probably driven to give people a more direct connection with music as our digital experience with music is watered down every day. This explanation doesn't really make sense, but it's why his content farm is worth being acquired for an undisclosed sum to 'basically keep doing the same thing.' The site will continue to create content around music, but it will only be more perfectly monetized with Big Box branding. It will continue to scale towards the longtail audiences that are necessary to stay alive.

I've always loved Pitchfork because it is a perfectly named website. It somehow forecasted the mob mentality that would eventually go mainstream on the internet

Pitchfork already wasn't what it was, but only broken Millennials have brains trained to find that narrative interesting or relevant. It will probably continue to create content for people who think music is important, which was the original intent.

Truly independent media allows us to comfortably immerse ourselves in our interests and passions without feeling siphoned into a mob. But it's hard to escape from the mob when we have been we've been incubated as Millennial male thought soldiers, #urban_outfitted with pitchforks.

You did it Schreibs! I guess the P4k journey is/was 'the point' of [independent] media.

Read fallen content farmer Carles.Buzz's "Life on the Content Farm" series here.