Friday, May 28, 2010

Pitchfork: No comments

In the late 90s, as the world began to realize how great a factor the Internet would be in virtually all walks of life, it was sort of difficult to achieve a web presence. If you weren't a geek with know-how, you had to rely on hosts like Geocities and Angelfire to stake a claim to digital real estate. And even then the barriers of entry were great, and so folks who didn't have programming skills or the cash to hire a programmer had to live without a web presence.

But along came Web 2.0, a hypothetical era that opened the doors of content creation to just about everyone and put a premium on interactivity. All of a sudden, laypeople were starting blogs, creating Facebook profiles, and commenting on virtually every item published on the web. And that's the one that fascinates me the most.

The ability for users to comment on postings opened up a dialog between writer and reader, one that only half-heartedly existed via letters to the editor. But now, anyone with the willingness to create a user-name can sound off on content of almost any kind. It's difficult to find a site that doesn't open up it's content to comments. This is especially the case for culturally specific blogs and media-centric sites. Many have fostered a user environment that quite brilliantly feeds itself, creating a discussion that transcends the article that can be almost as fascinating as the piece itself. Don't tell me you haven't spent twenty minutes reading through a particularly heated/entertaining comment thread.

It's a democratic yet bold move on the part of the media. While a commenter doesn't exactly demand the same respect as a published writer, there is still the opportunity to be undermined or checked by a hawk-eyed commenter. But the benefits surely outweigh the drawbacks. Again, commenters contribute to a greater community and essentially create content/activity for an outlet without it having to lift a finger.

It's a smart move, and everybody does it. Well, pretty much everyone. There's (at least) one egregious offender, a site that pulls a ton of weight in the musical arena, a so-called "tastemaker". That's right, snob-central:

Does this strike anyone else as kind of strange? I mean, perhaps the most powerful entity in indie music, one who quotes Twitter feeds and takes news tips from readers, hasn't tried to architect a user environment the way virtually all other similar media outlets have? Even traditional print outlets like Time and Newsweek have opened their sites to user commentary.

I honestly feel that this is a protective move. Pitchfork is well aware of its pull in the music community, the implied majesty of its editorials and so on. So if one of their oh-so-elegantly-composed reviews is followed by a "Whatever, this album blows goats" comment, it might dilute its impact. And I think Pitchfork is well aware of this. Besides, why even open the floor to debate if their reviews are already considered gospel?

It should also be noted that Pitchfork has employed censorship, of a sort, to protect its image. When they revamped their site last year, they removed the famed, much-ridiculed Live at the Village Vanguard review from their backlog. Thankfully, some heroic blogger saved and posted it here for the world to remember. But the removal does seem kind of fishy, doesn't it? It smacks of self-awareness.

In a shocking display of actual journalism, I e-mailed Pitchfork's business development department, cordially asking why users were not able to comment on content. I sent the e-mail more than a week ago and as yet no response. I'm not reading anything into that--I'm sure they're very busy--but if I do get a response, I'll be sure to do a follow-up.

I'm not trying to wage a smear campaign on Pitchfork or anything. I still read it multiple times a day, and I actually find myself agreeing with a good many of their reviews. But c'mon...they seem to be feeding their own reputation as a snobbish, self-deifying entity by not giving a voice to their loyal following. It'd be a humbling move, sure. But I think a bit of humility would be flattering.

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