Roger Ebert, in a Nov. 26 column, wrote, “The CelebCult virus is eating our culture alive, and newspapers voluntarily expose themselves to it.”
He’s referring to the loss of film critics, and the death of film criticism, but the same lamentation applies to music critics and music criticism, particularly at daily newspapers (yes, there are exceptions to the rule, starting with the New York Times).
Classical critics, of course, are disappearing as fast as the unemployed ranks of former Clinton Administration staffers. That’s a sad enough story.
But at the moment, I’m talking about music whose beats typically include — or should include, in the name of diversity of coverage — rock, pop, rap and country, as well as jazz, blues, Americana, world music and other genres.
Pop music critics, thus far, aren’t being eliminated en masse, although the space given to music coverage has shrunk substantially.
But too many of them over-emphasize celeb-centric coverage and teenypop, writing endlessly about “American Idol” claptrap and the Jonas Brothers and Cyrus Miley; the latest “comebacks” of Madonna and Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey; the fates of various boy-band reunions; and whether Amy Winehouse, Scott Weiland, Axl Rose, etc., are still losing the war with their personal demons.
Who cares about that stuff? Yes, go ahead, label me a music snob. I’ve been called worse.
The guilty parties at some newspapers around the country tend to treat everything in a snarky, showbizzy fashion — think the “Hit List” in Entertainment Weekly — and give actual musical analysis, even the most basic analysis, the status of second-class citizen. For these writers, musical criticism is an afterthought, at best; irrelevant, at worst.
Call it another sign of the literate-culture Apocalypse.
Even worse for the financial health of music critics, they take the gossip-driven approach at the risk to their own livelihoods: the more that they and their newspapers emphasize celebrity news and de-emphasize information and analysis of substance, the less they appeal to the people who still care about reading newspapers in print.
So they’re trying to appeal to the folks who have already abandoned print newspapers for online sources of information, and simultaneously pissing off the newspaper loyalists.
News operations can, and probably do, attract millions of readers to newspaper-affiliated web sites. But so far, newspapers have yet to figure out how to fund a news operation solely on revenues made online.
So turning the whole thing into celeb/gossip central isn’t quite the smartest strategy, huh?