shock discovery continued: zines vs. magazines, writing vs. journalism

April 20, 2012 at 7:43 am | Posted in musings, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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This morning I discover that after posting the piece below about The Wire magazine, criticism etc. I had my second-highest daily ‘hits’ total since this blog’s inception.  You lot like a bit of poking-a-sacred-cow-with-a-stick, obviously.  It has also provoked some thoughtful and illuminating correspondence.  Chief amongst these missives is what follows.  It was hand-delivered during the night, unsigned and in a scented envelope, with a note attached saying I could use the contents as I saw fit, but that the author’s identity had to remain a secret.  I was quite taken with the further distinctions proposed so have decided to make this the first ever guest post on radiofreemidwich.  ‘Comrade X’ writes:

Hmm, I’m trying to think what I make of your distinction between reviewing and criticism.  Is that a thing? I suppose it could be.  For my sins, I’m afraid I rather like a good diss piece sometimes.  But the building up and knocking down of flavour of the months seems to have become a staple of music journalism, and it is depressing after a time, so maybe less of that would be a good thing, give the space over to things you like rather than things you don’t.  I can see that being on the receiving end of bad criticism is not pleasant.  In the fast cycling world of modern pop culture it seems a reputation can be made and destroyed in about 18 months.  But I feel to live in a world of total positivism is very twenty-first century,  and a bit of me longs to see the boot put in from time to time.  It’s entertaining.  What happens when an artist you always loved turns stale?  Do you just walk away? I presume you are aware of the irony that you have just performed a criticism of the Wire.  Which I have to say I enjoyed immensely.

For my part I too make distinctions, between zines (which I think is what RFM is) and magazines.  I see zines as the superior medium of criticism, or review, despite their supposed ‘lesser’ standing in the world of writing.  Zines are written from a standpoint of amateurism, in the sense of the lover, one who loves their subject.  They allow the writer freedom, from the restrictions of time limits, space, and the editorial concerns of their superiors and commercial backers, to say what they think, to create interesting writing, explore new ideas, to invent.

Magazines are commercial enterprises.  The veneer of criticism and commentary barely disguises the main fact that they are vehicles for selling the products contained within, and their interests are governed by those of advertisers, PR companies and A&R agents.  For this reason Billboard may be the most honest magazine in existence, it cuts to the chase, it is music journalism laid naked.

Some might say that the restrictions make writing into a serious discipline, and are necessary to avoid sloppy, rambling writing.  In answer firstly I’d say it doesn’t, in the reams of toe-curlingly trite prose that are cranked out every month.   This leads to the second distinction I make, between writing and journalism.

Writing, as I see it, is a creative endeavour, whereby language is manipulated to produce new ideas, arrangements of words, and viewpoints.  We have a sense of the writer’s personality embedded in the words.  Writing may eventually lead to a commercial benefit for the writer, but this is not the ultimate motive for its production. Journalism is producing a prearranged number of words to order, usually as a reaction to something that already exists in the world, to a time deadline, for the goal of procuring money.  People make the mistake of thinking journalism and writing are the same thing.  They are not.  You will not find much writing in a magazine.  Journalism is not writing, as it seldom creates any new ideas or experiments with new approaches to writing.  Its aim is to convey clearly why you should or shouldn’t buy something.  No room for experimentation, the meaning will get lost.  There is also what I call the ‘Earnestly Whimsical’ school of journalism, which attempts to shoehorn the euphoric zeal and skattiness of a ziner into a corporate rags column inches.  Never works for me as it always seems like they’re trying too hard to be kooky, and their voices always somehow manage to be indistinct.  I also think zine writing is generally only poor when it seeks to ape a ‘professional’ journalistic style of writing.

So again I think zines offer writers freedom to actually produce writing and not journalism, so they win.  I think for me the distinction between criticism and reviewing are not so important as the distinction between zines and writing on the one hand and magazines and journalism on the other.   I admire Idwal Fisher’s approach to reviewing music he doesn’t care for, long tangential musings that skirt the music entirely.  But they are entertaining and you sort of get what he’s getting at.  If you get me. So yeah, what Miguel said basically (Editor’s note: see Miguel’s comment on original piece below).

But I suppose you’re also asking, is criticism useful to outsider artists?  I think probably not, because most criticism of a ‘vision’ only seeks to rein it back into conventional notions of excellence or good taste.  And good taste should be avoided wherever possible.

Oh, and the sad thing is, there is no such thing as ‘critic school’.  People get thrown in there and suddenly their word is law.  Maybe there should be.  Or maybe critic school is a journalism degree, but do many people do one thinking their dream job is to write for the Wire.  It makes me suspect some people would be happy to write about Stockhausen or copy for a travel brochure, whichever pays better.

Anyway, enough from me.  I really should get my own blog, but I never find the time between replying to other people’s.

My thanks to Comrade X and I hope they do somehow find the time for their own blog – I would certainly be an avid reader.

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