Tuesday, June 02, 2015

NZ Listener loses music critics

I heard about a month ago that The Listener's longstanding music writers, Nick Bollinger, Jim Pinckney aka Stinky Jim, and Kiran Dass, were quitting. This was due to the changes introduced by the Listener's arts editor, Mark Broatch, and  the ongoing contract issue with Bauer Magazines and its freelancers. The Listener's film critic David Larsen also departed.

The changes Broatch talks about below, such as both editorial and their readers wanting a wider range of music - including popular - covered, seems utterly pointless, given that is the kind of coverage you can find anywhere, especially online.

Losing your point of difference ie, hugely knowledgeable writers, for the sake of popularism, seems short-sighted, to say the least.

Christina Campbell of AUT's Te Waha Nui recently talked with those involved, to get the story. See Longstanding critics quit after changes to Listener’s music column (29 May)

Excerpts: "Nick Bollinger, Jim Pinckney and Kiran Dass resigned last month [April] after being given what they called an “ultimatum” by the magazine’s arts editor, Mark Broatch.

Mr Broatch announced the column would be halved in length to 500 words and their pay would also be halved. He asked the critics to write about “stuff that readers might actually want to buy or will be excited to find out about” in the future. Changes prior to this included the introduction of a star-rating system for music being reviewed and a greater emphasis on images.

Implications for journalism

Mr Pinckney, who’s written for the Listener for 15 years, told Te Waha Nui the changes indicated the magazine wanted “easier, snappier” journalism with less substance.

“We have always written to inform and educate the readers. We gave opinionated reviews that were factually backed up and well-argued.”

Mr Bollinger, a Listener critic for 25 years, said this style was what made the Listener what it was.

He said his columns initiated “a discussion of music at the kind of level you don’t read about popular music in other media ... Standing back and giving a considered review is what the Listener does best.”

He thinks the Listener has pandered to the idea that articles must be short to retain a reader’s attention.

“I just don’t believe that. I think there’s enough publications out there that do that. The Listener’s whole point of difference ought to be that this is where you do get a considered, contextual discussion on a subject.”

Mr Pinckney said such changes in journalism were “frightening”. The Listener had always “operated on a different level” and had aimed for substance, he said.

“When everything is being dragged down, you can follow that, or you can choose to make a stand, which the Listener has consistently done over the years, and say no, we are the journal of record.”

Listener’s response

Mr Broatch said changes were “constant” in journalism, particularly “at this kind of junction of journalism in society”.

“[The magazine is] always changing. It is changing and remains open to change.” He said the changes to the music pages were in response to a survey of readers.

“[Readers] offered their opinion on a range of subjects, but in regards to the music pages they basically said, ‘Can we have a broader range of music on offer and, you know, can you give us music that we will enjoy finding out about and we can actually buy?’”

“What we wanted [and] what our readers wanted . . . was a wider range that included popular [music] – the stuff that perhaps appears on the top 20 artists.” 

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