Out With The Pitchforks

What Condé Nast did to Pitchfork this week is a travesty, and worse, it deeply misunderstands the publication Pitchfork was becoming.

By Ernie Smith

It was a small change in the midst of a day of bigger changes, but it accented it ever so succinctly: Yesterday was the first day I ever ran into a registration wall on Pitchfork, a site I’ve read basically every day since I was in college.

It just so happened that it appeared on the same day that, out of nowhere, Condé Nast decided to let go of a huge chunk of the digital publication’s staff, in a move that I would best describe as infuriating. Even more, they decided to shove Pitchfork under the control of GQ, in a completely nonsensical move that feels less like a smart strategic decision and more of a clever ploy to work around Pitchfork’s union.

Maybe I was naïve, but I didn’t think they would come for Pitchfork, this great publication that was still telling me new things about the world of music on a daily basis, and whose reporting had surfaced some important things in recent years. The Pitchfork of the Condé Nast era has not been afraid to report on the music scene it covers with a critical eye, putting sunlight on the bad behavior of musicians it helped to bring to prominence, such as Mark Kozelek, Ryan Adams, or Win Butler.

ANOHNI is a treasure.

Meanwhile, it has used its position to avoid just telling stories about the music scene from a white male perspective. It has championed artists who did not fit these parameters, such as ANOHNI, Yves Tumor, Mitski, and FKA twigs, just to name four examples of many. And its most recent year-end top 50 albums list, which in prior decades might have been filled with a ton of traditional beards-and-haircuts indie rock bands, reflected a willingness to broaden the audience’s musical tastes.

Tedium on Patreon

Keep Us Moving! Tedium takes a lot of time to work on and snark wise about. If you want to help us out, we have a Patreon page where you can donate. Keep the issues coming!

We accept advertising, too! Check out this page to learn more.

I would argue that Pitchfork, despite the criticism it has received, has often been great, but its efforts in the past few years to rethink its approach to music coverage have been welcome. I think a telling moment in Pitchfork’s history came on August 19, 2019. That was the day that the website, in a clear course correction from its past, did an appraisal of Taylor Swift’s first five albums, records that it would not have been caught dead reviewing a decade earlier. It was a statement of the kind of site Pitchfork needed to become—one that accepts that our influences come from the mainstream and the underground.

Another important date came in October 2021, when it decided to re-score a number of old reviews, some of which had famously low scores. The most notable of these was a review of Liz Phair’s self-titled record, perhaps the most uncomfortable review in the site’s entire collection—and was unofficially upgraded from a 0.0 to a 6.0. To me, it is a sign of a site, reputation forged by a handful of reviews written decades ago, that knows it has never been perfect, but wants to do better.

Scroobius Pip isn’t really a treasure, but this is nonetheless a wonderful time capsule.

One of my favorite savage reviews in the Pitchfork archives came in 2008, when they reviewed a joint album by producer dan le sac and rapper Scroobius Pip. It was extremely mean, clearly upset about the on-high-rules-of-hipsterdom tone of the record, and described as “one of the most musically bankrupt and altogether philosophically fucked albums you’d be wise enough to avoid this year or any.” It got a 0.2.

I think it is telling that one of the recipients of that review, dan le sac, was a voice speaking up for Pitchfork yesterday. On the site I still call Twitter, he wrote:

Pitchfork getting gutted is a net negative for musicians everywhere. And I say that as the proud owner of (potentially) the lowest score on the site. Whether you agree with a reviewer or not, music needs more journalism, not less.

Pitchfork is an immensely important publication, one that was not failing. But it was broken because of leadership that did not understand its value or what its staff was doing. I don’t blame Ryan Schreiber and company for selling to Condé. I’d argue it was the right home for it, and they deserved the opportunity to move on. Ultimately, Condé shouldn’t have bought it if this is what they were going to do, though.

It is a publication that was borne of a male-centric indie music sphere, but it has done a lot to correct past failings. And what did they get for it? Anna Wintour apparently thinking the best home for this publication being under the organizational umbrella of a men’s magazine, the kind of organizational decision that happens when you’re not actually keeping the eye on the ball.

Music fans deserve better. Pitchfork deserves better.

Perfect-Ten Links

Andy Baio, who gave the mid-2010s social network Ello its first real pushback, returns to the subject to assess its failure.

I have never been to a CES—maybe one of these years—but I will say, based on what I’ve gathered online, it was one of the better ones this year. One of the best things to come of it came from Digital Trends, which uncovered a new display technology just before it left.

Great, we’re competing against AI garbage on Google.


Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal! And back at this tomorrow.


Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

Find me on: Website Twitter