Steven O’Rourke’s Thesis.

So a gentleman called Steven O’Rourke did a Master’s thesis called Is There A Future In Dancing About Architecture? An examination of the role of the professional music journalist in Ireland in an era of citizen journalism which you can read in summary form or in full in pdf at his website. Nay posted about it today, responding fairly scathingly to it. Along with the two of us, Asleep On The Compost Heap, 2UIBestow and Swear I’m Not Paul were interviewed, plus Nialler9, John Meagher of the Irish Independent, Jim Carroll of the Irish Times and Stuart Clarke of Hot Press.

I encouraged Steven to post the thesis online to stimulate some debate on a piece of work done to academic standards, so at some point I should probably respond at length with my own thoughts on it and my thoughts on what Nay said. But for now, I’ll follow something else she did and post the full transcript of what I said to him here. Fuck how I look.

Sent 2nd July 2010 from Dave Chappelle’s block, Bed-Stuy, New York.

1. What is your opinion on the current state of Irish music journalism and what publications do you read/websites do you visit?

There’s definitely a sense of doom surrounding the whole Irish music press. There’s Hot Press, but I don’t read Hot Press and I don’t think many of the people I hang around with and talk about music with do either, so I’m not sure they’re necessarily credible. Beyond that, a string of magazines (Foggy, Analogue, State) tried to set themselves up as alternatives but ended up going bust or “going online”, which is essentially slang and to a certain degree self-deception for “failed as print magazine, willing to try the next best thing”. That said, I don’t think the absence of a credible sort of press hegemon in Ireland is a bad thing. It’s because we grew up in the NME/Melody Maker/Smash Hits/Q sphere that we believe music journalists are the be all and end all, but they’re not really. America was never as press-led as that, and Ireland doesn’t have to be.

In terms of Irish print publications with music coverage, I write for Totally Dublin and Alternative Ulster, and I read almost anything. The Ticket, Day and Night, Hot Press in scenarios where it’s to be got for free, any of the rotating cast of freesheets that show up in Dublin, student papers, and then the whole gamut of British stuff (Wire, The Guardian, Sunday Times, NME, Plan B [RIP]. Online I read a blogroll worth of Irish music/personal blogs, especially Hardcore For Nerds (http://hardcorefornerds.tumblr.com) and Asleep on The Compost Heap (http://onavery.blogspot.com), and then Vice, Onion AV Club, Pitchfork, Cokemachineglow, State, Drowned In Sound – but not religiously. Dipping in and out, which is the way nowadays.

2. How does it compare with music journalism in this country 10 years ago?

Evidently it’s in a worse position per music journalism, but that doesn’t mean the world’s in a worse state. It’s harder to work as a journalist, and it’s harder to have a magazine. But it’s not the world’s job to support an industry that considers itself particularly important, even if I consider it important too. So I’m not necessarily lamenting the decline.

3. In your opinion, what is most important role of the professional music journalist in Ireland at this time?

Having good and honest ears, basically. There’s nothing particularly white knight-y about being a music journalist, but if you’re not open to everything, honest about it when you hear it (especially if it’s Irish – hello Hot Press and your two extra stars for anything Irish with a bit of promise), and non-jaded enough to want to make other people excited when you get excited, there’s no point. If you do that, you’ll be doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Specifically, I suppose, Jim Carroll gets a lot of people to a lot of gigs. Nialler9 is the kind of guy who can save an Irish band 9 months of small gigs by hyping them up enough right at the start.

4. How does Irish music journalism (both professionally and in terms of blogging) compare – in terms of quality/diversity – with music journalism you’ve experienced in other countries?

It’s worse, and less diverse. We don’t have enough people. It’s not our fault. There are some great writers, and there have been some scattered salad days in terms of print journalism, but we don’t have a critical mass to provide an audience for good music criticism, really. That’s partly why Analogue and Foggy Notions went under I think. They were, to Mr X. who’s into Arcade Fire but also Richard Reed Parry’s side-project or something, clearly more worth reading than Hot Press, but if not enough people think that, it can’t exist. Blogging is much less reliant on having a mass following. It’s more hinged on specific personalities, specific places and specific stuff, so I would say that Irish blogging is about equal to blogging elsehwere, if you compare like with like. I mean, compare Irish blogging with Atlanta blogging or something on a similar scale. I read way more Irish blogs than foreign blogs and that’s not conscious, so we must doing something right.

5. How has the Internet changed music journalism in Ireland?

The biggest change the internet made anywhere was about access. Instead of trusting five magazines, you read ten magazine-style sites and twenty blogs, and pick out what you like. In Ireland, that translates to one or two magazines in the past, but the same amount of magazine-style sites and blogs. And obviously with the advent of music being free whether it likes it or not, the grip that print journalism has on what people listen to is loosened even more. So now the only purpose of music journalism in Ireland is to be good, to be worth reading ahead of the alternatives. Some is, some isn’t.

6. Is its new role generally positive or negative?

Is music journalism’s role positive or negative? It’s positive. The internet’s influence on print journalism has been negative, its influence on music journalism in general has been softly positive, and its influence on music listeners has been strongly positive.

7. Who do you believe has the bigger influence on the music buying/gig going public, professional music journalists or music bloggers (with the exception of Nialler9 – who we’ll come to next)?

This is a difficult question, because the money-spending public aren’t necessarily who bloggers are talking to. Jim Carroll harping about the Hold Steady probably sold a few hundred more copies of that album in Ireland than Patrick Kelleher winning Nialler9’s end of year Irish album poll, but Nialler9’s not necessarily out to break anyone. Neither am I, and neither are most of the bloggers I know. We’re out to let people who are interested know about things we’ve heard and are excited about. It’s about sharing, not imparting. I would say pro journalists still have more influence, but the community that read blogs are a large part of what’s keeping Irish music existing, keeping the scene great and keeping smaller touring bands coming.

8. Taking Nialler9 as an example of someone with a foot in both camps, which of the following scenarios do you believe is most likely to happen in Irish music journalism and why?
a) There will be no requirement for professional music journalists in the future, music bloggers will saturate the market.
b) Professional music journalists will publish more of their material online squeezing music bloggers out of the market.
c) There is a future for both professional music journalists and music bloggers, the status quo will remain.
d) Your own prediction for the future of music journalism, please explain.

There is a future for both, but it’s not status quo. There’ll be pro music journalism as long as there’s an Irish Times or whatever, but it takes nothing to start a blog, and nothing but enthusiasm to keep it going. Blogs will start and end and do what they do in terms of spreading music to each other and to other readers, and music journalists will write and interview with a slightly more structured approach. There’ll be fewer of them than there are now, but they’ll be there.

9. What three reasons do you think people have for visiting a site like Those Geese Were Stupefied instead of going to an print publication like the Irish Times or Hot Press?

No matter what I say here I’m going to sound in love with myself, but I’ll try to be honest.

1. I cover what I consider to be exclusively good Irish music in interviews and stuff. I don’t cover stuff just because it’s Irish, but I cover a lot. A lot of bands would do their first interview, or their first vaguely heavy thinking about themselves on that project on my blog. And I have space to do that whenever I want, with Villagers (who lots of people care about) or Porn on Vinyl (who fewer people care about). Print can’t do that.

2. A writer’s personality I suppose has something to do with it. That’s a lot of why I read other blogs, so maybe that’s why people read mine.

3. It’s free and not many clicks away at any given time, if you’re trying to fill up time while you’re running a bath or something.

That said, I would discourage people from reading Those Geese INSTEAD of print journalism. It’ll still be there when they have recycled their Irish Times.

10. What do you think the future holds for professional music journalists in Ireland and why?

As I said, there’ll be fewer of them than there are now, but presuming Hot Press survives on its large subscriber base, and there are newspapers still around, there’ll be professional music journalists. But print is contracting in general. And the thing is, there is no dividing line between bloggers and professional music journalists. I write for print and occasionally get paid very small sums of money for doing so. I have a friend who was a blogger for a long time and now writes for the NME, Independent, Irish Times and loads of other things. Ireland’s so small that that hybrid caste is probably what’s going to end up doing most of the writing. Bloggers are people willing to write about music at length for no money in their own time. Logical that they’d do it for little money for print in the future as well. Plus a journalism degree doesn’t automatically make you an un-stuffy well-informed music journalist, any more than screen-gazing and making snarky comments on Stereogum posts, so there’s no difference there really.

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4 responses to “Steven O’Rourke’s Thesis.

  1. Salient points, well made. RE journalism degrees providing a false sense of entitlement when it comes to artistic criticism; couldn’t agree more. See it every day in college myself, more so amongst MAs than undergrads for some reason. “Those bloggers – what do they know? We’ll be qualified to professionally slate albums when we finish here…” etc. Half of them dream of writing for Hot Press full time. It’s upsetting.
    Maybe all the decent Irish music journalists and writers should set up their own publication and make a proper stab at it. No matter how much talk there is about the demise of the ‘dead tree media’, some people (including myself) just like the feel of a solid block of pages of well-written copy, good photos and decent layout in their hands. Just saying.

  2. I fully agree. My house is just a stack of magazines at this point and I edit a print thing in college. It’s just a matter of figuring out how print and blogs are supposed to relate, I suppose.

  3. hey, thanks for the confidential shout-out!
    some really good responses in there, especially about the blurring of lines/hybridisation between print and online.
    I must re-read the thesis, but your description of the professional music journalist’s role sounds a lot like cheerleading, but in a good way, and I’m not sure if that difference was picked up on; or if that whole framework was tested at all to see if it *accurately* matched the respondents’ perceptions. same with the idea of “sharing, not imparting” (fancy Trinners semi-pro-journo words!)

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