In 2015, media conglomerate Condé Nast acquired the online music publication Pitchfork. On January 17th, 2024, it was announced that Pitchfork would be undergoing a restructuring, surrounding a merge with the men’s magazine GQ. Pitchfork has been known to be a prominent source for music journalism and criticism. Many believe that this reorganization of the publication will densely impact and affect its stature in terms of living up to its original purpose.
Two of the head senior editors and active contributors for Pitchfork, Puja Patel and Amy Philips, have been laid off from the company. Subsequent to this, just about half of the publication’s staff was laid off. This signaled that changes were about to come Pitchfork’s way, making many wonder what will become of it. It also brings up questions about the entirety of music journalism in general, as Pitchfork begins to meld with an editorial scene that brings lesser value toward creative and artistically spawned features.
Pitchfork was initially established in Minneapolis in 1996 by Ryan Schreiber, who began the publication out of his parents’ basement. It came from his desire to write authentic, genuine, and sincere reviews of independent and alternative music. Prior to Pitchfork, Schreiber barely had any experience with writing for print, but was inspired by the rise of the internet age in tune with the music community. Some of Schreiber’s earlier reviews include staple underground bands such as Radiohead, Broken Social Scene, and Modest Mouse. Many of these bands gained traction from these hipster-esque reviews geared toward a readership that preferred passionately written accounts on music.
Pitchfork became acknowledged for how it covered music in a way that felt like it derived directly from music lovers and enthusiasts. These were people who simply wanted to write about music that they enjoyed and had fun listening to. Up until the year of 2006, Pitchfork authors weren’t even getting paid. The publication functioned with only 6 employees and a couple of freelance writers here and there, posting several music reviews each day.
Image via Rolling Stone
Eventually, Pitchfork relocated to Chicago, and soon expanded its reach to other forms of media such as Pitchfork.tv on YouTube, the Pitchfork Review podcast, and later the Pitchfork Music Festival, which occurs on a yearly basis. Later on, Pitchfork extended its range to mainstream pop adjacent music. Here, it also began opening its coverage to other movements across popular culture. In 2015, Condé Nast officially took charge of Pitchfork, relocating its headquarters to the One World Trade Center in New York City.
This signified the start of Pitchfork’s descent into more commercialist approaches and methods. This was around the time Pitchfork had established a paywall on their site, which made it much less accessible and attainable to its readers. With Pitchfork’s previous inclination toward raw, unfiltered writing on music, we begin to see this as a threat to the honest, critical journalism we used to receive, courtesy of this beloved publication.
I can personally express my own disappointment and devastation over this. I’ve looked up to a good amount of publications like Pitchfork growing up, consistently viewing them as inspirations. I think that every music writer admires the original goals of Pitchfork. It was to develop a platform to have spirited discussions and dialogues surrounding music. It can only be hoped that music journalism still has a bright future ahead of it, one that doesn’t fade into the trenches of capitalism.