MediaPitchfork's female contributors respond to Condé Nast's acquisition and "millennial males” comment
Condé Nast's chief digital officer Fred Santarpia said that the music site's value comes from a “very passionate audience of millennial males." We asked female contributors to respond.
Yesterday was a big day for independent music fans when the widely read, and sometimes notorious, music website Pitchfork was bought by media giant Condé Nast for an undisclosed amount. This is a blow for fans who counted on the website as a bastion of independent music journalism. But one line in the New York Times story on the purchase incited more controversy than the deal itself. The paper quoted Condé Nast's chief digital officer Fred Santarpia saying that Pitchfork's value comes from a “very passionate audience of millennial males."
It's true that the site's readership is primarily male, but for many female readers and contributors, the comment felt like a slap in the face*—particularly because recently it's felt like Pitchfork has come so far. In the last few years, the website has shifted away from its previous reputation as a "boys club" by hiring the noted feminist author Jessica Hopper to run their print publication Pitchfork Review and blog The Pitch, and by giving space to a diverse range of contributors and viewpoints.
So why would Santarpia make this assertion? Was it just a recognition of the bare demographics or something more? Will the site turn their coverage towards the goal of attracting more young men in the future? To answer these questions, we turned to those most in the know: Pitchfork's present and past female contributors and staffers. They gave us their reactions to yesterday's events and their hopes for the future.
Reporter, Newsweek, Pitchfork contributor
I didn't so much feel upset by that quote as much as I was stunned by how out of touch it is. Not sure what Pitchfork's numbers are, but I doubt they are consciously pandering towards male millennial audiences. I would be shocked if that was the case. I've never gotten that sense from reading the site, and if I had, I'm not sure I would have started writing for them anyhow. And in recent years, I think Pitchfork has positively expanded its coverage of reviews, reissues and features quite a bit in an effort to encompass different genres and sensibilities that aren't just exclusively of interest to millennials.
And re: the implication that the site is exclusively for male audiences...that just eludes me. I mean, what would Pitchfork be without the fantastic women and non-binary folks who have made it the force of nature it is? Jess Hopper, Carrie Battan, Lindsay Zoladz, Jenn Pelly, Meagan Garvey, Laura Snapes? That's not even mentioning the incredible diversity and array of freelancers they recruit (yours truly not included), like Britt Julious, Puja Patel, Anupa Mistry, Jes Skolnik? These are some of Pitchfork's best writers and critical thinkers, period.
That said, the quote is also certainly not representative of what Pitchfork is about, at least to me. The website's ethos has been about championing the efforts of paradigm-shifting artists and, as of late, contextualizing certain popular music within our culture. And that means artists of all colors, creeds, genders and sexual orientations. I know this from personal experience: Pitchfork has taken pitches of mine that haven't been accepted by anywhere else on the grounds of being too niche, not popular enough, etc. They give a shit about music, all kinds of music by all kinds of people.
So I think that quote reducing Pitchfork's audience to just "millennial males" is not only a misrepresentation of what Pitchfork is about, as well as the people who put their soul into making this publication what it is, but it bodes terribly for continued equal representation and diversity in pop culture journalism.
I was incredibly frustrated by the "millennial male" quote. "Really, this again?" I thought. I've been reading Pitchfork since I was in college in the early 2000s. It was my first exposure to music criticism, and I've followed the site throughout its growth, always inspired by the quality of the writing and the flavor of the coverage. I remember wishing I could have my own writing published on the site one day. It felt like a magical place that housed writing by people at the top of their craft, but with the wit and humor I found missing from more mainstream places. It mirrored the way I talked about music with my friends. Pitchfork hasn't always hit the mark, but then again, is that true of any publication? Its "hipster" reputation never bothered me—I found that insult to be lobbed at the site by Olds. And I really believe that the work being done today by an incredible staff of women writers and editors is ushering in Pitchfork's truest form.
These days, I read the site more excitedly than I did even in college. The quality of the reviews and critical essays are some of the highest quality work being done in this field. The pieces are nuanced and reasoned; there's no firebrand criticism or weak arguments. And recently I had my first piece published on Pitchfork, and it was one of my most exciting moments as a writer. I was so thrilled that I celebrated with a slice of carrot cake. I am not a millennial male, but Pitchfork's legacy still inspires me today, and I will loyally read the site as long as they continue to publish outstanding work.
Even if this guy was talking business demographics, why aren't women seen as a viable market in 2015? And why doesn't he realize that this could alienate potential readers and advertisers?
From a personal standpoint, I'm almost numb to it at this point. As a Gen X female, I've been told for the past 20 years that my voice isn't important or I'm not the target market. In my heart, I know it's not true.
In the bigger picture, I am worried about what impact this belief system will have on Pitchfork's content, especially with the recent hiring of Jessica Hopper and her great editorial choices.
That quote, more than anything, was an affront to my decade-long readership of Pitchfork. I found the site at 15 and it was a godsend: a place dedicated to the music I loved, at an age when feeling validated about your passions is crucial. Pitchfork was a huge influence on me becoming a writer, as I suspect it was and continues to be for many other young women who love music. So to have some digital content strategist completely dismiss my experience as a passionate music fan because I'm a woman? Regardless of statistical accuracy, it's infuriating and dismaying. And particularly as of the last year, it does not reflect what Pitchfork seems to be about. From Jessica Hopper's focusing of The Pitch on marginalized voices to the site's overall treatment of women as both musicians and fans, Pitchfork has made clear to its readers that it's not a boys' club despite its demographics. The quote made me worried Condé Nast wants to undo, or at least doesn't care about, all of that work. And that's very disheartening.
*Disclosure: the author of this piece has also contributed to Pitchfork.