Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The Stool Pigeon flies the coop

As music newspaper The Stool Pigeon ceases publication, what can we expect from online music journalism in the future?

Mon, Feb 11, 2013, 09:25


Another one bites the dust: last week’s announcement by UK music paper The Stool Pigeon that they were standing down of their own volition is further proof that printing an inky paper dedicated to music stuff is not a viable enterprise in this day and age. As editor Phil Hebblethwaite put it, “running out 60,000 copies of a free newspaper six times a year and distributing them to 100 cities/towns across the UK has become untenable, and also increasingly less effective and exciting than publishing journalism online.” The paper isn’t stopping because it’s broke – “we haven’t gone bust” says Hebblethwaite – but the effort involved in keeping this particular show on the road just “knackered” all concerned.

I’m sad to see it go. The Pigeon became a newspaper I’d regularly search out, chiefly to see Mickey Gibbons’ fantastic design and layout. The features and reviews were top-notch too – and rarely time-lagged, which is a hard trick to pull off for magazines – but Gibbons’ esoteric and idiosyncratic design as much as the content and fine writing (a lot of it in recent times penned by excellent Irish journalist Cian Traynor) drew me and other readers in (here’s a good read by former writer Hazel Sheffield on life at the coalface). The paper reminded old music media heads of the days when you had not one, not two but three weekly inky music newspapers on the newstands and each had its own distinctive voice, uniform and look.

Homebirds: Psy and David Lynch light up the Pigeon

But that’s all in the past and the future, as Hebblethwaite states, is online. You have plenty of sites which cover the same ground as the departed newspaper – see The Quietus, for instance, whose masthead features many names who featured in the Stool Pigeon – and you have blogs coming out your ear. Who needs print mags like the Pigeon or The Word or Spin when you have someone blogging every press release which comes into his email box? That, sadly, seems to be the future of music journalism: lots of music websites vying with oneanother to put up new videos which they’ve been told about by some PR working off a massive mailing list of email addresses.

Maybe it’s just me, but I want more sites like Fractured Air, my new favourite read. Now, here’s a beauty: superb minimal design, thoughtful writing and analysis, a site which feels as if it knows that it takes time to get know an album or artist but that this is time worth taking, a site which doesn’t rely on the news you read on Twitter an hour earlier to pull in eyeballs. Fractured Air gives the music the time and space (and air) to breath. We don’t want another bloody blog relaying the same bloody news as every other bloody blog – we want individuality, spirit, verve, attitude (laidback attitude is good y’all), an unique perspective. We’re humans, we want air.

Fractured Air FTW: illustration by Craig Carry, full article here

Like I said, it’s probably just me. I know this only too well at this stage. There’s only a few people who are after “longform music journalism, no ads, no hype, no limits” to quote Uncool when they went looking for cash for their online music publication. The people spoke and the people kept their hands in their pockets. Uncool says they’ll be back again once they’ve licked their wounds and written a new prospectus. Meanwhile, if you want great longform music pieces (like this, for example), you go the untraditional route.

So it goes. The future of music media online really is blogs listing the same handful of new releases and encoding the same videos which press officers have pimped to them. As anyone with a well populated RSS feed knows only too well, the stories and links which break on P4K or GvsB at 2pm GMT are everywhere by 5pm GMT. That’s the way the online world rolls – the big beasts dominate the narrative and everyone else just follows. Yes, I know there are ones which buck the trend – Fractured Air isn’t alone in this regard – but, in the main, music coverage online doesn’t differ all too much from blog to blog. You have the same bands (especially the same Irish bands on Irish sites) getting the same love and coverage as you click from site to site. It’s like the Stepford Wives in skinny jeans and hoodies.

Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with such short, sharp espressos, but the problems come when everyone is offering the same concoction and beverages. Do we really want such homogeneity in our music media? Are we happy with everyone following the same old lead as everyone else? Are the writers themselves really happy covering the same acts as their peers? Why do they follow the herd? Are readers really happy with the same aul’ coverage everywhere they click? What happened to the thrill of writing about stuff that no-one else was covering? Since when did music journalism become so damn dull and predictable? Why haven’t the last galley of mavericks being replaced by new, younger, sharper, skinnier guns? Don’t tell me that they’re waiting for the aul lads to leave the pitch – you don’t need the aul lads to leave the pitch to do stuff in 2013. You just knock a gap in a ditch and set up your own pitch. And please don’t tell me that all the mavercks have gone into farming. Time for a refresh.