Music Journalism in the Age of the Internet

I am well aware I’m not the first journalist to write about the internet and how it’s affecting my job and my life, but recently I read a very interesting (and very German, sorry) article about something called “slow journalism”. What they mean by slow journalism is quite simple – to produce a good piece of writing, be it review or interview, the journalist has to invest a lot of time in a number of things. Listening to music and building a sense of what makes things good, getting to know the album or artist they’re reviewing, doing research and finding the best possible words.

This is a great concept and it is very true. But my first thought, I couldn’t help it, was: Why spend so many hours on something most people click, skim and leave for. Basically, why spend hours writing something that will be seen for about 30 seconds, while they read the headline and the first two sentences, scroll down, read another sentence and then impatiently tap the little x at the top of the screen to return to their Twitter timeline.

That little first thought does not stem from malevolence. It is a fact that the internet has changed our brains. Scientists have found about twice as much activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brains of people who regularly use the internet, for example for work. This specific area of our brain is responsible for short-term memory and quick decision-making, which are both incredibly important factors when we think about the mass of information we are faced with. We would quite possibly go insane if our brain didn’t filter it all for us.

Research has proven over and over again that we, as a species, want as much information, with as little time spent acquiring said information, as possible. We have things to do, we want the internet, to be even faster and quicker to teach us things than it already is. Writing for this generation is a gamble, it’s true. Especially now that you can barely survive working one job or one project at a time, at least in my chosen field. You need more and more time for different things to make a living. Many have sighed out a frustrated “why bother, then” and moved on to something else, and I can’t blame them.

But, here’s where I think it only starts to get interesting. Because as music journalists, with a very passionate and appreciative audience, we don’t simply have the task to transfer information. While a news update is a simple collection of facts, a review can be as colourful and beautifully worded as any piece of creative writing. We create art about art. We try to convey information as creatively as possible, even though writing in itself is a creative activity.

And art has always had this imbalance between the ‘process of creating’ and the ‘process of consumption’. Take a rather excessive example, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It took Michelangelo 4 years to paint it and you can see all of it in about an hour. Same with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia whose construction began in 1882 and it’s still not done. You can take a little tour of it in maybe an hour or two. And it’s breathtaking.

What I’m trying to say here is that writing the review, listening to the album over and over again or taking notes on my phone in a rowdy crowd at a gig, is fun. The fact that I spend a lot of time creating something that thousands of people will scroll past or give up on after a few lines does not bother me enough to stop doing it. I can say that I’ve understood the album I reviewed, that I took time to watch the audience and gave an accurate representation of the atmosphere, or I get a tweet from an artist, telling me they liked how I described them. It’s worth it. Call me naïve if you will.

Alas, at the end of this little journey on my train of thought, I have to say I hope at least some people have made it this far, be it because they skipped through most of it and went to see what the conclusion might be, or because it’s a friend who read this because of a sense of duty (no offense). Still, I hope, despite everything I’ve said up to this point, that you could take something away from all of this. Because even I am human and feel the need to connect to others and make a little dent into the shape of our society. Getting paid would be nice, too, but you know. I’ll take what I can get.

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