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Pitchfork faces layoffs and restructuring under Condé Nast

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Pitchfork is changing. Back in 2015, Conde Nast bought the highly influential website for music reviews, interviews and news. Now the company is folding Pitchfork into the men's magazine GQ and laying off staff. NPR music critic and correspondent Ann Powers is here to talk about what the world of music stands to lose if Pitchfork as we know it disappears. Hey, Ann.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hey. How are you doing?

SHAPIRO: Good. To start with some context, how did Pitchfork start and evolve into this go-to music website that we know today?

POWERS: Well, you know, Pitchfork started in the late '90s. It was founded by Ryan Schreiber, who at the time was barely out of high school. He was a record store clerk, and he started it the way a lot of things started then - as a blog. They started publishing daily record reviews and, over time, became extremely influential for their highly opinionated reviews and their scoring system, which gave a number score to albums. And by the kind of early 2010s, they were considered, you know, kingmakers, queenmakers of especially indie rock. At the time, they super-focused on indie rock, but now they're one of the most eclectic music publications out there.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, it's really broadened from that kind of, like, Grizzly Bear, Radiohead, Arcade Fire...

POWERS: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...World of white male indie rock...

POWERS: Right.

SHAPIRO: ...To way more genres than that. Tell us about how it expanded.

POWERS: Yeah, well, you know, for the past five years, Puja Patel has led the magazine. But even before that, I think editors like Mark Richardson and Jessica Hopper were working to, you know, reflect music culture as it actually exists, which means, let's acknowledge women. Let's acknowledge, you know, more hip-hop, more global music, more jazz, more avant garde electronic music. Let's really try to get our arms around what music culture is as a whole, and I think that that's one of the most important things about Pitchfork now. It carries over the kind of influence and power that that more laser-focused, early version of Pitchfork had. But it really is one of the most eclectic and diverse websites out there.

SHAPIRO: I mean, I get so many music pitches for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED citing the score that an album got from Pitchfork.

POWERS: Right.

SHAPIRO: What does it mean if that no longer exists as we have known it to be for so many years once it's folded into GQ?

POWERS: It's a great question. You know, first of all, we don't know. Maybe the record reviews - you know, daily record reviews will continue. We will have to wait and see. But I do think this extreme power that Pitchfork had, in a way, to create reputations for artists, to just expose people to artists - that may be changing. And there's a lot of sadness out there because those of us who love the album review form - we want the best qualities of it to survive, you know, even as the landscape and the technology of music media changes.

SHAPIRO: So can we see this as part of a broader trend of moving away from - forgive me for saying so - the authoritative critic and towards something that is a little bit more egalitarian, a little bit more kind of the town hall consensus?

POWERS: OK. First, I have to say, ouch. That hurts.

SHAPIRO: Sorry, Ann.

POWERS: (Laughter) It's OK. I don't know. I mean, you know, one thing I noticed that I've noticed in the past 24 hours as the news that Pitchfork laid off so much of its staff and, incidentally, so many great women who were editors there and people of color got laid off, I think I've seen a lot of musicians, even ones who got terrible Pitchfork scores, really lamenting the loss - the potential loss of what they're doing. So even as things are changing, I hope what we hang on to is the kind of considered approach, the writerly approach to media coverage of music. That's what I fear we might lose.

SHAPIRO: That is an authoritative critic who we can never get enough of, NPR Music's Ann Powers. Thank you so much for your insight.

POWERS: Thanks. Thanks for doing this segment.

(SOUNDBITE OF NXWORRIES SONG, "WHERE I GO (FEAT. H.E.R.)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ann Powers
Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR.org and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music podcasts.
Megan Lim
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's flagship afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. He has been a question on Jeopardy and an answer in the New York Times crossword puzzle. He has filed stories from above the Arctic Circle and aboard Air Force One, and he has covered wars in Iraq, Ukraine and Israel. His debut memoir, The Best Strangers In the World, was an instant New York Times bestseller. He has also performed as a singer in some of the world's most storied venues, from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl.
Sarah Handel