Are Music Journalists Just PR’s?

KitKat reports on the panel discussion this week. Thank you to guests Maria May, Senior Exec Creative Artists Agency, Stephanie Phillips, journalist and musician, Cassie Fox, head honcho of the Loud Women collective, and James Sherry, Division Promotions.

Today has been like breaking in a pair of new shoes. I travelled to London (which I hate), got snapped at by an angry bus driver, my dog was sick, I got lost, my dog-sitter went home, it started raining… Let’s just say, the journey in was less than ideal.

But it was so worth it.

ACM students awkwardly murmur to each other as the first speakers tumble into the small room, James Sherry of Division Promotions reminiscing of his Nirvana interviews. The panellists fondly think back to a time when journalists were rockstars in their own right before brand journalism decided to screw everyone over, except for that one middle-aged white man sitting in his glass office and carelessly flicking through the millions he’s made, of course.

Everett True and Kurt Cobain, respectively, backstage at Reading Festival, Richfield Avenue, Reading, UK. August 30th, 1992.

Our brains are popcorn. We are squished into a small room with energy and ideas bouncing around the walls until finally one of them pops and makes sense. The seminar posed a question: Are Journalists Just PR’s? I’m not sure we really answered it if I’m honest, but we had a damn good conversation either way.

“I’m a culture vulture. I like attaching myself to people’s hopes and dreams, but once established, I get bored, and go off to find new music. And the cycle continues –  for the purpose of great copy and a drive to write it that I can’t compare.  Ngaire Ruth (music critic and ex-Melody Maker writer and live editor thegirlsare)

James Sherry of Division Promotions claims it’s very much the same in Public Relations. In PR, Maria May of Creative Artists Agency in London continues, you may not have to love everything you’re working on, but you need some passion and drive from music. “Your living is a lifestyle”, so you have to let the music define what you do.

But do journalists really need to love music? Brand Journalism brought about the idea of using press as yet another form of marketing. You would practically pay for how someone reviewed you. Some journalists would even write a review without even going to it. 

A selection of Melody Maker’s Journalists

“There’s no big money in it anymore!” James Sherry continues. “The people in [journalism], want to be in it. You can earn a living if you’re clever, but you’ll never be rich.” He claims that because of this, no one is writing about bands they don’t really know, other than the few record labels who pay for an advert or an occasional extra mark on a scored review. Generally, he feels his job now is no different from his passions as a child; he hears music that he likes and shares it with people he knows – “You’ve gotta hear this!” 

“We’re in a weird place where no one wants to pay for journalism but everyone wants good journalism.” – Step Ney, musician, promoter and journalist

The current journalism trends are seemingly going back to the old punk fanzine style. People want to hear about the music they love by people who love it too. Magazines have had to become very narrow in their coverage to remotely succeed. Maria May says she finds young people are quick to move on to new things. Before, a review had a real impact. Now it’s just a huge playing field. “Are you really reading it and absorbing with it, or do you just scan it and move on?” 

Step Ney says that the journalism with little to no effort, thought or feeling put into it is getting lost over time. The journalistic pieces that stay are those that actually mean something. “We update people on every change but really it’s not something that will last, or stay with you.”

“Everything that we’re doing is documenting as we go along. It’s integral.” – Step Ney


The important thing to take away from this talk is that no matter the reason, if you are talking about an artist, or even putting your opinion into the word in any way, make it mean something. Don’t write or speak for the sake of it, and always assume there is someone more learned in the topic. Journalism can’t be saved because it isn’t dead, though that’s an entirely different article in itself, but, it can easily be bettered by people just thinking a little before they speak.


Read Ngaire Ruth’s Opinion piece

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