Music and journalism were once lodestones of both daily life and collective experience—the newspaper, unfolded and read on the way to work on the subway or commuter rail; the LP, spun in bedrooms and dens, or the cassette tape played in the car those nights when everyone sang along, back when everyone knew the lyrics. Those lodestones are going or gone. The music industry and the news industry were both once the foundation of mass culture. That monoculture is shattering, for better or worse, into “minor cultures”—many different and splintered communities, served by many different sources of music and news.
Both industries have lost buyers. Yet both have gained audiences in the last five years. While there was a total CD sales decline of 15 percent between 2006 and 2007, the sale of digital tracks increased by 48.5 percent in that same period, and God knows how many illegal downloads there were. And while people may not be buying newspapers in droves, many more are reading them online. The print circulation of the daily New York Times, for example, is down to just over a million, but online it has risen to around 13 million unique visitors each month. Both industries, and the individuals who work in them, are looking for ways to draw income and support from those expanding audiences, and maybe journalists can look to musicians for a move or two.
There is one place, though, where the similarities between reporters (i.e. shy egotists) and rock musicians fall apart. Bands have always engaged in adamant self-branding—think David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust or Madonna’s many incarnations. Journalists, on the other hand, have been more diffident and willfully depersonalized. With the exception of New Journalists—those ancestors to the bloggers and the multiplatform authors of today—journalists aren’t usually full-on peacocks. They put the story before themselves and attempt to render others as if with invisible hands. Journalists have been taught to erase the individual—remember the Unbiased Media ideal that was hammered into us as young journalists? (We are also unlikely to go on “reunion tours” during which we discuss our long-forgotten “hit” features.)
Yet some journalists certainly know how to promote their names and personae, and their bylines appear to have multiplied. Images of their faces bob seductively beside their names. In the Too Much Information Age, journalists’ biographies—once not supposed to intrude on the story—have moved toward the center of it. And for better or worse, all of us in all the culture industries not only have to go back to the premodern storytelling mode, but also learn how to give our work away without getting ripped off and how to have fervid e-mail relationships with our audiences. We must also at least pretend we have interesting personalities and act like we are a little larger than life.