The question “what do readers want?” has hovered over any media business worth its advertising revenue for years, but in 2012, it took on more urgency. Any item worth its pixels this year was built for sharing, for posting on Twitter or in friends’ Facebook newsfeeds and multiplexing from there. Sometimes these shareable pieces would dig deeply into a topic with a new perspective; more often they would play off already-existing biases, asserting them or proudly acting the contrarian.
Music writing — the mishmash of news, reviews, lists, self-promotional social media updates, reports on those updates — was not immune to the ever-stronger pressure on media companies to goad readers into acting as their own town criers; if anything, the pressures of social media brought the ways in which people learn about music home. Genre-spanning lists that include familiar names, nostalgia grabs or bold declarations (or, ideally, all three) can bring in eyeballs from all over the taste spectrum, from angry enthusiasts to chuckling casual fans; scandal-free news bites on new artists, on the other hand, might only bring in fans of that band, or the occasional relative. Some sites, buoyed by their name recognition and traffic from coverage of other topics, only dipped into the realm of photo galleries and lists when they absolutely had to; others went whole-hog with the pandering, spreading their conventional wisdom over 40-page photo galleries containing a Katy Perry cleavage shot or two. Most outlets — their brands playing second fiddle in readers’ browsing habits to Facebook and Twitter — unsteadily meandered in between the poles, hoping to hold on to their critical credibility while indulging in a gallery here or tweet reportage there.
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