Monday, July 04, 2011

Cut & paste journalism

I've been reading the current issue of Mix Magazine, which covers the professional audio industry. I've read Mix for years, and it's one of my favorite trade magazines, but it's indulging in what I call "cut & paste journalism". It makes me doubt the independence and the veracity of what the magazine publishes. Here are a few examples:
  • In an article on sound for the movie "Transformers: Dark of the Moon", re-recording mixer Greg P. Russell is quoted as saying "We want to have a defined soundscape, so it's not just a wall of mess--it's very articulate, with a lot of detail and definition." Later on, he says "The movie is really big and bold, but it's not painful." The writer of the article, Matt Hurwitz, didn't challenge Russell on any of his assertions; in fact, the article is written as one big advertisement for the movie.

    The problem is that almost every review of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" comments on just how loud, painful and muddied the movie's sound is. It's possible that it sounded wonderful in the multi-million dollar mixing theater that Russell and his colleagues used, but it doesn't sound that way in real-world theaters. Mr. Hurwitz could have asked Mr. Russell about director Michael Bay's reputation for making his movies abusively loud, and what (if anything) Mr. Russell and his team might have done to fix things for this movie, but the question apparently never came up.
  • An article on "Ribbons on the Road", about using ribbon microphones, which are notoriously fragile, in the field, turned into an advertisement for Royer's R-121, R-122 and SF-24 microphones. Only one other vendor of ribbons, sE Electronics, is even mentioned. There are many other companies that make ribbons; are Royer's customers the only ones who made the editorial cut?
  • An article titled "Versatile Sound: New Loudspeaker Arrays for All Venues", is nothing more than a list of pull quotes from press releases and data sheets from more than 25 vendors. There's so little original writing involved that it doesn't even qualify for a byline. Would you like to know how the sound of these speakers compares? Interested in information on their manufacturing quality? Sorry, don't look here.
None of these examples includes the "New Products" section, which is also filled with quotes and pictures from press releases, with no editorial input except to shorten the releases for space. Yes, Mix does do reviews, but you have to look very hard to find one, in this or any other issue in recent memory, that suggests that you shouldn't buy the reviewed product.

I'm not saying that Mix's editorial standards are egregious; rather, they're representative of a wide range of trade publications that fill up far too many of their pages with editorial content that should more accurately be labeled as "advertorial", or simply as advertising. Journalistic standards and credibility in the U.S. are, by many measures, at an all-time low. Life is too short to waste it reading advertising disguised as an editorially-independent magazine.
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