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July 13, 2009

Bad Vibrations

The death June 30 at 16 of Vibe, three and a half months after Blender, cuts in half the number of general-interest national outlets for arts journalism in my field. We're now down to Spin--which to give credit was the one everyone thought would croak first--and of course Rolling Stone. That there should be even one such outlet might well strike other arts journalists as a luxury, and to be honest, I don't fully understand why Hollywood's much larger celebrity apparatus doesn't also support magazines. Because it's so big it's the mainstay of EW etc.? Where does TV Guide fits into this?

In any case, Vibe was mourned more intelligently than Blender, which I always thought was the better magazine even when I wasn't working there myself (better than Rolling Stone and Spin too). The best coverage I saw was this Times piece by David Carr, and because I respected both principals I even streamed this WNYC discussion featuring Bill Wyman of Hitsville and Maura Johnston of Idolator--both Web outlets, though Wyman, who was supposedly arguing the con on the future and utility of print music magazines, was politely skeptical of Vibe founder Quincy Jones's claim that he intended to buy back the brand and put it online. Not if he's planning on paying people, the online journo said.

To assert that once there were four and now there are two ignores a host of smaller music mags that are struggling along (or not) and also a couple of big ones--Vibe's chief competition for the strictly hip-hop portion of its readership, the diminished but still admirable XXL and the long-dreadful Source. Commercially and artistically, hip-hop is also showing signs of diminishment these days, but I mean no disrespect to hip-hop when I say that what the big four did in their own way was always more inclusive--without access to anyone's sales demographics, more female- and gay-friendly, and wider ranging racially in terms of both who it covered and who read it. So what made Vibe special is that it was a broad-based American cultural magazine where the African-American was normative. Bourgie, some would say. Slick. Hedonistic. Not entirely, and anyway, that was its charm and its achievement. It imagined a world in which hip-but-not-deep American young people looked to artists of color as their standard-bearers. Obama or no Obama, we do not yet live in a "post-racial" society. I wish I thought there was a medium print or online likely to assume that mantle.
July 13, 2009 6:30 AM | | Comments (0)

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