Questioning Gothamist’s Music-Coverage Hype Machine

Oct 12th, 2006 // 25 Comments

carlson.jpgIf you want to be successful in the New York City music-blog daisy-chain, there are several paths you could take: You could get a month-long showcase at Pianos. You could change your name to “The [Somethings].” Or, you could just hope and pray that Gothamist Arts & Entertainment editor Jen Carlson really, really loves your band.

You see, in one of the stranger conflicts-of-interest in the blog world, Carlson not only covers music for the site–writing numerous posts about such indie acts as Takka Takka, Cloud Cult and Bravo Silva–but she also co-founded 5th Floor Artist Management, a company that just happens to represent the likes of…Takka Takka, Cloud Cult and Bravo Silva. Sometimes this is disclosed, and sometimes it’s not. And sometimes, Carlson’s glowing Gothamist praise is recycled as a press quote on 5th Floor’s website without credit, which is pretty unethical, not to mention insufferably lame.

We’re not saying Carlson shouldn’t be allowed to work with bands she loves; we’re just saying that she shouldn’t be able to both manage bands and pimp them on Gothamist’s site, full disclosure or not. It makes it difficult to trust any of the site’s editorial content, and it’s hard to imagine Time Out New York or the Voice allowing for such a suspect arrangement. It’s not fair to the readers–who deserve to get no-strings-attached music coverage–and it’s not fair to the dozens (hundreds?) or New York City bands vying for a Gothamist mention. After all, Gothamist-endorsed acts do alright for themselves: They get booked for the site’s Moveable Hype concerts, get treated to fawning Q&As, and regularly appear in the “Pencil This In” listings.

So, is this some giant, Tammany Hall-like scandal? Nope. It just seems grossly unfair. If Gothamist wants to be taken seriously as a journalistic enterprise, they should start acting like one. And if Carlson wants to write about music, she should choose between profiles or press releases–not both.

Gothamist
5th Floor Artist Management

  1. MTS

    This post is so perfect — I have nothing constructive to add. More stuff like this, please, Nellie Bly!

  2. Steve518

    “If Gothamist wants to be taken seriously as a journalistic enterprise,”…

    …they should start by using a spelling and grammar check.

  3. mickeyprecious

    Gothamist should come with a free double-shot espresso to keep you awake through their dull editorials, obvious interviews, and flavorless re-hashing of AP wire reports. In a very real way, I’m amazed that they do so much with so little talent. They’re like the Ashlee Simpson of blogs.

  4. SlimShadenfruede

    Gothamist has become the Fader of blogs.

  5. eddy

    great post but disclosure or not, shouldn’t someone who manages bands simply remove themselves from gothamist’s music coverage and save it for their personal blog?! let carlson cover the rest of the A&E beat and leave music to baum.

  6. Anonymous

    Jen Carlson has written some really, really great stuff over the years. It would be a good idea for her to pick one side of the fence or the other, however.

  7. tithe

    The Tripwire also has a nasty habit of hyping bands that are worked by Cornerstone Promotion, which is more or less the same company as Tripwire, unless I’m gravely mistaken.

    The guy who edits Tripwire also has a column in an Alt-monthly here in Chicago, and a couple of Cornerstone bands always pop up in his column of “bands to watch.” It’s obviously smart, if not completely honest. Hence, its the music business, I know.

  8. NYCinephile

    Interesting. I’m not a big contemporary music fan, so I never would have caught this. I do follow the film and restaurant scenes, though…are there comparable conflicts of interest in coverage of those subjects?

  9. Intenette

    Are we sure that Carlson managed the bands BEFORE the press coverage? What are the dates of when she wrote/published about these musicians and how soon before or after did she take them on as their manager? The real question is, if she took these bands on after finding out about them through her role as a journalist and not prior is it still unethical?

  10. spinachdip

    Little known fact: Tom Breihan of the Village Voice is actually Young Jeezy’s white, bespectacled alter ego.

  11. ljs

    Idolator,

    It would have been ethical of you to consider the other side to the story and to have asked Ms. Carlson for comment before posting this.

    As her response suggests, there’s another side to this: that she signed the bands in question only AFTER having mentioned them on Gothamist. http://dailyrefill.blogs.com/daily/2006/10/letter_from_got

    It’s a little sad how one-sided the comments are here. Seems both you and she are interested in posting music, and there’s better way to spend your time. So for those who aren’t interested in sniping, my humble tip is The Ransome Brothers. Find them, listen, I hope you love them.

  12. titanica

    Intenette, I think you’re on to something. I’m pretty sure she stopped writing about individual bands after she started managing them – and she’s only been managing bands for a very short time and as a labor of love.

  13. Wasp vs Stryper

    Still, it is sooooo lame and kind of obvious to put your own quote about a band at the bottom of their release.

    But maybe she didn’t write the review. Maybe her hot bangs wrote all of that.

  14. leetree

    what about this, from Carlson’s rebuttal:

    “Also, why do Gawker sites link to Curbed so much? Could it be that Lockhart Steele works for Gawker and, seperately, runs Curbed? No way, you’re all way too ethical for that.”

    i can’t wait to read the rebuttal to the rebuttal!

  15. MTS

    It’s a little sad how one-sided the comments are here. Seems both you and she are interested in posting music, and there’s better way to spend your time. So for those who aren’t interested in sniping, my humble tip is The Ransome Brothers. Find them, listen, I hope you love them.

    People who just post music and talk about their “love” of music = girls who held their boyfriends jackets in the 1990′s

  16. Brian Raftery

    Carlson’s response post is here:
    http://dailyrefill.blogs.com/daily/2006/10/letter_from_got

  17. LakeEffect

    If I was Takka Takka (or any of those Carlson-managed bands), I’d be thrilled with my manager’s public announcement that she simply had no time to even bother with Gawker’s new music blog.

    Genius management, that.

  18. quickbuc

    @titanica

    Don’t think so. For example, there’s this Carlson-penned Gothamist rave for Takka Takka posted on 9/28 with no disclosure of any kind. Per her blog, she started managing Takka Takka on 7/19.

  19. Kevin7

    Gothamist is the vanilla pudding of NYC blogs; and its music coverage manifests as such. I’ve been banned from that site, as well as the other local star of mediocrity – Coolfer – for having an opinion. I’ve seen Carlson “rise” from a scrappy contributor to now an Ultagrrrrrrrl wannabe. Did you know they booked CYHSY before they was famous? That’s right: hyping averageness at its best.

  20. Mike Barthel

    Look, all this hairsplitting is missing the point. Most things you read that are unqualifiedly enthusiastic about a band, you assume they have some sort of interest in that band. That didn’t used to be the case with blogs–since they were either being written by someone whose interests you did know, or by some random person in a cubicle, you were pretty sure the opinion was untainted by monetary considerations. But the fact that a blogger’s behavior is being compared to fucking Cornerstone Promo shows that’s all over. It was inevitable, of course, but it shouldn’t have come this fast, and it shouldn’t have come unannounced. It isn’t the individual sin but the way it taints everyone else.

  21. BrianVan

    I’m putting myself up against the flames for even posting here, but to expand a bit on what Dick Malone touched upon:

    The caveat to all amateur music reviews (or any art reviews), of course, is that people tend to champion their own tastes. And in that sense, if Carlson wants to recommend bands with whom she does business, I’m sure that there’s some consideration in there for her personal reputation and for the readers of the column. I’m pretty sure she would feel filthy recommending a band that no one would want to hear; it would wreck her credibility as much as any journalistic transgression. I’m sure that, similarly, she doesn’t want to do any business with crappy bands either.

    However, even with disclosure, I don’t fully trust someone who’s pimping their own stuff as an editorial source. I don’t feel that it’s of malicious intent, but the difference between journalism (objective) and advertising (subjective) is a steep cliff. It’s really easy to go one way, not so much the other. So while I don’t mind reading about the acts that she recommends, I’m not going to pretend that she’s an outsider with complete objectivity. But then again, no one is. All music journalism has an element of subjectivity (whether it is people trying to elevate a scene, journalists trying to help a bunch of nice guys in a cool-enough band, etc.), and she’s simply got more invested in the music than your typical impoverished music critic.

    I’ve addressed Carlson publicly about objectivity and disclosure at least once prior. I’ve met her and I think she’s a very cool person, but she follows this path at her reputation’s peril.

    Also, Jake Dobkin strongly dislikes my constructive criticism of anything Gothamist related. This will probably piss you off even more, Jake. You could have had such a good week based on your coverage of the Lidle crash (which was exemplary), but these vulnerablilites get eaten up by gossip-hungry bloggers and you’re forced to play defense instead. It’s needless suffering through public mockery. This is what historically happens to publishers who self-assuredly never make mistakes. I will now go fuck myself prior to being told.

  22. d_mosurock

    I ranked these poseurs out a while back for their piss-poor music coverage, and they got really soft and whiny on me (to the tune of “if you don’t like our music coverage, don’t read our site”). I’ve taken that advice to heart. As someone who’s spent enough time in the trenches at the lower echelon of NYC clubs, sorting through demos by tormented singer-songwriters and bands with floppy haircuts and anemia, I’m somewhat suspicious of any publication hyping up the altogether miserable strata of bands in this town who want to get signed on the strength that they sound similar to something more popular than they are … well, except to their coworkers. Now that I know someone “important” is earning her $9 of the $90 they got paid for their gig at Arlene, I can rest a tiny bit easier.

  23. TheNick

    Yes, cinephile. It’d be like a movie blogger (I dont know.. the Reeler?) produced a film, disclosed nowhere on the site that he produced it, and then goes to talk it up any chance he gets.

    i really don’t see what’s so hard about this. did you just want to bring the fact that you’re too sophiscated for modern music?

  24. cminowa

    This is Craig Minowa from Cloud Cult. I just wanted to let you know that there are some major inaccuracies here. Jen approached us about management long AFTER any of the Gothamist coverage or our Moveable Hype show. We didn’t even know her before any of that. The Gothamist hasn’t posted anything about Cloud Cult since Jen connected with us. There’s no conflict of interest here, although I could see that would be the case if she posted something about us now and didn’t mention her connection. But she hasn’t done that. Also, she isn’t our manager in a traditional sense. She gets no pay what-so-ever. She just helps out, cuz she likes Cloud Cult (and we like her). We do the bulk of managing ourselves and have a totally separate publicist, but Jen’s kind enough to mail out posters for us, and make contacts for us in NYC (since we’re in Minnesota). There’s no monetary benefit for her to help us. She’s just a nice gal.

  25. Ultragrrrl

    Whoa, Idolator is a regular Nathaniel Hornblower… Keep up the good work!

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