Don’t reblog Pitchfork so much; or, how to share Big Media and still support your friends
By Elise Granata
When your small thing (see: all-ages show space, pop-up series, band) gets written up in a big thing (see: giant online magazine, widely circulated newspaper, cool blog), it’s a big deal. Of course it is. You share it. The crowd goes wild (and hopefully grows to support you). End. Fin.
Or not. There’s more baked into it than that. The crux of DIY art is that it is an alternative to the mainstream: Mainstream artmaking process, mainstream politics, mainstream media. Big Media. We might not undo decades of DIY every time we share a Pitchfork article, but we do add some muscle to their voice in the established paradigm where their word reigns supreme.
Media coverage becomes a proxy for value in the arts. You’re the best new track on Pitchfork. The LA Times does a profile on your venue. Your photos are in The Rolling Stone. When this happens, our impulse is to hit “share” faster than your brain remembers to swallow the soggy Trader Joe’s Pumpkin-O that is now making a swift connection with your brand new sweater that your mom bought you! Your mom bought you this sweater! It falls to the floor, your dog eats it, she has a weird stomach and now you have to take her to the vet.
But who can blame you, you know? Your project is ambitious, but small. Your priority is to keep the lights on/records pressed/shirts shipped/artists paid/music playing/dancers dancing/prancers pranc- this might just be a Christmas song that I can’t figure out exists or not on Google. Or it’s your reality. Forget the dream of being able to make this your living (Don’t forget it. Never forget it.), you’ve got your day-to-day priorities. They are very real. They are very expensive. Some media coverage couldn’t hurt.
Growing audience here isn’t the issue; it’s about perceived value. If we treat alternative media (eg. small blogs, online papers, fanzines) as lesser-than, they will be that. We begin to understand our success purely in terms of a few corporate media sources who sign off on us. You are one of the five bands worth checking out this year. You are the experimental arts space to see in this region, at risk of missing out on an entire new up-and-coming neighborhood trend. We let them define our path, when really the point of why we– as in the totally royal “we” of grassroots arts– got into this ethic in the first place was because we get to define it ourselves.
So why do we share Big Media? The obvious answer is: They have a wider reach. You can grow your audience, and that can translate to support. This janky rant-math makes sharing Big Media quite literally more valuable than sharing your friend’s blog post or a smaller news source.
I get it. That makes sense. It’s just that sometimes it feels like we’re so desperate to be the ones to make a living off of our dream that we hurt the movement itself in the process. The value alternative media offers is out of shared ethic. Building tight-knit loyalty among a group of people who endorse alternative voices to the mainstream everything. It’s the value of growing your unique and rad community by truly supporting all elements of it: the artists, the spaces– and in this case– the writers.
We can still share Big Media. But let’s be vigilant in sharing alternative sources in the meantime. Use the same platforms and then some to support them. If you’re so excited about your new audiences, turn them onto these sources that are infinitely more in line with what you do. We are all born out of the same primordial goo; Pitchfork or The Rolling Stone or The New York Times wasn’t (or maybe they were, but are for sure not there anymore).
This has been on my mind a lot watching New York friends ramp up in coverage they receive from bigger sources. And then our scrappy museum (the fierce, fightin’ kindof scrappy) was featured in the Wall Street Journal last Friday. I was stoked. I still am stoked. I even plugged it here, just now, to you. But nearly a week later, I wonder what the true impact of this will be. People on the internet have argued for and against what we do. My day-to-day hasn’t changed. People in Santa Cruz are excited, but (generally) would have been excited about us either way. What it does do, in a big way– just like any of these other pieces in Big Media– is weave us into a national narrative of radical arts organizations across the country. That’s something our local paper could never do on that scale, no matter how much I love their weekly stop-and-ask-a-local-a-random-question section (a favorite was “Is Burning Man a cult?”) Getting written up in big sources can be powerful. It’s up to us where we want to take it from there.
So share alternative media. Follow incredible grassroots arts journalism like The Media, Portals, The Miscreant, If You Make It, or The Runout. Buy zines. Share each other’s conversations and opinion on what’s happening in our arts community. Above all else: support the people who support you.