Alternative Press editor stresses the importance of an online presence
Alternative Press is a monthly music magazine in Cleveland. Editor-in-Chief Jason Pettigrew got his start at Alternative Press when at a concert he picked up a copy of the then-free magazine and saw that the founder, Mike Shea, wrote a review on musician Peter Murphy.
A few days after the show, Pettigrew called Shea asking him why he was disrespecting Murphy. Shea responded with: “Well you think you can do better?” Pettigrew then started work at Alternative Press doing freelance writing.
He did mostly album reviews and the occasional feature until 1992 when the senior editor left and Pettigrew was promoted to editor-in-chief.
In a phone interview, Pettigrew gave future journalists his advice and opinion on the future of Alternative Press.
Before Pettigrew worked at Alternative Press, he worked as a record store clerk. Although he went to school at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg and majored in English, he was always interested in music journalism.
“I’ve always been interested in how bands work, but I don’t play anything. There’s this saying: ‘Pettigrew should go learn an instrument and start a band, but the best thing he knows how to play is the phonograph,’” Pettigrew said.
In the ever-changing world of journalism, many things have changed at Alternative Press since Pettigrew became editor.
“There’s now a regular 24/7 news cycle, which has changed everything. You can’t break a lot of news anymore because the Internet is so immediate. Just saying ‘Band has new album’ isn’t a good story angle anymore. The album will leak and you’ll have to find something to talk about because readers won’t care about your opinion when they’ve already heard the album,” Pettigrew said.
There are some things that will never change in the magazine industry, he said.
“There’s still people who want to control every aspect of what you do whether it be a manager, record label, or even a band member trying to make everything pretty for themselves and ignoring when something bad or questionable or perceived as career-destroying happens. Control is always an issue that plagues this line of business and that won’t ever change,” Pettigrew said.
Social media has had a huge effect on how journalism has evolved since the invention of the Internet. Social media can be an important tool for journalists to help get an audience, get traffic to their website and promote their work.
“You’d be surprised at how many old-school newspaper reporters recoiled at the thought of getting a Twitter or Facebook account. It’s very important because a lot of writers and editors want to see their content. You want to get the word out on what you’re working on and get attention to it. You need to create a personality so people know where to go to,” Pettigrew said.
The 24/7 news cycle has changed the way that journalists work and has changed the way the newsrooms work.
“The 24/7 news cycle has made people exhausted. It requires constant updates because the stories aren’t set in stone. There’s constant updates and frequent updates, which makes a lot more room for error than ever before. You have to be on your toes more than ever before,” Pettigrew said.
With that 24/7 news cycle, there’s also been an effect on accuracy.
“Because of the Internet, there’s been a rise of citizen journalists. They’re just heavy on opinion and short on facts, but I guess it’s just the Internet. The Internet is a great democratizing thing where everyone can talk, but everyone talks at the same time and it’s just static. There needs to be some sort of voice of reason. I can’t think of anything more inept than a series of comments after a YouTube video,” Pettigrew said.
With many publications switching mainly to digital and having a harder time getting funding for print, one wonders if the future of Alternative Press is digital.
“We get a lot of subscribers that like the tangible thing. I think there’s people who collect the magazines and like the cool pictures. Magazines and comic books are still that type of thing that you want in your hands. There are those people that will scan all the pages to put up on the Internet for everyone to see. I think it will be interesting to see what will happen next. There is a possibility we could go exclusively digital, but I think there’s still the people that like the tangible thing. It’s a hard one to call,” Pettigrew said.
Pettigrew had this advice for future journalists and editors.
“Think about the level of commitment you want to give to what you do. Maybe you’re like, ‘Well, I want to give 50 or 20 percent of my life to this.’ Now think about the level of commitment you can manage if you gave twice that amount. The 24/7 news cycle now allows you to work 17 hours a day. If something happens at 3 a.m., you have to be ready to go,” Pettigrew said. “If you genuinely feel you can dedicate more than a normal job would allow you to then by all means do it, but be prepared because it is 24/7 now.”