THE WRITE STUFF?
funny, my desk doesn't look like this
Apart from the fact that the only reality TV shows I can stand watching the whole season through appear exclusively on Bravo (American Idol is great for about a month then dies a slow, melisamatically-challenged death), I have no interest in MTV's new I'm From Rolling Stone, despite the fact that it's supposed to represent a profession that I've spent most of my adult life engaged in: music journalism. (If you need a primer, may I suggest Idolator's gleefully caustic wrap-ups).
Times are evidently hard for RS even if they haven't quite descended to the level of self-parody The Source attained in its later years but it's been clear to me and most my colleagues that it no longer holds as much prestige or influence in an era of Blender/blogs/NY Times, etc. dominance. Maybe that's why they agreed to a show as ridiculous in basic concept (let alone execution) as this one. It reeks of desperation in the attempt to hold onto some kind of pop culture zeitgeist it 1) doesn't really need and 2) shouldn't be chasing after anyway. The show would actually be a better fit for a more irreverent magazine like Blender except that I'm fairly certain they have the good sense to steer clear of anything as embarrassing as this just to stir up circulation numbers or improve their public sphere standing.
The show's a bad look for the magazine and it's an even worse look for the participants, at least those who are serious about forging a career in music writing. As many have already noted though: you don't go on a show like this if you're serious about music writing. You do it because you seek celebrity, both for yourself as well as the opportunity to "interact" with actual celebrities.
In that sense, the show is an unintended but brilliant reflection of the state of cultural criticism/journalism even as it tries to package it for MTV. Most presume today that music journalism was always synonymous with celebrity journalism but though the blurring may have been endemic to both professions from the very beginning, it's become far, far more pronounced in the last 10-15 years, especially with market realignments in the media industry. It's not enough to want to rub shoulders with celebrities - today's media writers aspire to be minor celebrities themselves. I'm With Rolling Stone is as perfect a manifestation of that trend as anyone could imagine. One could blame Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous for contributing to this by glamorizing the so-called glory days of rock journalism (albeit through a fictionalized account that likely didn't include Kate Hudson hotties) but the protagonist in the film had no pretensions to fame himself...he just wanted to chase a story. With I'm With Rolling Stone, the very title reflects the kind of cachet that the magazine itself supposedly imparts on its writers (though in reality, it's highly questionable how much clout RS actually carries).
At risk of sounding naive or self-obvious, what annoys me about the show is simply how it degrades a craft that already suffers from enough image problems already. At best, the modern music journalist is seen as irrelevant in an age of insta-journalism from bloggers and message boarders. At worst, they're seen as thinly repackaged publicists, shilling for the record industry and/or the lowest common denominators in populist favor.
What's most comical about the show's very premise is that it'd be of interest to anyone to begin with. If you had told me that someone would pitch a reality show on music writing, I'd assume this was some kind of Onion parody story...perhaps I'm too inside the profession to try to see it from the outside but it just wouldn't have occurred to me that the craft would make good tv drama fodder. Most of our days are spent either: 1) transcribing, 2) writing, or 3) editing. None of this makes for very interesting visual fare.
Of course, if your ultimate aim is to hobnob with celeb musicians, the show no doubt will play up that angle and in truth, going into music writing isn't a bad way to go about it. But it seems like an awfully mundane path to take just to become a glorified groupie. That's why it's hard to take any of the contestants seriously (and I suppose I should actually watch the show before passing judgement but let's just say the existing reviews are not flattering) .
The thing is too: if folks are actually interested in becoming music journalists, it's kind of absurd that a tv show would be the route to take considering how relatively easy it is to get a start. Will you be interviewing Bono on your first assignment? Probably not but save for the very top of the pop/celeb echelon, it's not that hard to get to the point where you can have interview access (even if just a phoner) with any number of artists (big or small). For someone fully focused, you could get there in less time it will take this tv show to run its course.
Regardless, I know very few music writers who get into the work, let alone stay with it, simply out of a desire to interact with celebrities. This will no doubt come off sounding like an overly idealized point but ultimately, you start writing and stick with it because you actually enjoy the craft itself. That's not to say there aren't fringe benefits (though the free CDs aren't as good as they were 10 years ago) but seriously, there are lot better and less torturous ways to make a living then becoming a journalist/writer.
As a recent Economist issue noted:
- "Journalism, apparently, is a “prototypically misaligned profession”, staffed by reporters who want to investigate great affairs of state but read by a public more interested in stories that are “scandalous, sensational, superficial”.
My long-winded point here is simply to note that the one thing that really makes working as a writer fun is also the most boring for anyone else to witness: the act of writing itself (which includes editing/revising). The end product might be illuminating or entertaining, but the actual act offers little for others to spectate on (Carrie Bradshaw and Doogie Howser excepted, I suppose).
Last, random point: I wonder how much of a future in the biz the eventual winner is going to have, outside of Rolling Stone? Somehow, I can't see participating on the show as being a real feather in someone's resume.
 Normally, I'd insert a joke - "...unless done naked!" - except that if you actually saw most music writers nude, you'd instantly be glad that chair, desk and laptop would spare you from having to look upon the bodies of people who spend most of their time sedentary.
 I'm actually going to watch at least the first show, if only to see if Krishtine de Leon is as annoying as everyone says she is. From some of the reviews I've read, it'd seem like she was taking the public image of Pinoys/Pinays back to some pre-Bulosan era of "No Filipinos or Dogs Allowed." I've never met de Leon though I have read the magazine she works at, Ruckus, a small monthly on Bay Area music that is predominantly run by Filipino/Asian writers/editors. It'll be interesting to see if she's repping for all the Pinoys in the music biz or (more likely) inspiring many head slaps. I also think Krishtine is the one who thinks music journalism will be some kind of path to upward class mobility for her family...a bizarre misconception that anyone - starting with my mother - would be very quick to dispel.
 By the way, I know writing is built into the contest of the show itself (here's two examples). Both of these actual have decent moments but jesus christ, the whole "setting the scene" angle is taken way overboard.
UPDATE: First week ratings = 369,000. OOF.
I actually watched this...Krishtine wasn't nearly as bad as others made her out to be though her racial identity confusion isn't exactly a great look, especially not for other Bay Area Filipinos in the hip-hop game. I can only imagine what they're thinking right now. But the show is pretty much unwatchable. I thought the Joe Levy editorial meeting would have been an improvement but it was painful on many levels. They should have done edits in a big room with everyone present, rather than one on one. In any case, this looks rather D.O.A.