Rolling Stone plans Nashville bureau, site covering country music

AdAge

Rolling Stone will debut a new site devoted to country music next year, Michael Sebastian reported Thursday in AdAge. Rolling Stone Country won’t produce a printed product regularly, Sebastian reported, but will open offices in Nashville with an editorial staff of 10 to 15.

Sebastian writes that “Rolling Stone Country comes as country music continues to boom as a business, with more than a quarter of U.S. adults now calling themselves country fans, according to Scarborough.” Meanwhile, single copy sales for the magazine declined this year, while circulation increased slightly. Country music, a “sponsor-friendly genre,” has done much better.

Last year, the industry hauled in $1 billion, fueled by a 4.2% increase in album sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan. At the same time, alternative and R&B album sales have declined. Sales of rock albums, the only other category to see an increase last year, inched up just 2%.

“I feel like it’s the more the merrier,” said Jim Ridley, editor of Nashillve Scene, the alt-weekly, in a phone interview with Poynter. “For many years, Nashville’s felt severely undercovered by the national media.” (Al Jazeera America opened a bureau in Nashville this past summer, promising to tell “underreported stories.”)

And it signals a commitment to covering the industry, he said, that reporters aren’t just dropping in, but are setting up shop in town.

“It’s refreshing to see a national publication say this deserves more than just a stopover, this requires a bureau,” he said.

Sebastian writes that, when the new site comes out in the second quarter of 2014, “the magazine is planning a country-themed print issue, a first for Rolling Stone.”

Maybe a first for Rolling Stone, but there’s also Country Weekly, Sebastian writes, and AOL’s The Boot already covering the industry. Nashville’s daily newspaper, The Tennessean, has a music reporter, a music columnist and a business reporter that covers the music industry.

Ridley’s interested to see how Rolling Stone covers the industry. Will they pick up on the nuances between country music made by men and women right now, he asked, with men focusing on pick up trucks and chewing tobacco and women offering fresh, often blunt voices? Or will they focus with the past, pining for Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash (two favorites Gus Wenner, director of RollingStone.com, mentioned in the AdAge story)?

Ridley isn’t surprised that Rolling Stone would choose to better cover country music, it’s a genre that’s doing pretty well. But to build credentials in Nashville, he said, Rolling Stone Country can’t focus on what country music used to be.

“It’s trying to figure out what it is now.”

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