Pitchfork has named Jessica Hopper the editor-in-chief of The Pitchfork Review, a quarterly print magazine about music and culture. Hopper will also be a senior editor at Pitchfork’s daily site, she said in a phone call with Poynter.
“It’s a very special, novel thing,” Hopper said about The Pitchfork Review. “It’s a music magazine about music.”
“We’re definitely excited for Jessica to join the staff full-time as senior editor of the website and Editor in Chief of The Pitchfork Review,” Pitchfork Editor-in-Chief Mark Richardson told Poynter in an email. “She’s known quite a few people on staff for years from being in Chicago, and we’ve all been following her writing for a long time before that. Beyond her talent, she’s a fountain of ideas and enthusiasm.”
In its first year the Review was edited by J.C. Gabel, who will still contribute to the magazine, Richardson said. Hopper’s first issue at the top of the masthead will feature a 20,000-word oral history of Jawbreaker written by Leor Galil, a photo essay about an open-air punk market in Mexico City and a piece by Eric Harvey that draws a connection between the early days of “reality rap” and the TV show “Cops.”
Hopper said her plan is to do stuff “that’s like real music journalism, stuff that’s not even doable anymore because it doesn’t fit into people’s verticals.”
The magazine will also do “longer pieces on contemporary artists that we think are going to be canonical,” Hopper said. Pitchfork President Chris Kaskie and Creative Director Mike Renaud, Hopper said, originally saw the magazine as “the kind of magazine where you pull it off the shelf in 10 years and you know who everybody is.”
The Pitchfork gig is Hopper’s first full-time job as a music journalist; she’s been writing music criticism for nearly 20 years, beginning as the proprietor of the fanzine Hit It Or Quit It and collecting lots of freelance bylines along the way, at outlets like Spin, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Reader and Minneapolis City Pages. From 1995 to 2003, she ran her own music PR company, representing acts including the Dismemberment Plan, the Gossip and At the Drive-In.
She will no longer be Rookie’s music editor once she begins at Pitchfork but will still write about non-music stuff for that publication — “Rookie is my spiritual home, always,” Hopper said.
A collection of Hopper’s criticism, “The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic,” is due out next May on Featherproof Books, which is run by Tim Kinsella, a member of the great Chicago bands Cap’n Jazz and Joan of Arc. Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield will write an intro for the book, Hopper said, whose title is “kind of a joke” that also points out “the absurdity that at the very least, [NPR music critic] Ann Powers and half a dozen other people should be ahead of me on this one.”
The magazine has a print circulation of 10,000 and a single sponsor for each issue. The Pitchfork staff is “very democratic,” Hopper said several times. I asked her about the preponderance of dudes on its masthead. “My experience has been that it’s a place that’s been very welcoming to women and to feminist ideas,” Hopper said. “I wouldn’t be there otherwise. I couldn’t be there otherwise! I feel very respected there.”
Hopper called criticism her “nerd depot” and said she looks forward to helping inexperienced writers refine their voices, giving them the types of edits that are hard to dole out at hyperactive Web publications. “I was lucky that I was getting top edits from Kiki Yablon that made me cry for two years,” she said, referring to the Chicago Reader’s former managing editor and later editor.
Other editors she credits as influences: Will Hermes, Charles Aaron, Steve Kandell and Alison True. They taught her “how to write by showing me what I was doing wrong,” she said. “Because of the state of music journalism, you’re lucky if you get a top edit that’s more than somebody running spellcheck on your stuff.”
The Review doesn’t review records. When it does do criticism, it will tend to be longform, Hopper said, something that benefits artists as well as writers who want to stretch out: “What fun is it having a record come out and feeling like no one understands it enough to write about it properly?” she said.