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Has 'indie' become just another way of saying 'unprofessional'?

Hila Shachar and Jane Flanagan September 17

Blogs and independent (or ‘indie’) magazines often feel like a ‘no go’ zone for even the most constructive criticism. The (erroneous) underlying presumption seems to be that we must not criticise our own community. As bloggers and writers ourselves, we’ve been watching the rise of independent magazines, created by various popular blogs and bloggers, and are concerned by the lack of quality of writing and respect for writers.

We’ve seen the blog-world unite to defend independent artists against alleged Forever 21 rip-offs, for example, but nary a bad word said about something created within our community. It’s a laudable sense of loyalty, but it is also misplaced.

We both know the value of constructive criticism and critical feedback. Quite simply, the publishing world doesn’t exist without it, and it’s a marker of quality. We both believe that output from the blog community is deteriorating in part because there isn’t much constructive criticism.

We’ve noticed two responses to those who attempt to constructively criticise:

If you don’t like it, don’t buy it (or ‘unfollow’)

Well, yes: if you consistently don’t like something, you should not support it. But, the idea that support is an all-or-nothing proposition is troubling and immature, promoting the most fanatical kind of support. This recent post on a popular blog, A Cup of Jo, and the responses on both sides show how polarised criticism can become, even when it’s a justified qualm about editorial integrity. The reaction to this Sweet Paul instagrammed ‘ad’ is another example.

We should be able to register criticism and argument without being deemed unsupportive. One of us, for example, has purchased every issue of Kinfolk magazine to date. We both admire the aesthetic, the premise and work that goes into such an independent magazine, but we also have serious and consistent problems with the quality of the writing.

It’s small and independent, you should support it!

The rules for conduct and professionalism shouldn’t differ because a business is small or independent. If you would criticise established or mainstream businesses for a practice or execution, you should hold yourself accountable to the same standards. This applies to advertising, sourcing contributors, promotion and editorial quality.

The main problem we see with certain blogs and independent publications stemming from this blogging culture is precisely a lack of knowledge and professionalism. There have long been editorial standards followed by journalists and publications (and it’s on the basis of a breach of those standards that they are often critiqued). But independent publications make up their own rules of submission, publication, and advertising guidelines. This can be liberating in many ways, helping a publication innovate and ‘stand apart’, but its flip side is often unprofessionalism.

We get the sense that some indie magazines are run like blogging cliques, which undermines their loftier ideals. Editing a magazine properly is neither a hobby nor an exercise in nepotism. If indie magazines really want to provide serious counter publications to the mainstream, they must be willing to cultivate a professional attitude towards content acquisition and quality.

Blogging has grown, in no small part, as a reaction against mainstream media. However, with written content often sourced from a limited pool of popular contributors, many of whom have little interest in writing, the editorial integrity of popular blogs and indie publications is eroding. To be clear, both of us admire the obvious visual talent emphasised in these publications. But the writing counts for something too, and it’s disappointing that equal energy is not devoted to it and that serious writers are excluded.

Ultimately, we’ve raised this topic because we both care passionately about independent creative work and outlets. We’re both struggling because this community we once felt part of feels increasingly like a place with little respect for the craft of writing, and that’s an alienating feeling.

This is a revised version of a post that was originally published on le projet d’amour, and Ill Seen, Ill Said.


 

Comments

by Joan Kerr
06 Sep 14 at 20:58

But do indie magazines ‘really want to provide serious counter productions to the mainstream’? Some of them, but from the example you’ve given “A cup of jo” doesn’t seem to be about that. Our prevailing online and social media culture is the love-affair with the self. And the more stuff there is out there, the lower the standards are. But blogs and online magazines find their own level. Among the Cups of Jo there are serious literary bloggers, reviewers and online magazines if you look for them.

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