SN’s editorial prerogatives

A disappointing account from David Bruce Murray about how the SN’s changes to his review of the McKameys tests the limits of reform and improvement at the magazine. Take a look at DBM’s post for the full account, but the upshot is, some editorial tinkering pretty much completely changed the meaning of DBM’s review so that it was more flattering of the McKameys.

As Chris Unthank rightly notes, editing a review (or anything else someone writes for the magazine) to improve, streamline, or otherwise sharpen a piece of writing for publication is one thing. But there’s really no excuse for rewriting the conclusion of a music review expressly to change the meaning (and in this case, why? Judging by his original conclusion, DBM was positive if circumspect … is that so unthinkable? I guess so, since the editor went for 100% syrup on rewrite). If you want to publish a favorable review of the McKameys ok. But write it yourself or find someone who will write what you want. Don’t turn editorial oversight into puppeteering and make DBM (or any other writer) your ventroliquist’s dummy.

Obviously I’m not a disinterested observer in all this. I’ve written for SN, and would consider doing so again in the future under the right circumstances (though I’m not so sure I’d be as easygoing as DBM if my copy was similarly rewritten). And I’d choose an imperfect magazine that included voices like mine and DBM’s over an imperfect magazine that didn’t, every time.

Self-censoring to avoid alienating your artist-advertisers is certainly one perfectly logical way to run a magazine. Fine. What’s troubling is that the SN seems to be wanting to have it both ways: get props from the progressive wing of gospel music (yeah I know, all 13 of us) for including a wider variety of voices and perspectives in the magazine AND still keep pleasing the powerful.

But most of all this strikes me as a good example of why southern gospel isn’t taken more seriously beyond its own insular borders: the active refusal of industry professionals to publicly countenance even the most circumspectly candid assessment of their work.

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  1. GC wrote:

    This is why I visit this site. Great story

  2. Practical Fellow wrote:

    And this could explain why there are so many mediocre records being churned out by the A-list SG crowd (McKamey’s notwithstanding - I haven’t heard the new project). Why spend the extra effort and money crafting a superior product, if it’s going to get the same gratuitous review anyway? In other genres of music, the critical reviews of projects can actually help or hurt the sales of a record. If every review is syrupy sweet, why write them at all? It’s basically just another form of advertising for the new project. If there were more honest project reviews and less petting in publications like the SN, maybe it would drive competition and excellence up a notch or two.

  3. DRIP wrote:

    Are we really surprised????

  4. bgc wrote:

    “Just another form of advertising for the project” There you go, no truer words have ever been said. When the SN is involved, reviews, press releases, you name it; it’s advertising for the advertisers. You could have the talent of a butter bean with cash and come out like you are the next Gold City.

  5. ng wrote:

    I appreciate David attempting to write much better reviews than we’re used to in SGM.

    But sometimes I wonder if there is any point in reviewing 90 or so per cent of the product put out. Most groups’ albums offer little new from their previous albums especially when you consider the number they put out compared with artists in other other fields. Topics rarely vary although Bible is filled with song possibilities. Why so few social justice songs like “The Shadow of the Steeple” or the Statesmen’s “My Brother’s Keeper? What about more songs on living like Speers’ “Between the Cross and Heaven” or the Statesmens’ “Practice What You Preach.”

    Why so few new musical approaches? The Cathedrals and Imperials (70s) experimented with different styles. Why not cover versions of some of gospel-type songs in pop, other forms of gospel and country? There are certainly hundreds of good songs out there far superior to the filler that the groups’ usual writers provide.

  6. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    As I recall, you were a lot more easy going than me a couple of years ago when Daywind fabricated a quote out of thin air on your behalf and used it in a Singing News ad. I’d have been pretty hot if something like that had happened to me, but I think you said something to the effect that it didn’t really bother you, because it more or less reflected something you might have said anyway.

    I’ve written for hire before, and this sort of thing can be routine. Editors edit, and they have their reasons. I’m not upset over the McKameys edit, mainly because I have my blog where I can point out any significant changes of this sort that take place.

    To the credit of Singing News, they have allowed some less harsh statements to stand in the two previous reviews I’ve submitted. For example, I complained that Allison Speer is content to sing other people’s music. With the Cumberland Quartet, I mentioned that their tracks weren’t particularly unique. Even with the McKameys, they left in the words “vein popping.” I don’t think there’s a crusade to cut every negative comment from the reviews like some people are saying.

    I prefer to give credit where credit is due, and not make a mountain out of a molehill. I’ve had three reviews published in Singing News at this point in time, and I have no complaints whatsoever about the way they handled the first two.

  7. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Well…maybe I shouldn’t say “whatsoever” if I’m going to be completely accurate.

    They did change my correct spelling of “Sandi Patty” to “Sandi Patti” in the Allison Durham Speer review, but that’s an insignificant point.

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