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Sounding OFF: How NME forever changed music journalism

The end of an era

Today marks a historic occasion for music journalism… unfortunately, it’s not a celebratory one. For decades the New Musical Express (NME) has been on the cusp of pop culture, but now, after more than 66 years, one of England’s longest running weekly music publications will officially cease its print operation.

But what is it that makes this so heartbreaking for journalism? Many people who examine the media trends have said that “print is dead” before. And it’s not like it’s a secret, considering how most of the major print publications in operation have already switched to the internet, which for an already established brand such as NME was relatively easy.

NME was established in 1952 and was inspired by the American trade publication, Billboard, to be the first weekly music publication to print the UK singles chart. In the early days of the publication, NME struggled to compete with rival newspaper, Melody Maker, but by the mid-70s and early-80s went on to become one of the best-selling papers in the country.

In 1996, the publication launched the website,, which was at one point regarded as the largest standalone music site. Within three years time, it would go on to receive the award for “Online Magazine of the Year” both in 1999 and 2001.

With the dawn of the internet era, weekly music publications started to take a serious hit. By the year 2000, Melody Maker would merge with its former competitor in an attempt to stay afloat in a rapidly changing industry.

Things seemed to be going well for the print publication after that. So much so that in September 2015, it removed the cover price, becoming a free publication. It seemed as though NME could bounce back, however, now the historic rock publication is singing a different tune, with plans to put more of its focus on digital media.

Paul Cheal, the managing director for Music with Time Inc. UK, recently told The Independent, that “unfortunately we have now reached a point where the free weekly magazine is no longer financially viable. It is the digital space where effort and investment will focus to secure a strong future for this famous brand.”

But the transition from a free print publication to a digital-only format has some fearing that this is more than just a cost-savings measure, with some worried that the quality of writing will begin to decline into a rapid use of flashy headlines and clickbait content.

For many budding young journalists, this conversation is pretty commonplace considering that we live in a technologically advanced world where things are evolving faster and more frequently than the generations that came before could have even thought possible.

It is thanks to this new technology that people seem to be consuming shorter bits of news in such a hurry that they forget full-fledged news stories cannot be conveyed properly in 280 characters or less. And while we have yet to reach that real low-point, where things devolve into becoming more about getting clicks than proper grammar, there is still plenty of reason to be skeptical, because we’re not far off.

That doesn’t mean that this isn’t the right move for NME though. The fact that they have decided to instead devote energy and capital to improve its digital news site could be a major pivot-point for journalists worldwide, as more and more print publications, such as Rolling Stone Magazine, continue this balancing act. 

Only time will really tell us what kind of impact this will have for music journalism, but for now, we simply pay our respects to the historic music outlet as it pays its final farewell.

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