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Know Your NME: Exploring Music Journalism at LCC Festival of Journalism and Art

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Published date 14 July 2016
Image of UAL magazine Artefact & Paul Morley, former journalist at the NME

Image of UAL magazine Artefact & Paul Morley, former journalist at the NME

An inspiring and engaging talk by Paul Morley, former journalist at the New Musical Express (NME) from 1977 to 1983, was one of the highlights from LCC’s Festival of Journalism and Art.

Talking about traditional ‘fact based reporting’ versus his more personalised journalism, which was inspired by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, he said he always strived to bring an ‘intellectual hunger’ to journalism. Morley gave an impassioned plea for the journalism that didn’t look to ‘simply report facts’ – “we have Wikipedia for that!” he said – but writing that embodies what he terms as “myth making”; representing the creative process of how music is made and the art of writing. Many a band had seen the power of Morley’s words turn them from a small underground band into modern legends. This he calls the “myth making”, the opposite of what many people might think of as journalism.

Morley argues that it’s the different perspective that people are after whether they love it or hate it: “If there’s no annoyance, there’s nothing happening.”

More recently Morley was Artistic Advisor on the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A Museum and in his new book The Age of Bowie out imminently, we’ll see David Bowie through Morley’s eyes. As he points out, if you want the facts and the ‘autopsy’ approach to reporting, there are already tonnes of books and webpages on Bowie – where he played and at what time – but that’s not the journalism that inspires people.

Is this good advice for LCC students and graduates looking to get into journalism or is this the perspective of a bygone era?

The NME Now & Then:

Image: Gorkana media briefing session with NME editors on 14 July 2016

Image: Gorkana media briefing session with NME editors on 14 July 2016. Courtesy of Gorkana

This morning a Gorkana media briefing took place for PR professionals with the NME explaining how their editorial team works and the sorts of stories they are looking for. The NME had to “evolve or die” and so it did just that. Not just by virtue of becoming a free magazine, although undoubtedly it has had an impact on the editorial choices, but with the variety of social media and other online tools everyone is hungry to exploit.

Collection of NME covers over the years

Image: 25 Greatest NME covers as voted by NME Readers. Source: NME website –

The NME that was circulated in the local newsagent to thousands of teenagers in the 70s, 80s and 90s would sell on the strength of its front cover and music reviews. It still does, but now it has to embrace video, online features and social media as well, but is the philosophy behind the old NME so different to today’s NME?

The editors at the briefing said that the NME still continues to be a music magazine first and foremost. It still attracts readers through its bold covers and its music reviews but with the variety of social channels now available, they want “tough, quick and immediate” stories and video that match the “passion points of their main readership of 18-34 commuters”. This now includes film, TV and comedy and, starting shortly, a new food column which will mainly feature pop-up and street food. So while the move to food may not be the ‘Paul Morley’ type of long read music-focused article littered with intellectual influences – whether real or myth – the philosophy of the “music brand without limits” and alternative youth lifestyle continues even if in a slightly different guise. A fascinating example for students of the ever evolving nature of journalism.