Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Friday, January 1, 2016

Our Syllabus 2016

Arts Reporting and Reviewing
TR Spring 2016   Cowell 317   2:40-4:25 p.m.

Dr. Michael Robertson
Office: Kalmanovitz Hall 119
Phone: 422-6250 (office); 510-836-4870 (home)

Office Hours:

TR 4:30 - 6 p.m.  If you need to see me, don't hesitate to ask for a time convenient for you.

Required Texts:

None. Readings will be handed out or posted online.

Required Reading:

Read all assignments before the due date. Identify at least one reviewer or critic (preferably local) whose work appears regularly in print or online. Follow that reviewer during the semester. At the end of the semester you will be required to interview a reviewer and write about it. I assume she/he will be the one whose work you follow.  Be alert for reviews in any of your sources that illustrate excellence – or mediocrity. Bring examples to class.


Quizzes based on the reading assignments or on class lectures may be given without prior notice.

Your Personal Blog and Twitter Account:

Each student is responsible for creating a personal blog on which you will post your reviews, using Twitter to link to those reviews. Also, I will give you posting privileges on the class blog. Several times during the semester you will be required to post or comment.  Additional extra-credit posts or comments might link to a review and critiques some aspect of that review.  Since most reviewers/critics invite conversation with their readers via email, you might also engage in an email exchange with your chosen critic and post that. Several websites provide free space for blogging. is a popular one. You are also responsible for creating a Twitter account. After you have written a review or a blog post, the final part of the assignment is boiling it down to a single Tweet in which you will include the hashtag #usfreview.
Late Assignments:

You do not need to ask my permission to turn in an out‑of‑class assignment after deadline. However, unless you have a medical excuse, you will be penalized for turning in a late story. Your mark will be lowered 2/3rds of a letter grade for the first two days of lateness, 1/3rd of a letter grade for each subsequent two days. For example, a "B" paper turned in two days late would be reduced to a "C" grade. If you miss an assignment because of illness, it is your responsibility to present me with an acceptable medical excuse, find an alternative assignment and clear it with me.


Regular class attendance is also expected. Two unexcused absences are allowed, but in‑class work missed through absence may not be made up although it may be excused. If you miss class for any reason, it is YOUR responsibility to find out what future class assignments are. Excused assignments will not be averaged into your grade; unexcused assignments will be -- as a zero. Excessive absences will factor into the class participation portion of your grade.


Under the current policies of the Media Studies Department, a student will not get credit in the major for any course in which he or she receives a grade of less than C; that is, a grade of C-minus or lower means you must retake the course.

Academic misconduct:

Instances of source fabrication or plagiarism will result in severe sanctions.


If you have any handicap or any other physical, emotional or personal problem that will interfere with your performance, you should discuss it with me by the end of the first week of the course or as soon as the problem arises.  Every effort will be made to accommodate legitimate problems if they are discussed in a timely fashion.  Some chronic problems may receive a sympathetic hearing but result in no adjustment to expectations for performance.  A semester's-end revelation of personal problems will not improve your grade.

What is This Class Really About?

·      It could be a first step in your preparation for a job as editor of an entertainment section, someone who knows enough about writing reviews and understands enough about the various art forms so that you can serve as gatekeeper for your publication’s reviewers. Realistically, such jobs are increasingly rare.
·      It could be your first step toward a career as an entertainment writer, able to review performances in your art of choice; to interview artists, experts and entrepreneurs in that area; to write traditional news stories dealing with that which happens on your particular beat. Realistically, such jobs are increasingly rare, at least ones that pay a living wage.
·      It could be your first step toward a career as a genre reviewer, whose only expertise is reviewing performances, live or recorded. Realistically, such jobs are increasingly rare.
·      Aspiring to one of the aforementioned careers, in this class you might take your first step toward making it so, in that I will encourage you to reach out to publications and websites, offering to write for them for free, thus gaining credibility and building a professional portfolio. As part of this game plan, you will create a blog on which you regularly post your reviews, honing your craft and creating a personal portfolio to which you will point when offering to write for free. In other words, you will do the work on a regular basis even though at first no one is willing to publish you, much less pay you.
·      Of course, you may not care about making a career as a reviewer or entertainment journalist. Your interest may be avocational, not vocational. That is, reviewing is something you like to do in your free time for your own blog or for some other platform where fans and enthusiasts gather, thus participating in the public conversation around a particular art form. You know you’ll never make money at it, but you enjoy challenging yourself intellectually – disciplining yourself through thinking and writing – and are content with a reward consisting of having a few readers who respond to your ideas. This class is also for you. (There is a weird middle ground in this kind of reviewing. Look at this recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle about local amateur restaurant reviewers who are part of Yelp’s Elite Squad.)
·      Yet another benefit of this class – a fine reason for taking it - has nothing to do with writing. It is that inside this classroom we will have conversations – cultural conversations - about specific bits of art and the arts in general in great and personal specificity. That’s right. We will share. When I was young we made reference to water cooler chatter and cocktail party conversation, both of which are metaphors acknowledging the fact that the arts – like sports and like politics – are the stuff of cultural connection and also of division, and of a way of bridging division. Thus, talking about the arts we learn about others, about our commonalities and about our points of difference, about different ways of thinking and feeling, about how there is no one “correct” way to look at a work of art.
·      My last point is not the least important. You are students in a great Liberal Arts institution. (Reasonably great. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.) We seek to know widely. We celebrate diversity. What is more diverse than this great universe of what we call art? We are taught to look outside ourselves to learn about ourselves. I would like this course to be for you what I hope it is for me, as a way to interrogate myself, to look in by looking out, to ask why I feel and think the way I do when exposed to a piece of “art.”  Art is a mirror, and that’s thrilling and sometimes a little frightening.  Sometimes we all see dead people.

Learning Outcomes:

            Upon completing this course, a student should be able:

1.  To complete all writing assignments employing correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax.
2.  To understand enough of the history, the conventions and the contemporary context of the art forms you are assigned to review so that a well-informed reader would conclude that you are also well informed. Let me put this another way: I expect you to know what you don’t know. (In other words, I expect you to “write smart.”)

3.  To explain the decisions you made concerning the structure, the emphasis and the tone of your reviews on request. In some instances you may spontaneously produce a provocative and entertaining review without (it may seem to you) stopping to think, but even in those happy cases I expect you to spend time contemplating what you have written so that you advance your understanding of those two elusive categories, what “works” and what doesn’t. Most of us improve our writing by producing a draft and then rewriting.

4.     To write a news feature on an “arts” topic.

5.     To do an in-person interview with an arts reviewer.

6.     To know when information must be attributed to a source and how to handle attribution smoothly in a story of any kind, including a review.

7.  To understand the general sources for news (observation, interview, written reports), the      necessity of skepticism in processing these sources; to master the process of verifying       information; to exhibit that understanding in your interview stories.

            8.  To use basic AP style rules in the reviews and stories written.

9.     To prepare copy so that it is clean and conforms to standard copy preparation rules.

10.  To create and maintain a personal blog and Twitter account.

11.  To do one video review – that is, a version of one of your reviews reduced to a script and spoken in front of a camera. To produce an audio slideshow using Videolicious. Both will be posted on your blog.


Your final grade will be determined by the average of in‑class writing, out‑of‑class writing, and final project (70 percent); class participation (10 percent); quizzes (10 percent); blog/Twitter/multimedia (10 percent). Additional credit MAY be given for work published in the Foghorn or in any other credible publication, either print or online. In addition to having done adequate research before each review, observed the art object closely during the performance and in general “written smart,” the:

A Student: Has either a gift for writing or works very hard at clean, clear and concise prose. Has grammar and stylistic skills resulting in copy that requires little editing. Misses no deadlines and completes all assignments.  Participates in class discussions but does not dominate those discussions or divert them from the subject at hand.  By the course's end, this student could function as an entertainment generalist without supervision.  To these criteria, I add: An A story is a story that makes me wish I were still an editor so I could publish it. A=100-95.

B Student: Writes basically correct English with flashes of style. May have some grammar and syntax problems, but problems can be corrected without major editing. May blow an assignment but is basically a contributing member of the class. By the course's end, this student could perform basic functions of an entertainment writer without close supervision. Your basic bright journalism student who is still learning.  B= 94-85.

C Student: Has problems with the English language that appear to be correctable with effort by both student and teacher.  May have problems with accuracy and attention to detail. May have problems under deadline pressure. Misses deadlines. Able to perform basic entertainment newsroom functions if closely supervised. May think he or she deserves a B because he or she "tried." C=84-75.

D Student: Has problems with the language that may not be correctable in this course but can be corrected in future courses.  Has basic grammar and syntax errors still appearing in Assignments at course's end. Could not perform basic entertainment newsroom functions. Does severe damage to the English language. I will give people who "try" a D.  D=74-65.

Work will be turned in online. However you submit, it is your responsibility to have a second copy of the story in your possession until I return the graded original.

Semester Schedule

            Week One: January 25

Objective: An introduction to reviewing. Preparing for restaurant review.

Out of Class: Read handouts and online essays. Our syllabus will be posted at the class website and on Canvas, where this weeks readings are posted.

Assignment: For Thursday, bring to class two restaurant reviews, one that is an example of good work and one you think is an example of bad work. Be ready to discuss. A restaurant review of at least 600 words is due Friday, February 5   (1).
            Week Two: February 1
            Objective: Restaurant Review.
Out of Class:

            * Jonathan Gold’s Pulitzer Prize Winning Work. Read reviews for 1.14 and 7.19.
            * Food Journalism Has Gone Upscale
            * Anthony Bourdain on Food Porn
            * Food Porn on Reddit

            Week Three: February 8
Objective: Your Assignment will be reviewing one or more episodes of a television show chosen by the class. We will explore how an appreciation of a TV genre affects your appreciation of an example of that genre.

            Out of Class: Read assigned handouts and online material.

Assignment: Look on Youtube for an excerpt of a TV show you admire. Be ready to share with the class why you admire it. The TV review of at least 600 words is due Wednesday, February 17 (2).

            Week Four: February 15

Objective: Preparing for a movie review.
Out of Class: Read what I assign.

             * Let's Rate the Ranking Systems of Film Reviews

Assignment: A movie review of at least 600 words is due Friday, February 25 (3). It will be accompanied by a video “tweet” – that is, a very short summary -- of your review. (See the 2009 class video for inspiration.)

          Week Five: February 22

Objectives: Reviewing a musical performance. Music journalist Gary Moskowitz will visit class.
            Out of Class: Read what I assign.
            * Our Guest Lecturer’s Blog
Assignment: A review of at least 600 words of a musical performance is due Monday, March 7 (4).

            Week Six: February 29

                        Objectives: Reviewing a Poetry Slam

Out of Class: Read what I assign. Free up the evening of Wednesday, March 9, so that we can go to the Starry Plough pub in Berkeley.

Assignment: A review of at least 600 words of the poetry slam is due Wednesday, March 23 (5).


Week Seven: March 7: Catching up and winding down

      Week Eight: March 14: Spring Break

Week Nine: March 21

Objective: Fashion as Art. We’ll visit the Oscar de la Renta exhibit at the DeYoung.
Out of Class: Read what I assign.

Assignment: A review of at least 600 words of the de la Renta exhibition is due Tuesday, April 5 (6) plus an audio slideshow using Videolicious.

Week Ten: March 28

Objective: Reviewing an on-campus play that will be presented April 7-9. Exploring the extent to which intensive preparation for a reviewing experience enriches the review. We will attend an on-campus production. We will visit with the play’s director. If all goes well, we will talk with cast members and attend a dress rehearsal. We may even have an in-class acting lesson.

Assignment: Preparing for the review.  A review of at least 600 words is due Tuesday, April 12, (7).   
Out of Class: Read play script and other assigned material.

            Week Eleven: April 4

            Objectives:  Play project continues.


           Week Twelve: April 11

Objectives: The Fine Arts. Elitism, classism and the end of beauty. Touring a local art gallery.
            Out of Class: Read what I assign.

Assignment: You have 3,000 imaginary dollars to buy art from a local gallery. Your story of at least 600 words describing your quest. Your story, including photographs of your purchase(s), is due Monday, April 25 (8).

            Week Thirteen: April 18
Objective: An entertainment “personality” will visit class. An interview will be written on deadline.

Out of Class: Read handouts and online material.

Assignment: We will have a Q&A in class with a guest. Your story of at least 600 words based on that interview is due 48 hours later (9). 


            Week Fourteen: April 25

Objectives: A review video to be posted on your blog. You will reduce one of your reviews to a one-to-two minute script and do that script on camera. Another opportunity to play catchup, as needed.
            Out of Class: Read what I assign.

Assignment:  Your video should be posted no later than Monday, May 2 (10).


Week Fifteen: May 2

Objectives: Interviewing (I assume) the reviewer or critic whose work you have been following during the semester.

Out of Class: Read handouts and online essays.

Assignment: An interview of at least 750 words with your reviewer of choice is due Wednesday, December 3 (11).

Week Sixteen: May 9

Objectives: Final evaluation

There will be a final exam Tuesday, May 17, 3-5 p.m. It will consist of an in-class essay based on an in-class performance.

 Other possible readings:

No comments:

Post a Comment