Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our Syllabus Spring 2011

Arts Reporting and Reviewing
Spring 2011

Class meets Tuesday & Thursday in Ed 305

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

Office Hours:

Tuesday & Thursday 430p-6p. If you need to see me, don't hesitate to ask for a time convenient for you.

Required Texts:

None. Readings will be linked to in the syllabus or handed out or emailed.

Required Reading:

Read all assignments before the due date. Identify at least one reviewer or critic 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 one local reviewer. 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 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. You are also required to comment at least once every three weeks concerning the critic you are following, for a total of five during the semester.  Such posts might link to a review and provide a comment on 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. ( is NOT acceptable.) You are also responsible for creating a Twitter account. After you have written a review, 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.

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 well-informed, also. (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. And rewriting. And rewriting.

4.      To write a standard news story 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 to avoid editorializing and how to handle attribution smoothly in a story.

7.  To understand the general sources for news (observation, interview, written reports), the necessity of skepticism in dealing with these sources; to master the process of verifying information; to exhibit that understanding in your 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. (For instance, always double space.)

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 – that 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 (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 closely during the research for the review and in general “writing 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 in the newsroom of a moderate-size daily newspaper with no supervision. 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 a few Assignments 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 in future courses.  May have problems with accuracy and attention to detail. May have problems under deadline pressure. 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 -- ever.  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. If they don't, I will fail them. D=74-65.

Work may 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 24

Objective: An introduction to reviewing. Preparing for restaurant review. Preparing for semester-end publication analysis due the day of the final exam By the end of the semester, you will have an idea of how reviews must be aimed at specific audiences. Your final analysis will explore what implicit/explicit expectations in form, content, etc. you would have to observe if you wished to do freelance reviewing for your chosen publication. Blogging and Tweeting.

Out of Class: Read handouts and online essays. Our syllabus will be posted at the class website, so you can click through to each of these articles:

Assignment: A restaurant review of at least 600 words is due Tuesday, February 3. You will place a version of your review on Yelp as well as on your blog.
            Week Two: January 31
            Objective: Preparing for a movie review.
Out of Class:  Read handouts, plus the following online essays.

             * Let's Rate the Ranking Systems of Film Reviews

             * Pauline Kael on the fun of writing disrespectfully

            * Review vs. Critique

Assignment: A movie review of at least 600 words is due Thursday, February 10. On that day, I’ll video each of you doing a Twitter review of the film.



            Week Three: February 7
Objective: Your Assignment will be reviewing an episode of your favorite sitcom during which you compare it to an episode of the classic sitcom “I Love Lucy.” We will explore how an appreciation of the history of a TV genre affects your appreciation of an example of that genre. (See the ‘Lucy’ link below.)

            Out of Class: Read handouts and online material.                           

Assignment: The TV review of at least 600 is due Thursday, February 17.

            Week Four: February 14

Objective: Poetry as performance. The poetry slam!
Out of Class: Read handouts and online material.

Assignment: We will go as a class to a poetry slam at the Starry Plough in Berkeley, Wednesday night, February 16.  (No class on Thursday.) A review at least 600 words is due Tuesday, March 3.



           Week Five: February 21

            Objectives: Reviewing a musical performance
            Out of Class: Read handouts and online essays.

Assignment: A review of at least 600 words of a musical performance attended by the class is due Thursday, March 2. (If we go Tuesday or Thursday night, it can sub for class.)

            Week Six: February 28
Objective: The entertainment interview written on deadline.

Out of Class: Read handouts and online material.

Assignment: Thursday, March 3, we will have a Q&A in class with a guest. Your story of at least 600 words based on that interview is due 24 hours later. 

Week Seven: March 7
 Objective: Reviewing a play. Exploring the extent to which intensive preparation for a review enriches a review. (This Assignment may come at a different time in the semester depending on what is being presented on campus.)
Out of Class: Read handouts and online material. I hope we will spend the next two weeks preparing to attend an on-campus play. If all goes well, we will have the opportunity to interview actors, crew and the director of the play. I’m going to invite a drama teacher to class to give the class a “mini” acting lesson.

Spring Break

            Week Eight: March 21
Objective: Reviewing a play (2). Exploring the extent to which intensive preparation for a reviewing experience enriches the review.

Assignment: A play review of at least 600 words is due Tuesday, March 29.           

            Week Nine: March 28
            Objective: Reviewing a documentary movie. Is point-of-view propaganda?

Out of Class: This is the week of USF’s Human Rights Film Festival. We will review one of the films presented at the Festival.

 Assignment: A review of at least 600 words of the assigned movie is due Thursday, April 7.
            Week Ten: April 4
 Objectives: Reviewing the Friday night concert and labyrinth walk at Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill.
 Out of Class: Read handouts and online essays.

Assignment: Do a story containing elements of a review – particularly whether or not this is an experience you recommend to your readers. I want you not only to watch and listen but to participate, to walk the labyrinth. The story of at least 600 words is due Thursday, April 14.


            Week Eleven: April 11

            Objectives: Reviewing a ‘Fine Art.’ Elitism, classism and the end of beauty.
            Out of Class: Read handouts and online essays.

Assignment: A review of an assigned exhibit of at least 600 words is due Thursday, April 21.

            Week Twelve: April 18
            Objective: Wild Card week.    
            Out of Class: Read assigned handouts and online essays.

Assignment: A review of 600 or more words of anything you wish to review is due Thursday, April 28. 

            Week Thirteen: April 25

Objectives: A review video to be posted on your blog. You will reduce one of your reviews to a two-three minute script and do that script on camera.
            Out of Class: Read handouts and online essays.

            Assignment:  Your script is due Monday, April 25.

            Week Fourteen: May 2

Objectives: Interviewing 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 last 750 words with your reviewer of choice is due Thursday, May 5.

            Week Fifteen: May 9

            Objectives: Final Evaluation

Assignment: A 750-word publication analysis is due on exam day in which you explain how you would adjust your reviewing style to fit a publiction in which you would like your reviews to appear.

Other reading:

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