Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Arts Reporting and Reviewing Syllabus (So Far)

Arts Reporting and Reviewing


Spring 2009

Class meets Tuesday and Thursday in Cowell G13 (The Media Lab)

Dr. Michael Robertson

Office: Kalmanovitz Hall 119

Phone: 422-6250 (office); 510-836-4870 (home)

Email: robertson@usfca.edu

Office Hours:

Tuesday and Thursday 12:30-2p. If you need to see me, don't hesitate to ask for a time convenient for you.

Required Texts:

“Reviewing the Arts,” by Campbell B. Titchener

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. During 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 may be given without prior notice if I conclude you are ignoring the reading assignments.

Your Personal Blog and Twitter Account:

Each student is responsible for creating a personal blog on which you will post in accordance with class assignments. Several websites provide free space for blogging. Blogger.com is a popular one. 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 Twitter post.

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 the most severe sanctions possible.


If you have any handicap or any other physical, emotional or personal problem that will interfere with your performance, you should discuss it with the professor 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; that is, even if you spontaneously produce a provocative and entertaining review, 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.

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

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

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 exam (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.

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 will be turned in online. In either case, 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 26

Objective: An introduction to reviewing. Preparing for restaurant review. Preparing for semester-long TV review project. Blogging and Tweeting.

Out of Class: Read Titchener 1-36, 151-160. Read handouts and online essays.

Is It Curtains for Critics? The Rise of the Web

Assignment: A restaurant review of at least 600 words is due Thursday, February 5. You will place an edited version of your review on Yelp.

Week Two: February 2

Objective: Preparing for a movie review.

Out of Class: Read Titchener, 37-53. Read handouts, plus the following online. Our syllabus will be posted at the class website, so you can click through to each of these articles:

Let's Rate the Ranking Systems of Film Reviews

Pauline Kael on the fun of writing disrespectfully

Review vs. Critique

The Pearls of Pauline

Assignment: A movie review of at least 600 words is due Tuesday, February 10.

Week Three: February 9

Objective: Reviewing a single episode of a TV show.

Out of class: Read Titchener 54-70. Read handouts and online material.

Critics Eye Online Content Reviews

Death of the TV Critic

Are Local TV Critics Still Needed?

Assignment: A review of at least 600 words of a single episode of a TV show is due Tuesday, February 17

Week Four: February 16

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 attend “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which won the Oscar for Best Documentary last year. Read handouts and online material.

Nanook and Me

Assignment: A review of at least 600 words of “Taxi to the Dark Side” that incorporates comments by director Alex Gibney, who will take questions from the audience after the screening of his film is due Tuesday, February 24.

Week Five: February 23

Objective: Poetry as performance. The poetry slam!

Out of class: Read handouts and online material.

What is a Poetry Slam?

Assignment: We will go as a class to a poetry slam. A review at least 600 words is due Tuesday, March 3.

Week Six: March 2

Objective: The entertainment interview written on deadline.

Out of class: Read handouts and online material.

Assignment: Thursday, March 5, we will have a Q&A in class with a guest. You will then write in class a story based on that interview.

Week Seven: March 9

Objective: Reviewing a play. Exploring the extent to which intensive preparation for a review enriches a review.

Out of class: Read Titchener 84-99. Read handouts and online material. 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.

Week Eight: March 16

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 31

Spring Break

Week Nine: March 30

Objectives: Reviewing a ‘Fine Art.’ Elitism, classism and the end of beauty.

Out of Class: Read Titchener 108-139 and handouts and online essays.

Assignment: A review of an assigned exhibit of at least 600 words is due Tuesday, April 7

Week Ten: April 6

Objectives: Reviewing a musical performance.

Out of Class: Read Titchener 108-139 and handouts and online essays.

Week Eleven: April 13

Objectives: Reviewing a musical performance (2)

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 Tuesday, April 21.

Week Twelve: April 20

Objective: Wild Card week. Almost anything can be the subject of a review.

Out of Class: Read handouts and online essays.

Assignment: A review of 600 words of anything other than those genres reviewed this semester is due Tuesday, April 28

Week Thirteen: April 27

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.

Week Fourteen: May 4

Objectives: Interviewing a 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 Tuesday, May 5

Week Fifteen: May 11

Objectives: Final Evaluation

Assignment: A review of at least 1,000 words of a TV series is due on exam day. Note: Each Monday during the semester you are expected to post something on your blog relating to the series you are following. If you do, you will have made a good start on your final review.

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