Sunday, May 10, 2009

Press Pressure

When we were doing our section on critics, Susan did a presentation on Frank Rich. You may remember that Rich had a background as a theater and film critic but that he's now mainly known for his Sunday op-ed column, which focuses on politics, in the New York Times. We talked a little bit about the possible connections between the worlds of theater and politics. This week, Rich's column presents a good example. Pay attention to how he deploys his stage background in the service of an argument about the newspaper business and its role in American politics. Notice the connections he draws between the demise of vaudeville, radio drama, movie newsreels and the state of print journalism.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

List of Lists

The other week I realized that I'd piled on readings by Louis Menand for this class. But here's one more. This came out at the end of the year in 2004 and it's basically about the whole business of the end-of-year Top 10 lists that appear in practically every publication. It's funny, but it's also a smart and insightful explanation of why we need critics to begin with -- in case you needed a reminder.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


This story in last week's New Yorker is about the "cosmetic" use of prescription drugs used for attention-deficit disorder. It's probably old news to many of you -- but the story looks at studies that indicate some of these drugs can improve one's ability with certain tasks, like memorizing numbers, and that some people find they can concentrate better and for longer under their influence. She raises the question of whether college students who use these drugs should be punished for cheating. Toward the end the author makes an interesting connection with the "transhumanists" like the guy we read about in Wired who hopes to live forever if he can get to the singularity.

And I know I've been shoving Virginia Heffernan down your throats all semester, ... but there are a few more weeks left. Here's her column from the Sunday Times Magazine. Again, she's right on the money, taking the somewhat contrarian view that user comments online are basically a wasteland of ill-considered poison. We've discussed the merits of user-generated comments in class, and many publications go out of their way to get as many as possible. And many readers seek the most-commented-upon stories as well. Heffernan suggests reader comments should rise to a base level of insight.

Which brings us back to snark. Here's yet another review of David Denby's book Snark. This one, coincidentally, is written by Toby Young the British critic who we'll be reading for class and discussing on Tuesday.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Business as Usual

I know that you're all digital creatures, and, as such, you probably don't prefer to read the hard copy of the newspaper, but since they distribute the NY Times for free on campus, you should all make an effort to get today's (Monday's) paper so that you can catch a glimpse of the bundle of journalism-related stories as they appear on the front page of the business section. There's one about new hyper-local web sites (some of which use reporters, some of which don't). There's one offering another iteration of the micro-payment theory (with interesting new developments with regard to the AP and Google News). There's another about the possibility of The Boston Globe going under. And there's another about how magazines are having to raise their cover charges just to survive. It's worth seeing it all in one place, on paper, while you can.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Print's Past

Anyone interested in the newspaper-history and media-criticism elements of some of the readings -- the Hirschorn piece about front pages, the David Carr story's about online payments and alt weeklies, and the Louis Menand story about the Village Voice -- should read this story in the New Yorker about the history of the Wall Street Journal. The creation of both the Hearst empire and the New York Times is also covered.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

On John Leonard

NY Times critic A.O. Scott wrote this nice remembrance of the critic John Leonard when Leonard died at the end of last year. It's worth reading to get a sense of just how much a book/culture critic needs to know and read, and just how far and wide their work and writing can reach. (Leonard is the critic who wrote the book reviews from Harper's that we're reading for Tuesday's class.)