Sunday, February 22, 2009


Two strands of class discussion come together in this review of David Denby's book, Snark. Walter Kirn wrote a great review/critique of the book in the New York Times Book Review this week. Kirn raises the question of whether allowing irresponsible and reckless powers to proceed without being ridiculed and laughed at is, in the end, in worse taste than any tacky joke, cheap-shot chuckle or ill-considered dismissal. It's worth noting that The Believer, the magazine that published the Q and A with Steven Soderbergh, was started in part with a mission to combat snark. It's also worth noting that the battle against snark has been going on for years and years, now, as can be seen from this old story on The Believer from The New York Observer. You can read The Believer's opening salvo against snark from back in 2003, right here. All of this comes together in the discussion of these Q and A's because many of these interviews touch on questions of taste, decorum, artistic honesty and protocal. Because the interview subjects -- a comedian and two film directors -- all work in the media, the questions seemed naturally to gravitate toward issues of how best to represent truth and reality, without distorting everything through the lens of self-consciousness or unnatural abreviations and abridgement.

Our discussion of Q and A's will be enhanced if any of you can read this story about Deborah Solomon's interview and editing techniques from the New York Press. There was a whole mini-flap about this issue, and the Times ended up changing the text that runs with her popular interviews each week as a result.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

To Pay or ...

I'm curious what you all make of the discussion about paying for magazine and newspaper content online. This piece in Slate is one out of a whole string of things that have shown up -- first in David Carr's business column in the NY Times, then on the cover of Time Magazine (maybe you saw Walter Isaacson discussing his story about the future of Linknewspapers on The Daily Show?), on the opinion pages of the Times, and elsewhere. The idea is that consumers, the public, (you/we) would be willing to pay "micropayments" for articles and stories online, in much the same way people pay for MP3s on iTunes.
So, informal poll then, how many of you pay for music? Would you be willing to pay 10 or 15 cents or a quarter for every story you wanted to read from your favorite magazines? (Magazines whose content, I'm assuming, you can't access fully online for free at the moment.) I feel like if I could read magazines like Mojo, Paste, NY Review of Books, the Believer, Cabinet (not even sure it that's still around), and lots more for such cheap little installments, I would. But maybe I'm dreaming. Maybe a $20 or $30 or maybe $50 monthly fee for reading stuff that I could just as easily browse through at Borders or at the library would be way out of my budget, especially in this economy.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Days of Future Past

This story from the New York Observer -- in which the writers interview a number of magazine editors about the future of long-form journalism, magazine writing and magazines in general -- is only almost a year old, but reading it now, in the midst of all the hand-wringing and gloomy about the economy and the future of print publishing, seems like reading something from a different century. Particularly interesting are the stories about how magazine writers used to go in deep back in the old days.


Some of you have probably noticed that there's an apparent disconnect between the subject description of the Adam Gopnik reading on syllabus and the content of the story that comes up if you follow the link. There was a slight bit of sloppiness on my part. The reading is about Shaker art, not about director's commentaries on DVDs. In case there's any doubt, read the Gopnik story about Shaker art that comes up. The story ties in nicely to a theme that we'll touch on Tuesday night -- commerce and creativity. Which brings me to a story that appeared in the NYTimes Sunday magazine today. It's from Rob Walker's "Consumed" column, which is always about commodification, in a way. This story explores the points of connection between design, social networking and stock agencies like iStock. As with the Gordon Ramsay profile, the Consumed column is a good example of the ways that the solid reporting skills that many of you are already acquiring in your roles as writers for the paper can come in handy when writing an arts and culture piece. And as you think about the Gopnik story on Shaker art, take note of the breadth and scope of his artistic, cultural and historical references.

Voice, Race, Obama

Here's an essay by the novelist Zadie Smith in the recent NY Review of Books. She writes about Obama's voice, as the product of Kenyan and middle American parents, and his experience in Hawaii, Indonesia, Harvard and elsewhere. Smith finds hope in Obama's ability to operate in more than one cultural world. Bringing George Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare into the discussion, Smith makes a leap from theater and character-generating to politics. Consider how a knowledge of current events, reporting, politics and arts, as well as writing, novels and theater all play into this piece.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Plight of Hartford Paper on NPR

There was an interesting story on NPR this morning about the possible demise of daily newspapers like the Hartford Courant. The reporter tried to speak to the paper's editor. No luck. The story runs down some of the problems facing newspapers -- troubled economy, online classifieds, shrinking ad revenue, the difficulty of converting online traffic into revenue, etc. It's worth thinking about what might be lost if daily papers disappear. How does that change the landscape of local arts coverage? Many of you work at the school newspaper, some of you have interned at dailies, some of you hope to work as journalists -- how would it change your life if the Hartford Courant disappeared? Seriously.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Let's Talk About ...

What's the logic behind the way that Ann Powers links the three artists she writes about in her piece in the LA Times? What areas of cultural knowledge does Powers bring to the piece in addition to a consideration of music?

In the Christopher Benfey book review, what was his critical response to the book under consideration? After our discussion of whether a critic's role is to convey a judgment of a piece of art, did Benfey's review leave the reader wanting to read the book? Why? What did Benfey focus on communicating in the review?

What's the premise of the New Yorker piece about Gordon Ramsay? How did Buford treat dialogue and speech? Did Buford's "voice" come through? Was the Ramsay profile about food? Is there tension in this story? What is it?

On the subject of your restaurant reviews: What was the hardest thing to do with regard to the assignment? Was it difficult to contain your thoughts and opinions in 600 words?