There are people who believe that “Entertainment Journalism” is an oxymoron, and in a sense, they’re right. In a culture where celebrity worship has become a plague, the line between reporting real news and dispensing gossip has practically been shattered. All you have to do is look at programs like “Access Hollywood” or TMZ or read magazines such as Us Weekly or E! to understand that what passes for entertainment journalism these days is actually nothing more than reporting the minutiae of celebrity lives.
That’s not what journalism, and this class, is about. We won’t be discussing Kim Kardashian’s baby bump, or whether Drake and Serena Williams are dating or the latest on Mickey Rourke’s reconstructive surgery. We will be talking about, and writing about a variety of topics that go beyond what the tabloids deem important.
What Entertainment Means: American popular culture is driven by multi-billion dollar corporations whose impact is global. When reporting on film, TV, music or whatever, it’s important to understand why things happen and what their ultimate influence is. This is, in a sense, what trend stories are all about, and we’ll be looking at them as a key element of entertainment journalism.
Reviewing: It’s easy enough to say you liked something, but why did you like it? And what gives your opinion any validity? To intelligently review anything, it’s important not only to know something of the history of what you’re writing about, but also its particular aesthetics. Everyone has an opinion. Great. But the valuable ones, whether you agree with them or not, are those that are well thought out, knowledgeable and stylistically persuasive.
Opinion Pieces: This is essentially reviewing, but on a bigger scale. It’s talking about the “big” issues. Is rap homophobic? Are Stallone-like action films on the way out? How can broadcast TV compete with cable monsters like “Walking Dead?” Writing about these subjects demands a critical intelligence, a sense of history and the ability to see the big picture while explaining it in easily digestible chunks.
Interviewing: A good interview is a delicate balancing act between preparation and improvisation. It’s being able to ask the right question at the right time, and to get that little tidbit of information that no one else has. Good interviewers know how to employ follow-up questions, and that banal queries like “What was it like to work with…” rarely elicit anything interesting. They also know how to breathe life into their subject through observation, offbeat facts and the telling quote. We’ll discuss all of this in class.
Public Relations: In no other business are there more barriers between the journalist and the subject than in the business of show. Just about everyone important you will ever interview has a PR representative, and you have to deal with him or her before you get to the person you really want to talk to. Publicists can be your best friend or greatest enemy. They can withhold access on a whim, or tell you things off the record that help with your story. Understanding how the publicity machinery works is a key element in understanding the world of entertainment journalism.
This is a writing course. Grading is based on the quality of your work, filtered through my experience as a professional journalist. You will be assessed in terms of your grammar, adherence to style, the accuracy of your reporting and the ability to structure your pieces in a coherent and interesting way. Significant improvement over the course of the semester counts for a lot. Longer pieces will be weighted heavier than shorter ones. Your grade will depend on a number of projects. These will include (but will not be limited to):
* An essay based on the book “On Bullshit.” (5%)
* A piece covering an award program (10%)
* Weekly blog (10%)
* A sports sidebar (10%)
* A profile piece written about one of the guest speakers. (25%)
* A final group project, for which you will be required to write one feature-length trend story, subject matter of your choosing. (35%)
* Other in-class assignments and participation (5%)
In the outside world, attendance is not optional; therefore, in this course, attendance is mandatory, and I expect you to arrive on time to class. Absences may be excused under the following conditions: You must contact me by telephone, e-mail, or in person at least two weeks in advance, or in the case of an emergency, on the same day of the absence to let me know you will be absent during a class session, and you must provide acceptable, written documentation of the reason for your absence within five business days of the absence. Some examples of acceptable documentation include a dated physician’s note, a dated traffic accident report, a dated hospital bill, etc. Providing documentation does not guarantee an absence will be excused. Other absences (funerals, weddings, etc.) will be addressed on a case-by-case basis and may not be considered excused.
This is a journalism course, and as such, deadlines are treated very seriously. I expect you to meet all deadlines for every assignment; this is your responsibility. Failing to show up on the day an assignment is due does not excuse you from handing in that assignment.
Class Participation and Preparation
Participation is key in this class. You should take an active part in class discussions and have exercises and other assignments completed on time. You will be graded on participation (or lack of participation).
On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
Scandal: A Manual by George Rush and Joanna Molloy
WEEK 1 | Introduction
Write a short in-class essay describing your interest in the arts, and why you wanted to take this course. Include your background, favorite artists and works (fine arts and popular entertainment), life-altering arts experiences. Tell me the movie/CD/TV show/whatever you would take with you to a desert island. This is not for grading purposes, just a chance for me to assess your writing abilities and interests.
Assignment: Read the book On Bullshit. Then write a 500-word essay addressing the following questions – What is BS? How do you think it manifests itself in the entertainment industry? And how do you, as journalists, circumvent the BS to write meaningful stories?
WEEK 3 | The Basics
What is NEWS? What is a feature? Review newswriting and how those principles apply to entertainment and feature writing.
WEEK 4 | The Business of Entertainment
Buy (or borrow) the September 13th editions of The New York Post, Daily News and Times and read their arts sections. The evening of September 14, 15 or 16 watch “E! News Live” at 7 p.m., then “Entertainment Tonight” at 7:30. In each case, keep a running total of what kinds of stories appear—how many are about film? Pop music? Dance? How many are reviews? Features? Breaking news? We’ll use this to discuss arts coverage on a day-to-day business, how coverage decisions are made, etc.
WEEK 5 | The art of color
WEEK 6 | Covering Events and Shows
The Clio Awards
WEEK 7 | The art of the interview
How do you research for an interview? What kinds of questions do you ask? How do you organize the final material?
Read Scandal: A Manual by Joanna Molloy and George Rush
Assignment: Write a profile of George Rush, based on his presentation, questions you ask in class, and any information you can find about him.
Special Guest: George Rush or Joanna Molloy
WEEK 8 | Sports: The sidebar
Pick a Hunter College sports event (volleyball, basketball, etc.) to cover live and write a 550-word sidebar from that event.
WEEK 9 | Ethical dilemmas of the business
Conflicts of interest. Accepting—or not accepting—gifts. Getting friendly with the people you cover. Etc. Come prepared with your thoughts on what’s moral and not in the journalism world.
Watch and discuss Wag the Dog
WEEK 10 | The Blog: The power of the niche
Blog Topics Due: November 12
First blog due
Sports Sidebar Due!
Final Project: You will begin working on the big project of the semester, which is to develop a concept for an entertainment publication or project, complete with suggested stories and departments. You will also be required to write a feature story for this publication, length of 1,000 words, subject of your choosing. This is a group project.
Assignment: Imagine you’re on the staff of that publication, and critique it: What’s being covered? What’s not? How is the writing? The layout? Picture selection? If you were running the show, how would you change the publication? You will be required to give a short oral presentation on your findings at the next class meeting. This breakdown will also help you when it comes to your magazine project.
WEEK 13 | Criticism: what it is, how you do it, how it works.
Assignment: Write a 500-word review of a current film, book, TV show, play, etc.
We’ll be talking about how you’re progressing with your final project This will most likely be a lab week, where you work on the computer while I give individual instruction.
Finals Projects Due
Team presentations delivered
Final class. Final Group Projects. Prizes!