Hoot! Reviewing a Classic, With a Fresh Approach.

It is not easy to review paintings; it is even harder to review paintings of a master like Vincent Van Gogh.  Robin Rice did it in City Paper, with a fresh angle of observation and an informative review of a professional.

Many times have I read pieces on Van Gogh’s paintings; many times they fall into cliché. Rice’s review is different.

For one, Rice knows that most of the readers who want read about Van Gogh are somehow familiar with some of the symbolic paintings and the twisted personal life of him. So Rice chose to avoid reiterating the known facts. She picked some unique elements in Van Gogh’s paintings and the influences that Van Gogh received, which lead to his creation of these elements.

Second, in a short piece like this one, Rice maximizes her possibility to make readers gravitate toward Van Gogh’s exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She uses her professional critique to lead readers to two elements in Van Gogh’s paintings – Japanese compositional device of creating layers and the Impressionism of his dashed, parallel brushstroke.

Rice uses illustrative language to make it easier for non-painter readers to understand, for example, “a flattened, aerial perspective that tilts the ground up toward a high horizon line; elements cut off by the edges of the picture; foreground images acting as a screen in front of a background scene.” She also gave examples of some of the paintings that use this device. Once readers understand the concept, they want to see more and they will have a desire to go and analyze his paintings on their own. For me, this is the best effect an art review can achieve, intentionally or not.

– Text by Ning Shao. Image via City Paper.


Hoot! Trendspotting, With Quantification.

The Philadelphia Weekly article “Philly’s Homegrown Playwrights Enjoying a
High-Profile Boom” is an example of trend reporting. It reports that lately the number and prominence of playwrights in Philadelphia have gone up significantly.

The article written by J. Cooper Robb does this reporting admirably because its approach is measured. It shies away from uncritical boosterism on the one hand and carping criticism on the other hand.

The article achieves this measured approach in two ways. First, it sticks to the facts. It backs up its claim with data. When it claims that there has been an uptick in the number and visibility of playwrights in the city, the article identifies four playwrights and their plays. The article identifies which of those plays are currently in production in Philadelphia. The article also identifies which of those plays premiered in the city. And, to establish that there has indeed been an upsurge in playwriting in the city, the article recognizes that the city has by no means been without its homegrown playwrights or theater scene. Rather, as the article points out, what has happened is that a program that sponsors homegrown plays to be written and produced has recently come on the scene.
That program is called PlayPenn, and it has catalyzed local playwriting and theater production.

The second way that the article achieves this measured approach is by including a critical assessment of the trend. The article suggests that there is still a lack of support for local theater, notwithstanding the many institutions and talent that the city has. The article deftly offers this criticism within the context a quote from a local playwright, thereby—as the rationale goes for using quotes in journalism—offering an observation from someone that should know.

– Text by Charlie Chan. Image via Philadelphia Weekly.

Howl! Give Us The Secrets of Making Money!

The article “How Three Temple Grads Aim to Make Philly the Next Big Tech Hub” is a profile of Technically Media, a local media company that publishes a Philadelphia centered technology news website.

Written by John Paul Titlow, the article covers some of the basic ground that one would expect from a profile article. For instance, it talks about the development of the company, from its genesis as a mere idea among three graduates of the journalism program at Temple, to its development as a company with current plans to bring its brand of technology news coverage to other cities. Overall, the article aligns Technically Media as a new model for journalism or media organizations—small, technically savvy, and focused on and engaged with the local scene.

Unfortunately, the article presents an incomplete picture of what this new model
would look like. When it makes its central claim that these days “a media organization would have to go beyond simple reporting and ad sales,” the article states that such an organization instead needs “to rely heavily on other forms of community connectivity.”

Point taken, but what exactly “community connectivity” really means is not fully fleshed out, not to mention the fact that the phrase drips of jargon. Worse, the article skirts the issue of how exactly Technically Media uses this “connectivity” as a new source of—to put it bluntly—revenue. Instead, the article focuses on how Technically Media in many ways fills a real need when it comes to technology-related issues in Philadelphia.

– Text by Charlie Chan. Image via Philadelphia Weekly.

Howl! Give Us More Information!

In the recent article in the Daily News, “Philadelphia art galleries add bands to their exhibits,”  by Molly Eichel stands out to me, mostly because of personal interest. Eichel talks about a new phenomenon of art exhibits in Philly – putting on concerts in art galleries.

This isn’t new in Philly. I have been to art exhibitions where there were bands performing and alcohol serving.  The reason Eichel brought up the topic is not clear, but considering what readers would like to see and to know, the article lacks appeal.

Upon seeing the title of the article, I was expecting to see something exciting, something descriptive and full sounds and scenes. When I started reading the article, I disappointedly found out that other than the quotes of information from many sources, there is not much going on in this article. It reads like a piece of promotion for different art galleries and bands than an informative piece of writing.

It would be great if readers who have never been to one of these venues or events can have the desire to go out there and find out more after reading this article.

As of balancing the news and opinions, Eichel didn’t provide much about the pros and cons for this specific practice. What readers would expect to see is why it is a good thing to bring music into arts, what the downside is to have a group of spectators who don’t really go there to enjoy arts but free concerts and drinks, what about other cities, successful/failed examples, etc.

This could be a better piece if the writer considered expanding the angle of the story and the way of approaching the readers. Overall, it does not serve the purpose of introducing the topic to reader, especially an interesting topic like this.

– Text by Ning Shao. Image via philly.com.

Hoot! Tackling Complexities and Pointing Out Problems.

Daniel Denvir’s City Paper article “Living on the Edge” navigates complex social issues to deliver a convincing verdict on a shortsighted policy decision. Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year would eliminate General Assistance (GA) payments. These nine-month, one-time welfare payments help to maintain Philadelphia’s system of recovery houses.

These establishments offer low-rent housing and medical assistance to recovering addicts, a significant number of whom rely on their GA payments to afford these services. There are a host of problems with many of the recovery houses, including exploitation of the recovering addicts for cheap labor, but as a whole they provide a valuable service in keeping addicts off the street and on the path to recovery.

The article argues that if GA was ended, Philadelphia would see an increase in crime.

Denvir has a difficult task ahead of him with this argument due to the complexities surrounding both drug use and welfare. The failure of many of the recovery houses to meet basic standards of accountability and effectiveness also complicates the argument. The article quotes activist organizations, government bureaucrats, recovery house owners and addicts themselves in order to paint a picture of an imperfect but necessary system.

Denvir’s most compelling argument from an economic perspective is that many of these GA recipients will wind up in jail if they can no longer pay the costs of recovery houses. And that will ultimately cost the state more than the GA program would.

Text by Brendan Clay. Image via City Paper.

Hoot & Howl: The Reporter As Critic (And Vice-Versa).

In its very essence, the recent Philadelphia Inquirer article “Art poised for eager crowds” is a hard news/ general arts piece, announcing the May 19 opening of the new Barnes Foundation on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

In the way typical of hard news reporting, the article delves into various concrete facts about the museum. For example, when it mentions the operating budget for the museum, the article notes how 20 percent of that budget will come from endowment money. The article also notes the number of visitors the museum expects to have in the first few years. It notes the number of membership subscriptions the museum has been able to take in so far. The article even goes so far as to state how much those memberships and entrance tickets cost.

Striking, then, is the way this hard news reporting is actually embedded in a larger story that is more art criticism than general arts reporting. The larger story is about the Barnes and more specifically about the significance of the Barnes collection itself. As such, this article by Stephan Salisbury represents a hybrid of general arts news reporting and art criticism.

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Hoot! Six Sources Prove on a Trend Story (Plus Historical Context and Future Predictions).

Kudos go to Philadelphia City Paper’s John Vettese for his inquisitive and well-sourced article from Feb. 23 on the growing number of rock clubs in Center City and why that influx is occurring in 2012.

Vettese’s article makes an astute observation: besides The Trocadero, there weren’t many rock venues in or around Center City. That, according to Vettese and his sources, has resulted in fragmented audiences: “You can play a show in South Philly, and you’ll only see that crowd in South Philly,” says Goldilocks Gallery’s Matthew McDermott.

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Hoot! Objective Journalism Still Exists!

This story from the Philadelphia Inquirer talks about the latest decision of Philadelphia School District to turn four schools into chartered schools.

This article opens up with a typical lead that contains the what, why and how elements. The reporter provides the detail about how the city school district plans to turn these schools over to chartered organizations. On the other hand, the reporter is able to provide the voice on the other side that represents the Philadelphia Teachers Union. By balancing the story with voice from two sides, the reporter shows the typical trait of objectivity of journalism.

After presenting voices from both sides, the reporter then starts to provide some background information to provide the story more depth. It also allows readers to link back to what has happened in the past and offers a clearer understanding of what’s the whole operation going to be about.

Besides background information, the reporter also provides the future direction of the whole event. The Philadelphia School District’s decision on other schools is of the top interest of parents and other school teachers. This strategy can effectively lead the story to other possible follow up stories in the future. Then the reporter enlarges the range of discussion to the overall examination of school performance and how that might affect their destiny in the future.

One little part that the article can try to improve is the part when the reporter lists out the general information of the schools. For an article that actually has other more valuable things to focus on, the reporter actually can omit this part, especially since the readers of the Inquirer are based in the Philadelphia area. Putting all that information in one paragraph will be a little bit too dull. In order to not disinterest the readers, the reporter can actually assume that people know where those schools are and use that portion for a better purpose.

– Text by Hao Wei Yang.