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Shifting Responsibility -- Part III

Posted on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 at 4:20 PM

The final parts of my decision-making process.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Last issue I discussed everything from "details of who, why, and what" to the need for educating readers. Here are the concluding considerations:


Explaining in another word, the use of exposition, with which you create full and clear understanding. Don't take too much for granted on what your receiver knows.


That's your job. Make the coverage entertaining, whether the subject matter is serious or humorous, sad or happy, even profound or complicated. Use words and language and facts and approach to give satisfaction.


History, like context above. Give your audience, as I try to give mine, enough informational support about what has come in the past that led to what is now.


For me, the offering of how what I experienced struck me is a critical part of a review. What imprint did the event leave on me? What force? What importance? What sensual leftover? Ask yourself how much of that is necessary as part of your creation.

Institutional Goals

I sometimes need to tell my readers my understanding of concept, the why for what the art or artist or ensemble or musical institution is attempting to do. The arts can be puzzling. The reasons for certain individuals or outfits to exist as presenters/purveyors of new and complicated and even controversial style and content need consideration and coverage in what I write. That may be a need for you, too, in subject fields you cover.


Music requires interpretation; I must pass along my views about artistic choices made and the level of ability and/or wisdom to have accomplished them. Is that a requirement for you? Ask yourself the question.

Intimate Knowledge

As a critic and not really a trained musician, I must continue to study and bone up on matters musical to bring as much background as I possibly can to every assignment I undertake; this is a lifelong responsibility. All journalists, who tend to be, first, generalists, then perhaps specialists -- should do that as well. Be a knowledge seeker. Equip yourself with the fodder of the field.


My task as reviewer/critic requires the careful use of judgment, including care and thoughtfulness and fairness and sympathy and definiteness, meaning I must bring logic and feeling and opinion to the written product. Decide whether or not that's part of your final aims.


Story-telling is always a welcome given. Be able to use story wherever and whenever it is appropriate, as it is very often helpful to make your journalistic product more successful. We grew up with stories. We love stories. Stories are powerful ways to make powerful journalistic pieces. Be as generous as it is right to be by supplying what your audience will like: stories to help you share with strength and attraction what you have to share.


To be able to describe, to be able to offer meaningful and intriguing detail, to help bring your copy to life, the force of observation must be potent within you. That I find critical for all I cover, whether it is music or anything else; I always seek out the unusual, the unexpected, the small and barely detectable, the juicy. I'm sure that's what you try to do, too.


Ultimately, in my job as critic/reviewer, I must offer some sort of opinion and, with it, sufficient support. Not when I write feature stories or news stories, but in reviews, it's a factor that belongs, a part you work toward, a part of the climax.


I don't feel comfortable if I haven't done what I believe to be enough gathering of information: the interviewing, the fact finding, the observing and listening, the being there, the participating, if that is called for and possible.

Not all fits in all, of course. But these are elements to consider. And every consideration must take me back to the reader, what his or her wants and needs are likely to be. And that's what I pointed out for Professor Melamed's young music writers (see Part I), and that's what I'm reminding you of. Reminding is always useful for us all. I certainly need it.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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