Module JD010

Arts Journalism

Module author

Geoff Edgers


Learning objectives After you have completed this module, you will be able to:
  • Understand the different varieties of arts writing, from soft features and reviews to investigative journalism.
  • Know where to find financial documents for non-profits and how to use them to determine the relative financial health of an organization, its spending approach, and salary structure.
  • Consider multiple approaches to the same subject, including previews, trend and scene stories, and profiles.
  • Discuss the shift in how arts journalism is produced, including traditional media, online sources (from blogs to internet-only magazines) to the ‘independent' writers funded by organizations eager for more coverage.

Chapter 1: The definitions of arts journalism
1.1 The history of arts journalism
1.2 The sources of arts journalism, for readers and for arts journalists

Chapter 2: Basic skills
2.1 Structure
2.1.1 The lead
2.1.2 The ‘nut' or background paragraph
2.1.3 Using quotes
2.1.4 Interviewing techniques
2.2 Essential tools
2.2.1 Using numbers to your advantage
2.2.2 The personal touch

Chapter 3: Arts journalism: Variations of articles
3.1 Previews
3.2 Features and personality profiles
3.3 News stories/investigations

Chapter 4: Understanding budgets

Chapter 5: The final step: Gathering your story
5.1 Interview lists
5.2 Observation
5.3 Access

Study points 2
Preview Arts Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that Arts Journalism is important

Art is crucial to our development as engaged members of society. However, many artists don't have the exposure they need to reach broader audience. This is where arts journalists come in. These are people who make it their mission to connect artists with the broader world. Much as the sports-fan community awaits the website updates, printed results, and other media related to sporting events, people who love the arts depend on arts journalists to do their craft and do it thoroughly.

Whether you're determined to go into arts journalism, want to be a journalist but don't yet have a focus, or just want to explore the field of arts journalism, taking a course in this field can be extremely useful. Even if you have a familiarity with journalism, learning about arts-specific journalism can be useful in building either a career in journalism or simply a better understanding of reporting.


Why study Arts Journalism?

When you do take this module, you'll go through several learning chapters that will better equip you to understand arts journalism from the perspective of the journalist, the artist, and the reader. Ultimately, you'll understand the various approaches to arts journalism and when each approach is appropriate. These approaches include reviews, brief features, in-depth features, and investigative pieces. Since many arts organizations are non-profits, you'll learn about obtaining and analyzing financial documents for non-profits in order to assess financial health and spending trends for various organizations. You will learn how to write about the same subject using different journalistic forms, including preview pieces, interviews, and more.

Throughout this module, you'll also learn about the history of arts journalism, especially how it began to shift from print to online media. You'll gain an awareness of your craft's place in history and its impact on the present as well.


Overview of this module

The module begins with definitions of arts journalism, moves on to the basic skills needed, and then introduces students to the variations of articles and article types and to the budgets behind nonprofits. By the end, you'll be focusing on the mechanics of putting together an article or other journalistic piece.

The first chapter of the module, "The Definitions of Arts Journalism," will focus on the history of the field. You'll learn about prominent arts journalists and their work, as well as how they influenced society. You will also discover the sources of arts journalism. This includes sources for writers - like artists, nonprofit leaders, museum curators, and more. It also includes sources for readers - major publications that regularly report on arts-related news for both the arts devotee and the casual dabbler.

When you move on to chapter two, you'll learn in-depth about the specific skills needed to be a successful and effective arts journalist. You will learn the basic structure of all or most pieces of arts journalism so you can better prepare yourself to be a working journalist in the field. Then you will work on building your own pieces - starting with the lead. The lead will help you capture the attention of your readers - it's your hook.

You'll also learn about the "nut" of a story - the brief encapsulation of a topic that simultaneously provides background and makes your audience. You will learn tips and structures that lead to successful interviewing, which is an art in itself. You'll also get good practice incorporating quotes within a piece - this is something that is crucial to arts journalism and virtually all other types of journalism.

Perhaps most importantly, you'll learn interviewing techniques. In any kind of journalism, direct quotes are essential - and the best quotes come from exclusive interviews. Eliciting printworthy responses is challenging at times, and it's a tough skill to acquire, but once you have it, your articles will benefit substantially. In a similar vein, you will learn about essential tools of journalism, from means of accurately recording and transcribing interviews to ways of connecting with others who have information.

You'll also learn how to use numbers to your advantage. This sort of education can take place in a number of different ways - you might learn how to investigate, record, and report numbers in a way that underscores a point you're trying to make, or you may learn about proven ways to go about finding less-often reported numbers. Regardless, numbers are vital to arts reporting, whether they're figures on nonprofit earning or the number of prints a given collective sells per year.

Of course, the reason we have real journalists instead of content-generating robots is that every writer has his or her own unique style that permeates all articles written. You'll learn about other journalists' hallmarks of style, how to make your own mark on the arts journalism world without coming across as overstated or gimmicky, and how to incorporate elements of your own voice and style while staying within the realm of professional, relatively unbiased reporting.

Once you have a sense of style established, you'll be able to delve deeper into the styles of arts journalism you may be able to pursue. You'll learn about preview reporting - where you only report a small amount on a given topic in order to increase interest - as well as on interview reporting, which centers a narrative around a conversation with a given person or people. You will also learn about investigative arts journalism, which may sometimes involve more work but will often prove to be quite rewarding.

An entire chapter of the module will be dedicated to the understanding of budgets. This can be complex, even for someone with financial background. Understanding of budget, while not necessarily central to writing stories on the arts, is very helpful in fleshing out a story, backing up opinions, and characterizing a given nonprofit group.

The final portion of the module may well be the most exciting - you will learn about putting together your own story. Though reading through a news article may just take a matter of minutes, putting one together is a complex feat involving putting together lists of people to interview, making your own astute observations and then communicating them, and finding access to exhibits, readings, plays, shows, and more. Essentially, when you are persistent and organized, you will likely make an excellent arts journalist.