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Raving About Arts Journalism At Berkeley High

January 13, 2009

I wasn't necessarily expecting the experience to be fun or easy. When the managing editor of The Jacket, Berkeley High School's twice monthly internal newspaper, invited me to speak about arts journalism in front of a bunch of the publication's student editors and reporters, the invitation came with a warning: She told me that the group had never before had a speaker from the arts journalism world and that I shouldn't expect the students to be very enthusiastic about my visit.

The last time I'd been invited to talk about journalism in front of a bunch of Berkeley High students was as part of a panel at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in tandem with the company's world premiere of Itamar Moses' journalism-centric play based at the school, Yellowjackets. This had been an uninspiring experience. But I decided not to let that deter my decision to accept the invitation. Talking to people -- especially young people -- about the importance of great arts and culture writing is a passion of mine. I relish every opportunity I get to do it, whether it's meeting one-on-one with an aspiring arts reporter to talk about career options over coffee or holding court in front of 30 seniors at Berkeley's only public school -- the second largest and most populous of its kind in Northern California.

Perhaps the managing editor got her classes muddled up when she warned me about enthusiasm levels. For the students who listened to me rant and rave about what I do for a living and the state of the media in general, were not only awake and enthusiastic, but also asked brilliant questions. I short, I couldn't have hoped for a more attentive group.

Questions ranged from "why should anyone pay attention to what you have to say as a critic?" and "do you ever worry about getting to know artists so well that you can't write negative things about their work?" to "how do you structure a great review?" and "how is the Internet impacting what you do?" The hour flew past. Unlike other similar talks I've given and conversations I've had previously, I think I managed to hit all the bases I wanted to hit, from giving practical, nuts and bolts advice to proffering some more high-level ideas about the importance and role of arts writing in contemporary society and my aspirations for its future.

I don't think I could have gotten close to this target without the good humor and switched-on questioning of The Jacket's staff. The Jacket often features arts pieces, and as many as 60 student writers contribute reviews and other culture articles on a wide variety of events. As such, I was surprised to hear that the paper had up until now never invited an arts writer in to speak. I feel very proud and flattered to have been asked. All being well, I'll get to go back to the school in a couple of months' time to work with a small group of interested writers on review-writing skills. Should be a blast.

This post has been ridiculously gushy, I know. But I mean it when I say that my afternoon at Berkeley High was one of the most meaningful I've had in ages.I don't think I've had so much fun since I hosted my first two-hour-long classical music radio show on NPR a few weeks ago.


  • way to go chloe, glad you're firing up the next generation of arts writers!

    By Blogger Unknown, At January 13, 2009 at 1:20 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Christian Cagigal, At January 14, 2009 at 12:06 PM  

  • Nothing wrong with gushing reviews if they're real. It's always good to be able to share experience we whole heartily loved and enjoyed.

    When kids and teens hate you, they HATE YOU! Usually because they're just not seeing you in the right context. If there's no reference point for most of them, then you're just another grown up (they don't know or care about) telling them about stuff they should know (like rest of the grown ups do) Then, you better do something that gives them this reference point fast or you're dead in the water!

    But, if they have something to go off of that helps them understand who you are and what you do (especially if you are an expert in the specific field the dream about being in) THAN THEY LOVE YOU!!!

    And, let's not forget that when we were young we could smell "loser" and "fear" from a mile away on a grown up. That's easy to do when you live in a world of grown ups telling you what do to, approving and condemning every action and thought.

    Thankfully you're not a loser =)
    You're the real deal and they can tell!

    I'm sure their experience was just a rewarding and fruitful as yours was. They've probably already asked their teacher, "Hey when is Chloe coming back?!" Or "Are you going to bring in people as great as Chloe?!"

    If you need proof of that, just think back to when you were a teen...what would you have said...?

    Congrats on great day,

    By Blogger Christian Cagigal, At January 14, 2009 at 12:23 PM  

  • ps.
    ...sorry for typos.....

    By Blogger Christian Cagigal, At January 14, 2009 at 12:25 PM  

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