Literature 10-6-2011

Arts Journalism 101: Anatomy of an Article (Reportage and Newsy Features)

A primer for writers new to the field: A breakdown of the newsy arts features - dispatches, on-the-scene pieces, and reportage

Anatomy of an Article

The Dispatch/Reportage

This kind of piece usually involves more extended research and interviewing than the other sorts of articles we’ve talked about. It’s a meaty sort of article-satisfying to write and read, but more labor-and time-consuming than most all other types of arts journalism.

Your topic may be newsy (like an article covering artwork for sale at the farmer’s market or the recently demolished graffiti wall in the Seward neighborhood) or you may be writing on a trend in the arts (e.g. the move away from fine craft at the MN Craft Council toward more populist fare like that offered by the DIY-inspired “craftster” set), or taking a survey of happenings in a specific area of the arts (like the phenomenon of DIY lit mags popping up around the state).

Keep your focus/topic narrowly confined

Let your editor help you clarify the objective and limits of your article. It’s always important to work closely with the publication’s staff assigning you to a piece, but it’s absolutely vital that you communicate openly when you’re tackling this sort of piece. Be sure you’re very clear from the outset what focus your editor is looking for.

Check with your editor after your preliminary research

Touch base to be sure you’re hitting the topical points and contacts your editor is expecting. You don’t want to find out after you’ve put in hours of work doing research, writing, and interviewing people in the area that you didn’t hit the angle the publication needed you to cover.

Get a representative balance of points of view on your topic

…But don’t try to hit everyone. Again, have your editor point you toward the kinds of organizations, interview subjects, and points of view they’d like to see have a voice represented in your article.

Fact-checking is paramount for this kind of article

Make sure your numbers add up, confirm all the details and facts you’ve picked up with your sources, and make sure your quotes are correct (and correctly attributed). Errors of this kind can be the sort of thing to really trip up both writer and publisher if you neglect this step.

Susannah Schouweiler

Susannah Schouweiler is a writer, editor, and museum wonk. For 12 years, she was Editor-in-Chief of Mn Artists at the Walker Art Center and responsible for publication of original arts writing on the homepage, blog, and social media assets. Back in the day, she served as Editor of Ruminator magazine, a nationally distributed art and lit mag. She has written on the arts for a number of regional and national outlets, including Hyperallergic, Rain Taxi Review of Books, MinnPost, The Growler, …   read more