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Kevin Ng

Newspaper reviews: why so mediocre?

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Alexandra wrote:

"Back to a point Susan B made at the beginning of this thread, about one one critic's "personal preference replacing what a good review should be," I think that's a good point. I also agree with Nanatchka that reviews are supposed to be personal opinions, but there's a balancing act."

Years ago I wrote for several daily newspapers and was a copy editor as well, and at the time I paid no atttention to the reviews and have no recollection of editing them.

However, I realized when Nanatchka made the point that reviews are supposed to be personal opinions that I always thought that pure opinion was limited to the Editorial Page or the Op Ed pages of the newspaper.

I always supposed that ciritics were more in the news category than the opinion category, and that their knowledge of the art form enabled them to write intelligently about a performance. I thought the parameters were closer to the newswriters' -- and that it would be important to substantiate.

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I'm not sure it's an either/or situation.

The assumption is that the reviewer has the depth of viewing to substantiate his or her viewpoint. A reviewer with only opinions is telling you nothing, but a reviewer without any opinions isn't telling you much either.

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"Criticism" falls under the definition of "personal opinion, " like an editorial or op-ed columnist, etc. A "feature" article falls into the news category. Either should be factually correct, but opnions are not facts. Thus a critic cannot be sued for hating something--"negative" criticism is not thus considered libel. This distinction is important to lawyers....

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Reading old reviews -- I haven't studied them, but just judging from the ones I've read over the years -- I've read some of seem to be historical periods. Some of the great critics -- Gautier, Shaw -- are defnitely opinion writers, commentators. In the 1940s and '50s in this country, though, many of the reviews I've read are very strictly news articles. So and so danced the pas de trois, a debut. This is the choreographer's background. An adjective or two about the ballerina. This may be a reflection of the newspaper's attitude towards dance -- and in some cases, though not all, the writer's knowledge about it. But I think there was a sense that this was a news item, covering an event that happened, in the way one would cover a robbery or a baseball game. More recently, I think newspapers have taken the approach that criticism is opinion. There was a rebellion against this within the ranks of dance critics in the 1970s, during the minimalist period of modern dance. Just describe. Who am I to make a judgment? Criticism must be objective. So I think there are different schools. (I'm of the criticism is opinion school, btw. :) )

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