RELEVANCE OF CRITICAL WRITING AND REVIEW IN MASS COMMUNICATION

CRITICISM: AN INTRODUCTION

            Criticism is an appraisal, evaluation or judgment offered on a piece of art, performance or production which may be positive, negative or both. Criticism implies a deeper knowledge of the art, performance or production under consideration and of the standards of measurement.

            C. T. Winchester (Wolseley, 1973: vii – viii), one of the classic writers on the subject defines criticism as “the intelligent appreciation of any work of art, and by consequence the just estimate of its value and rank” and “the general nature of the functions of criticism is much the same whether the object criticized be literature, or painting, or sculpture, or painting”.

            Wilson (2000) says critical writing is the literary art of assessing or examining the merit of any work or art and giving judgment on it; an art which is employed in the textual criticism of books, artistic and aesthetic appreciation of plays, movies, music, creative and fine arts and other public events. It usually involves a detailed critical examination marked by careful attention to the history, origin (an inward look at its type) set against standards that seem universal.

IDENTIFIES FOUR BASIC

Pope (2002: 43) identifies four basic meanings of criticism:

1. finding fault and pulling to pieces [the text] in a negative sense;

2. analysing and pulling to pieces [the text] in the neutral sense of taking apart;

3. interpreting [the text] with a view to establishing [its] meaning and understanding;

4. evaluating [the text] with a view to establishing [its] relative or absolute worth.

            Critical writing then is the writing of essays and articles either for broadcast or publication which appreciates and judges the arts. It is an expression of opinion which may be positive or negative.

From the foregoing, it can be concluded that critical writing:

  1. appreciates or shows a clear perception of the aesthetic qualities of an object, performance or production and
  2. passes judgment because it basically evaluates the value of a work of art necessarily on qualities which make it a unique work of art;
  3. expresses an opinion about a performance, a book, a recital, a dance, an art exhibition, a movie, or some other evidence of an art.
  4. demands that you have deep knowledge of the subject matter or that you know your field and be familiar with the standards of measurements and of looking at all aspects or parts of a text, object, performance or production;

            As Wolseley (1973) concludes, critical writing is informed by a sense of discussion. If critical reading is the attention we pay to the relationship we have with language, critical writing is the attention we pay to sharing that relationship with others.

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE CRITICAL

            At university, to be critical does not mean to criticize in a negative manner. Rather it requires you to question the information and opinions in a text, object, performance or production and present your evaluation or judgment. To do this well, you should attempt to understand the subject matter from different perspectives and in relation to the theories, approaches and frameworks in your course.

            Basically, to criticize means to appreciate and to pass judgment with some measure of analysis. To appreciate is to have a clear perception of the aesthetic qualities of an object.

To judge is to evaluate. Evaluation is the process of examining a subject and rating it based on its important features. To evaluate is to pass judgment upon or to indicate the value of a work of art. We determine how much or how little we value something, arriving at our judgment on the basis of criteria that we can define. Here you decide the strengths and weaknesses usually based on specific criteria. Evaluating requires an understanding of not just the content of the object, but also an understanding of its purpose, the intended audience and why it is structured the way it is.

            Analyzing requires separating the content and concepts of a object into their main components and then understanding how these interrelate, connect and possibly influence each other.

RELEVANCE OF CRITICAL WRITING TO MASS COMMUNICATION

            Critical writing shares affinity with other forms of journalism. This unit shall examine the relationship between critical writing and other forms of writing in order to help the student distinguish them.

Critical writing and broadcast commentary

            Critical writing and broadcast commentary express opinions and both are subjective writing. Both provide the reader with a critical view and hope to convince and influence. But critical writing basically evaluates and appreciates what makes an object or idea a work of art, and necessarily, a unique work of art.

            Critical writing makes use of tastes and standards to determine how the object may be perceived by the reader. Broadcast commentary does not necessarily appreciate. It is mainly to point out an anomaly, correct a wrong, prove a point or explain a process or concept or simply tell a story to amuse or amaze. Both critical writing and broadcast commentary however demand that you have deep knowledge of the subject matter. Critical writing particularly insists that you be familiar with the standards of measurements

Critical Writing and the Editorial

The editorial and the critical article all express opinion, evaluate, interpret, are subjective and hope to influence. An editorial could be defined as a corporate voice of a medium on issues of public interest, an opinion a newspaper writes to inform or explain, persuade or convince, and stimulate insight sometimes in an entertaining or humorous manner.

            Critical writing does all that and also offers some measure of entertainment. A humorous piece of criticism certainly is a must read. Aside from influencing readers, criticism also serves as a guide to the reader. A book review, forinstance, says Wolseley (1973), must tell the reader what the book is all about (information), what the critic thinks of the book (opinion, influence), whether the book is worth spending time on (guidance) and also entertain the reader (humor).

Critical Writing and the News Writing

Critical writing shares characteristics with news stories. A traditional news story is an objective journalistic form. It is a straightforward presentation of facts, a recounting of factual and timely events without opinion. Critical writing for journalism is not news reports of art shows. Critical writing emphasizes opinion but news writing emphasizes information. A news report of art shows is not critical writing. Critical writing concentrates on the results of the artist’s efforts.

Critical Writing and Feature Writing

A feature is a creative journalistic article which informs, explains analyses, interprets, and exposes issues; a colorful story about people, events, places and life. Features may be about artists and about their work, about art history, be personality sketches and biographies of artists and human interest sidelights on the arts, but they are not critical writing because they are not ordinarily about evaluation (Singer, 1974). Critical writing appreciates; feature writing emphasizes human interest.

Critical Writing and Column Writing

            A column expresses the opinion or view of persons who work for the newspaper or magazine, and who are thereby known as columnists Uyo (1987:15) defines a column “as an article, usually with some permanent or obvious title, that is written regularly by the same person, or in some cases, different persons, who express (es) their opinion on diverse matters, from the most mundane to the most profound.”

            The columnist is usually an expert or specialist in the subject or field he writes about. A critic can maintain a column in a newspaper or magazine. The columnist therefore shares characteristics of a critic, is traditionally and largely a critic, and criticism demands of him expertise in the subject being evaluated. Most newspapers and magazines have review or criticism columns on a wide variety of subjects – books, arts, dance, plays/theatre, radio and TV, films, etc.  These are usually featured in special sections and are so labeled.

REFERENCES

Rivers, L. W. and Somolkin (1988).Writing Opinions Reviews. Names, Iowa: University Press.

Singer, L. S. (1974). The Student Journalist and Reviewing the Performing Arts. New York:          Richards Rosen Press Inc.

Wolseley, R. E. (1959) Critical Writing for the Journalist. New York: Chilton Book Company

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