More to journalism than straight news

Ryan Wenzel

When I was in high school, I never dreamed I would become a journalist. Journalists, I thought, were people who loved history, political science and world affairs. I graduated from high school with only a vague notion of who Richard Nixon was.

But when I came to Northwestern and first tried entertainment reporting, I learned that you can cover what you care about and still be a good journalist. I have, however, noticed that several student journalists – at least among those I’ve met – hold the same belief that I did in high school: Real journalists don’t write about entertainment and the arts. A girl in one of my journalism classes even made the bold statement that “all entertainment journalism is pointless.”

I don’t agree with that. Admittedly, entertainment journalism doesn’t seem as relevant, life-changing or challenging as, say, keeping tabs on the government or covering a national disaster. Whose life is going to be significally bettered by a dance show review? It’s also easy to hate the field when magazines like Us Weekly run photo spreads of a pregnant Britney Spears gorging herself on Cheetos and celebrities without makeup.

When I think of entertainment journalism, I think of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, GQ and Roger Ebert’s movie reviews in the Chicago Sun-Times. The writing in these publications, while more wordy, is held to the same high journalistic standards as that in respected daily newspapers. It requires the same amount of skill and research that other forms of reporting do.

But the idea of necessity persists. Would America survive the disappearance of film criticism, concert coverage and question-and-answer interviews? Sure. Their disappearance wouldn’t lead to a failure of democracy. But if you meet a friend for dinner, which are you most likely to discuss: last night’s Evanston City Council meeting or a movie you just saw?

The latter, I’ll bet.

We need hard news. I’m not arguing the contrary. But entertainment journalism is equally relevant. Entertainment defines our times as much as politics and hard-hitting events. When people think of the ’80s, they think of Madonna and Michael Jackson just as quickly as they think of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Entertainment is a huge part of our culture.

And entertainment journalism is even more important to college students bogged down by 15-page English papers and Calculus midterms. It gives us ideas for how to unwind when outside of class.

This quarter in PLAY, you’ll find our regular entertainment staples with one exciting addition – a popular culture column on page 10,written alternately by Nick Anderman and Josh Nichol-Caddy.

So read newspapers for information that directly applies to your life. You need it. But remember, puritans: There’s more to life – and journalism – than absolute necessity.

Medill junior Ryan Wenzel is the PLAY editor. He can be reached at [email protected]