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“The most important part of review writing is to tell a story,” said Nick Miller, associate editor at Sacramento News & Review and panelist at Wednesday evening’s review writing workshop, hosted by The Sacramento Press.
You should make your reader feel as though they were at the event by including specific details about what you saw, he added.
Along with Miller, the workshop’s other two panelists, Rachel Leibrock of Sacramento News & Review and Carla Meyer of The Sacramento Bee, spoke from personal experience about how to effectively write a review of music, food or film. The panel also fielded questions from the 20-person audience in regards to writing style, etiquette and editing.
The speakers began by discussing some review essentials. All three stressed the importance of “doing your homework” on the subject of your review before attending an event. Familiarizing yourself with a band’s songs and reading previous reviews for a band are both helpful ways to get familiar with artists before seeing them live, but those shouldn’t bias your opinion one way or the other, Meyer said.
Leibrock said taking notes on a performance as it happens is the best way to remember the important details. And taking notes on how the audience reacted to something is just as important as the show itself, she said.
Meyer added that it’s a good idea to interview other members of the audience to get a better understanding of the quality of the performance.
Miller said to remember that “you’re a reporter, even though you’re a critic,” so it’s good to incorporate some investigative work in your review. For example, if you’re reviewing a restaurant, it may be interesting to include an interview with the head chef, Miller said.
When it comes to writing a negative review, all three panelists agreed that it is crucial to consider the effect your review will have on the subject of your criticism. Meyer said she never takes “cheap shots,” especially when she is reviewing local artists who are more susceptible to the damage of a bad review than a nationally recognized act.
Miller added that when you are writing about a restaurant, though it may be fun to do a snarky review, you are dealing with someone’s business and livelihood, and it is important to be aware of that responsibility as a writer.
Negative review or not, Meyer said to “have confidence in your opinion,” because it is your job to “represent the reader in an articulate manner.”
Miller’s suggestion for creating an engaging review was simple: stay curious.
“Go to something you don’t understand or you’re not familiar with. Take risks whether you’re reviewing food, music or performance,” he said.
Meyer and Leibrock discussed deadlines in review writing and the stress of having to write a review by 6 a.m. the morning after a late-night concert.
The best thing to do when faced with a harsh deadline, Meyer said, is to just “power through it.”
An audience member asked about whether a writer should use “I” when writing a review, and Meyer responded that she finds the use of “I” amateurish and therefore avoids it.
“If you’re on Facebook, say ‘I.’ If you’re doing professional review writing, don’t use it,” she said.
As an alternative to “I,” you can use “one” or “we,” Leibrock said.
Another of the workshop’s attendees asked where to draw the line between losing yourself in the experience of a performance and reporting on it.
Leibrock responded that you can enjoy yourself at a performance and still be objective. She personally likes to dance and cheer for an artist but keeps a sharp eye out in case “anything goes awry.”
For state worker and student Amabelle Ocampo, 28, the best advice she heard at the workshop was that when trying to understand a performance, sometimes it’s “more about the audience’s impression than it is about the band.”
Rusty Kleine, aspiring photojournalist and workshop attendee, said his favorite element of the evening’s talk was the panelists’ use of personal anecdotes to illuminate the elements of review writing.
“It was informative because they shared actual personal experiences rather than reading from a book,” Kleine said.
The Sacramento Press will have a workshop titled, “Sac Press Tools and Tricks,” May 26 from 6:30 - 8 p.m. Co-founder Geoff Samek will go over lesser-known or unknown features of the website as well as web technologies that are useful for navigating the current media world. To RSVP for that workshop, email firstname.lastname@example.org.