he arts section has always been forced to focus on stories that are very close to Boston College and things that couldn’t be further away. It’s a section that covers on-campus events that range from a cappella showcases, dance performances, and concerts, to instrument ensembles, McMullen exhibits, culture club nights, and fashion shows. But it is also in charge of reviewing the week’s newest movies, television shows, and albums, as well as concerts in the city. In my experience, this has always been a delicate balancing act that the arts editors have done rather well.
The Heights is primarily the independent student newspaper at BC, covering Boston, Newton or New England secondarily. Our priority is to tell our readers about what’s going on in the arts world closest to them. This is why the arts section usually devotes more space and more time to the BC community’s artistic endeavors. And this campus, even while it may not seem to be at a glance, is saturated with the arts.
This has always been something that’s surprised me when I worked, first as the Assistant, then Associate, and then Head Arts Editor, on The Heights. It’s what I think most people don’t realize about this college and about this section. We are very rarely starved for on-campus content. In fact, there is often so much happening that we would need three times the staff writers to cover all of it on the busy weeks.
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C has 16 dance teams, 12 a cappella groups, four comedy troupes, numerous instrument ensembles, a handful of student bands, multiple culture clubs, art societies, music societies, theatre troupes that all produce their own plays (in addition to the BC Theatre Department), literary journals, library exhibits, and on-campus concerts. There’s almost always something going on.
It’s vital that we cover these events and that we write features on singers and dancers and artists in the student body. It’s really cool to see what your fellow students do when they aren’t in class. But it’s also one of very few chances some students will have to talk about their passions. If there is a student in CSOM who paints beautifully in her free time, that’s a very interesting story. It’s also likely one of the only times she will be written about in a non-business context. If art remains a hobby, the arts section is the chance for her friends and family to see her name in print and online.
And as the Head Arts Editor, it’s been my and many others’ jobs to write about people like this. This is not to say, however, that the arts section has been static, even in my short tenure.
When I first started writing for the paper, I was writing movie reviews for the Arts & Review Section. By the time I was Associate Arts Editor, my head editor, along with the editor-in-chief and the managing editor, decided to change the name to the scene section. The logic here was to return to our roots as “The Scene,” a smaller print booklet of arts content that used to be included inside the regular newsprint issues of The Heights.
Unfortunately, it had been years since we had done this, and introducing ourselves as “Scene editors” seemed only to engender confusion in the people we were trying to interview. So, when I took over the section, I felt it best to switch back, while dropping the “& Review.” Hence, the arts section.
Aside from this, the section has undergone fairly little structural change. Most of the variety in the arts section comes from the personal passions of the people who work very hard in running it. While on-campus reporting is always a priority, the main focus of the other half of coverage (movies/tv/music) appears to shift from year to year.
The two head editors I worked with (Chris Fuller and Caleb Griego) were both movie guys. So was I. So, when discussing coverage of arts in the world, we always had a very good grip on what was coming out, what was going to be talked about, and what people would want to read about. I, personally, have very little grasp on contemporary music. I don’t really know what people listen to today, or what our readers would be interested in. As such, I played to my strengths, and relied on the other two editors of my section. My associate editor, Kaylie Ramirez, succeeded me as Head Arts Editor, and has done a wonderful job, shifting our coverage to suit her area of expertise, and making the arts section look better overall.
And now, I’ll turn it over to her.
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n my tenure as Jacob’s Associate Arts Editor and later as Head Arts Editor, I’ve found the worst part of the job is being inundated with press release emails all hours of the day. A lot of them are about things we would never cover. NEC Jazz Ensemble concert invites, Boston Slam Poetry event updates, and a pitch about a book titled Killennials currently sit in the humble company of 900 other unopened emails.
Since taking over in January, I’ve made an effort to address the question: What do BC students actually do when they’re not “taking notes” (online shopping) in class or inciting shoddy group performances of “Mr. Brightside” in the Mods? The answer to that question is the needle in the convoluted haystack that is the arts inbox.
Watching the weekend Instagram stories of BC students, several themes emerge: brunch on Newbury, afternoon Red Sox games, and concerts around Boston. Through overly enthusiastic back-and-forths with the press people for artists such as The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend, and Mitski, the arts section has gradually shifted focus to the events happening beyond our immediate purview in McElroy 113. Aside from documenting artists’ Boston shows, the arts section has also covered the Boston Calling music festival since its inception in 2013, and has watched it migrate from the boxy City Plaza to the sprawling Harvard Athletic Complex.
The question of BC student’s taste for journalism is part of a larger question being asked by 21st century journalists everywhere: How are people consuming news, and what news are they consuming? Addressing the question of journalism in the Internet-era is twofold.
Presentation is key—a good lede catches the attention of the reader, but reading the lede first requires the reader to actually look at the page. With this simple logic as a guiding principle, I’ve consistently coordinated with our photo, graphics, and multimedia sections to make the arts section dance off the page, in print and online. To mimic the longform feel of our print feature page, arts began publishing featured stories on The Heights magazine site, which affords the stories all of the digital ruffles and frills they deserve.
Adjusting the actual content of the section is the second aspect the arts section’s attempt to confront the urgent crisis of print journalism. We’ve shifted away from our staunch commitment to grounding our featured stories in on-campus events hosted by arts groups to favor human-interest pieces born of the careful consideration of the arts editors.
A Campus Divided—a feature series that spotlighted various black arts groups on campus—and The Five Funniest People at BC list are products of this expanded approach to writing features about the arts. Unlike the editors of past decades, current board members have the luxury of The Heights website, which affords them access to statistics that identify exactly which stories resonate with our readers. Aside from inciting friendly competition among editors, this development has undoubtedly contributed to our ability to index the exact taste of our audience.
The arts section’s attempts to address these questions are far from finished. It’s quite possible that the problems facing print journalism are insoluble. I am confident, however, that future arts editors’ consideration of these questions will continue to result in compelling journalism that accurately documents the robust arts scene on-campus and around Boston.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff