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The Critical Art of Criticism

Photo: Phil Dembinski '08Photo: Phil Dembinski '08
In Jim DeRogatis’ “Big Chicago” course, first-year students learn from a music critic, an investigative reporter breaking national stories, and a Chicagoan.

When Jim DeRogatis walks into the classroom each week, he isn’t thinking about the national coverage his reporting on R. Kelly has garnered over the last few months. “It might benefit the students, that they see me on Sound Opinions, or see me with Phil Ponce, or read my articles on Buzzfeed,” he says, which now have a combined total of 6 million hits. “The journalism part of this is not glamorous, it’s hard work, it doesn’t pay, and it takes an emotional toll.”

DeRogatis’ Music and Media class was developed out of the long-time journalist’s experience in music criticism, investigative reporting, and the city of Chicago itself. “I built [the] course. I want students to interact with the music and the readings by the journalists. I want them to be able to give their opinion about what they just consumed.”

Jim DeRogatis, Big Chicago“We’re at a time where everyone has an opinion, but criticism isn’t just an opinion,” says DeRogatis, “it’s your emotional reaction to a work and your intellectual analysis of it.” Photo: Phil Dembinski '08.

But DeRogatis, an associate professor in the English and Creative Writing Department, doesn’t aim to convert 300 students into Chuck Berry fans, even if they do study the rock and roll pioneer throughout the semester. He wants them to understand how to become critics of art and journalism. “I think it’s really satisfying for the metal head who’s never thought twice about house music, or the gospel singer who says ‘I hate hip-hop,’ to say, ‘Ok, I may not be a fan now, but I understand who this artist was and what they’ve accomplished for Chicago,’” he says. “Even if they don’t come to like the artist, at least they understand them.”

When asked about the current status of the media landscape, DeRogatis says journalism is challenged now more than ever before. “Real news is still out there and needs to be reported accurately,” he says. “We’re at a time where everyone has an opinion, but criticism isn’t just an opinion – it’s your emotional reaction to a work and your intellectual analysis of it.”

This semester we'll cover each of Columbia’s “Big Chicago” courses – classes designed to connect students with the city of Chicago led by top scholars and practitioners in their fields.

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