Adjunct professor Heather Salerno draws from her journalism background in teaching the Arts and Entertainment Reporting course.

Heather Salerno, who joined Adelphi in Spring 2014 as an adjunct professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Communications, hopes that her students will benefit from her considerable experience as a prolific, award-winning journalist.

As of Fall 2014, she taught Arts and Entertainment Reporting, a new course focusing on students writing news, features and columns in this specialized area.

“For most of this course’s assignments,” she explained, “the students are allowed to write about anything in the arts, entertainment and pop culture, though most have focused on music, TV and movies. A few wrote about attending New York Comic Con, which was a lot of fun.”

She observed, “I feel part of my job is to show them that all journalists need to be responsible, whether they’re covering a court case or a sci-fi convention.”

Salerno’s own wide-ranging work has appeared in USA Today, People, Glamour and The Washington Post, including profiles of celebrities and newsmakers from Martha Stewart and Mary J. Blige to Bill and Hillary Clinton. “I would encourage any student, especially those interested in journalism as a career, to submit their work to an outside publication,” she said. “Writing for different outlets is a great learning experience and a great way to build a portfolio of clips.”

When asked if she might also arrange visits to media companies in the New York area to give her students a firsthand look at how these publications are written, published and distributed, she said, “That’s a possibility. I think it’s important to understand just how much work goes into creating the publications that they rely on for news coverage.”

Pushing the Envelope

Some media critics might see an erosion of taste since the 1990s rap music videos in which women were portrayed as mere sex objects. Jennifer Lopez’s recent song, “Booty,” and her related video and music program appearances with Iggy Azalea plus Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda CD art and video, as well as Paper magazine’s nude cover photo of reality TV star Kim Kardashian are some recent high-profile examples. Syndicated shows like Access Hollywood, Extra and Entertainment Tonight were all over those booty-mania stories. And Minaj parodied Kardashian’s cover during a December 2014 skit on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

None of that surprises Salerno. “I think there have always been—and always will be—artists who push the envelope,” she maintained. “Elvis Presley’s gyrations outraged many in the 1950s, and Madonna has generated controversy throughout her career. This recent crop of musicians is no different.”

As for booty mania, Salerno pointed out, “We read about that topic in class this semester while discussing trend stories.” One student also wrote about Minaj’s racy Anaconda music video when the class was asked to review a TV show, film, book or other artistic venture. “This assignment,” she added, “gave students the opportunity to think critically and express their opinions in a thoughtful, well-written way.”

It’s True Because It’s on the Internet, Right?

Some media critics see the Internet as a hurtful medium when it comes to in-depth and vetted journalism coverage because there’s simply more mainstream media news, which has an inherent reliance on sensationalized entertainment/gossip stories. Too often, news media runs with gossip from Twitter and other social media without verifying the facts, just to stay competitive. An example: Intense Web gossip proved correct about Mariah Carey’s divorce—but not about Beyonce and Jay-Z’s.

In some cases, it might be argued that social media content can give a news story some context (e.g., when a Native American teen recently left Facebook clues regarding his murder of high school classmates in a Washington State shooting in Fall 2014).

From Salerno’s perspective, journalists and their media employers need to be steadfast in confirming their content.

“I think all outlets need to carefully verify anything they publish, whether it’s a tweet or multi-page investigative piece,” Salerno observed. “Social media can be a powerful reporting tool, but journalists should always corroborate anything they find online. Just because something is written on Facebook doesn’t make it true.”

She added, “Competition is part of the marketplace, but it’s always best to hold back if facts aren’t well established. But of course, the ideal scenario is to be correct—and first!”

Celebrity Gossip: Here to Stay

Looking into the future of journalism and at arts/entertainment reporting in particular, Salerno said public interest surrounding the rich and famous has been and will be around for centuries.

“Way back when, folks were obsessed with Queen Elizabeth I’s fashion choices and rumors about her love life. She was smart enough to use that to her political advantage. And say what you will about the Kardashians, they know how to use social media and gossip columns to create an image and launch lucrative careers. I don’t see the public’s curiosity about celebrities and entertainers diminishing any time in the future.”

In her classes, besides imparting factual information about her career, Salerno tries to give students some color commentary. “I recently told them about how I once interviewed the late, great comedian Joan Rivers at her incredible Manhattan apartment. She was one of the most professional, gracious celebrities I’ve ever encountered—not to mention a complete riot!”

Dream interviews? “Right now,” Salerno said, “my dream celebrity intervieews would be Benedict Cumberbatch, Kate Middleton and Angelina Jolie.”

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