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Northwestern Faculty’s New Book Provides ‘An Exhaustive Look’ at Audience Formation

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

When you decide you want to watch a movie, how do you decide which one? Do you go to the recommendations on Netflix? The selection on Amazon Prime? Or do you ask your Facebook friends for suggestions? Perhaps a better question is: which method of choosing a movie is most likely to lead to the best choice? If you’re unsure, you’re not alone.

And it’s that uncertainty that Northwestern professor James Webster gets at in his new book, The Marketplace of Attention: How Audiences Take Shape in a Digital Age. Webster will be teaching a course this fall in the new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. His new book “takes an exhaustive look at the research about how such audiences form. Or rather, how audiences are formed,” according Ann Friedman, who reviewed the book for the Columbia Journalism Review.

She writes that what Webster “argues quite convincingly is that even if users do have some idea of what news and information they want (and it’s not entirely clear they do), they don’t know how or where to find it.” So what happens when users don’t know how to find what they want? They become easier to manipulate with the use of algorithms and the biases inherent in their social networks. “An audience,” Friedman writes, summarizing Webster’s argument, “is not something that exists on its own. It must be constructed.” Webster’s fall course will dive into the relationship media companies have with audiences, and how big data plays into that relationship.

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, James Webster will discuss his new book with Stacey Schulman, Executive VP of Strategy, Analytics, & Research at Katz Media Group in New York at 5 p.m. in Frances Searle room 3-417 with a reception to follow in the third floor atrium. For more information, click here.

Aspiring Graphic Designer Sets Sights for Disney

By Jacob Nelson

This is the fourth in a series of posts spotlighting new students in Northwestern’s   Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

Ting Luan knew she wanted to learn graphic design before she even arrived at college. The recent Michigan State graduate grew up drawing, and was excited to hone her skills as a graphic design and communications double major. “I think that’s kind of interesting, to express what you’re thinking about in a visual way,” Luan said.

She’s excited to continue pursuing those skills this fall, when she will begin Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. She’s hoping the program will equip her with the skills she needs to work and lead others in her pursuit of a career in advertising or filmmaking.

“This program is designed for someone who wants to work in the creative field,” she said, “That’s my dream career.” A fan of 21st Century Fox and Disney movies, Luan hopes to finish this program ready to find work that can make use of her communications knowledge and creative abilities. While in college, Luan just missed an internship opportunity at Disney, and she hopes to get a second chance to work there or at a place like it after she graduates. “All the graphic things they do is really awesome,” Luan said about Disney movies. 

“If I had a chance to do an internship in those kinds of industries, that would be a great honor.”

Dancer Looks to MS Program to ‘Jumpstart’ Her Life

By Jacob Nelson

This is the third in a series of posts spotlighting new students in Northwestern’s  Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

For Ty Reggans, dancing is a form of communication as much as it is a passion – which makes sense, considering she’s been dancing for longer than she’s been doing just about anything else. “I’ve been dancing since I’ve been able to walk,” she said.

This fall, Reggans will begin Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. “Dance is using my body to communicate,” Reggans said, “which draws me to this program… it’s just as important as verbal communication.”

Reggans began dancing by exploring ballet, and soon moved onto jazz and hip-hop. Though she’s learned different kinds of dance over the years, the act itself has remained a constant in her life. “I’ve just done it for so long I can’t really see my future without it,” she said. But dancing professionally isn’t easy. There’s a lot of instability and, like acting, it’s a competitive field. “You don’t make a lot of money, it’s a scary industry,” Reggans said.

“You can be dancing one day and bussing tables the next, you don’t really know.” Reggans wants performing to be a part of what she does, but that she’s excited to learn different skills during the master’s program that may lead to other dance-related professional opportunities. She says she’d like to open a talent agency to help discover other dancers.

“Whether it’s teaching it, dancing, representing others, I want to do something that involves helping get other people’s messages across,” she said. Reggans has been teaching dance in different venues since she was a teenager. She’s looking forward to learning other leadership skills at Northwestern, and then taking those with her to the internship portion of the program. “I’m excited to travel, to take those lessons and run with them,” she said. “Northwestern could really help me jumpstart my life.”

Northwestern Opera Singer Returns to Begin Career in Arts Activism

This is the second in a series of posts spotlighting new students in Northwestern’s Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

For the last few years, Kaitlin Very has taught music to an eager group of students: preschoolers.

“You won’t get a more excited group of students than four-year-olds,” Very said.

Since graduating from the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern, Very has been working as a music teacher in Pittsburgh. The experience has given the opera singer the motivation to finally pursue arts outreach professionally, something she’s wanted to do since she first graduated from Northwestern in 2011 with a degree in vocal performance and a minor in arts administration. “That is my main inspiration,” she said. “I really want to focus on outreach and opera in the future.”

To do that, she’s returning to Chicago to begin the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, a one year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. Very was drawn to the program by its emphasis on connecting students with industry people to open doors for future career paths. She’s also looking forward to learning the basics of marketing and finance so that she pursue jobs in outreach and education that require those skills. “In the long run, I would love own or work for an opera company that does a lot of arts activism and outreach and education type stuff,” Very said.

“That’s what I’m most passionate about.” Very’s fascination with arts activism began while she was an undergraduate at Northwestern. She saw theatre director Peter Sellars attempt a contemporary staging of an opera that was written in 1744 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. “Hercules” explores war and homecoming, and Sellars made these themes current by interviewing Chicago veterans while shaping the opera, and then inviting them to attend the performance and participate in a discussion with other audience members. The result, according to Very, was “way more impacting.” “It took it to a whole new level,” she said.

“It exposed [the audience] to a community in Chicago they wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.” Very is also interested in working to get younger people interested in opera. As she’s learned during her years teaching, opera is “not a common part of music curriculum” for school children. “Audiences are aging out in opera specifically because it’s most commonly appreciated by older audiences,” Very said.

“It’s not necessarily why I’m passionate about arts activism, but it would be a great perk if it got new people interested.” And while the focus of her aspirations will be administrative, Very hopes she will be able to continue singing while she’s back in Chicago and after. “If there’s a community group that puts on a musical I can audition for I totally would perform,” she said. “I still love performing as well.”

NU Student Worked in Radio; Now He Wants to Save It

This is the first in a series of posts spotlighting new students in Northwestern’s Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

As an undergraduate, Zach Silva loved programming for WNUR, Northwestern’s student-run radio station. He enjoyed the opportunity his roles as programming director and news director gave him to learn the ins and outs of working in radio.

But that doesn’t mean he had any misconceptions of the station’s popularity.

“We’re the connection between the Associated Press and five Chicagoland residents,” Silva joked about WNUR, “because nobody really listens to the radio anymore.”

Silva’s planning to challenge that trend. He recently graduated from Northwestern’s communication studies program, with a minor in legal studies. This fall, he will begin Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, a one year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. He’s hoping that the program will give him the skills he needs to pursue a career in either radio marketing or artist development. Part of that pursuit means trying to get listeners to tune into radio in a media climate that is rapidly shifting toward digital audio services like Spotify and Last.fm.

“[Radio stations] are trying to find a way to give [listeners] something Pandora can’t, but it’s really difficult,” Silva said. “Media is becoming more transient.”

Silva first grew interested in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises after an undergraduate trip to London organized by EPICS, an office within the School of Communication. The trip included meetings with executives from NBC Universal, the consulting firm Deloitte and the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, and gave Silva a glimpse into the networking possibilities and practical skills he could take advantage of if he applied to the master’s program.

“That kind of professional trip is now being embodied in this year-long program, which I think is great,” Silva said. “It fills that missing link that I think really would help communication studies students in pursuing positions in the media industries.”

Silva is looking forward to learning the basics of finance, legal and marketing matters as they relate to creative industries during the next year. As the world of media increases, Silva thinks creative industries like radio will need to figure out ways to stand out among consumers. He hopes that’s where his interest in marketing will prove to be an asset.

“You don’t sit down and throw on a record anymore, you have your Spotify playlist playing in the background,” Silva said. “That’s what the creative industries are working toward.”

Northwestern’s Block Museum To Unveil New Exhibit

This is the first in a series of posts about opportunities for Leadership for Creative Enterprises students to learn about Evanston’s arts scene.

By Jacob Nelson

The start of a new school year means the debut of a new exhibit at Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art. This year, Block Museum celebrates Kenyan born artist Wangechi Mutu with a comprehensive exhibit of works by the artist, featuring more than 50 pieces.

Highlights of the exhibition include an animated video that Mutu collaborated on with the musician Santigold. There will also be a monumental wall drawing. Mutu’s work is large-scale and often comes in the form of collage, focusing on female figures “in lush, otherworldly landscapes.”

In addition to its art installations, the museum also includes a small movie theater. Block Cinema screens classics and contemporary films, depending on the series. This fall’s series will focus on Henri Langlois, the co-founder, director and curator of the Cinémathèque Française, “one of the world’s most important film archives.” Click here for details about the series and dates for each screening.

The Block Museum is located along the lake on Northwestern’s south campus in Evanston.

Fall Course to Explore How Media Audiences Form

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

At first, a weatherman predicting rain may not sound too different from a website predicting what movie you should watch. Both are using a lot of data to make an educated guess.

Jim Webster would argue otherwise.

“The social world is very different from the physical world,” Webster said. “Measurement has the power to alter the social world in a way that weather predictions couldn’t alter the weather.”

He would know, too. A Northwestern professor in the School of Communications, Webster has been researching and teaching within the subject of audience formation and metrics for years. This fall, he’ll be teaching a course this fall in the new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment.

“The central focus is audience formation,” Webster said about his upcoming class, “the forces that create audiences, loyalties, fragmentation.”

Modeled around his upcoming book on the subject, The Marketplace of Attention, the course takes what Webster refers to as an “audience-centric” approach to examining media industries. There’s a virtually unlimited supply of media in the world, but without an audience, Webster argues, that media doesn’t matter much. So, the question the class will examine is, how do audiences form?

“What are their preferences, and predispositions? What role do their social networks play?” Webster asked. “What types of things do the public want?”

A large part of exploring media audiences means exploring how media industries measure those audiences.

“For a number of years, dating back to 20th century, media organizations have relied on metrics to see, authenticate and manage audiences,” Webster said.

Without companies like Nielsen, which measures television ratings amongst other things, and ComScore, which measures web traffic, media companies “are essentially blind.”

However, the advent of digital media has brought with it the ability for media companies to collect huge amounts of information about its users, which are then used by many to make recommendations for what media users would most like. “Big data analytics is at the center of interface between audiences and media providers,” Webster said.

“They’re never neutral: they privilege and obscure.” The course will dive into the relationship media companies have with audiences, and how big data plays into that relationship. Then, it’ll dive deeper, grappling with what Webster refers to as the “broader implications.” “What does it mean, not just for media industries but for the culture generally?” Webster asked. Then, he joked, “It’s everything you ever wanted to know in one ten week course.”

Northwestern Faculty to Participate in Chicago Humanities Festival

This is the first in a series of posts about opportunities for Leadership for Creative Enterprises students to learn about Chicago’s arts scene.


By Jacob Nelson

What do Patti Smith, Lena Dunham, Martin Amis and Wallace Shawn have in common? They will all be participating in this fall’s Chicago Humanities Festival, a program that fills the end of October to the beginning of November with a showcase of everything from theater to literature to foodie culture and movies.

The festival, which began in 1989, brings in an eclectic mix of people to discuss their crafts. Past presenters have included humorist John Hodgman, sex columnist Dan Savage and culinary mastermind (and Chicago’s own) Grant Achatz. The theme of this year’s festival is “Journeys,” and there are over a hundred events planned around it. The New York Times’ David Brooks will talk politics on Oct. 21; Roger Ebert’s widow will talk about her late husband’s amazing life and career on Oct. 25; and author Gary Shteyngart will talk about his newest book in Evanston on Oct. 25. And that’s just a few of the many, many presentations the festival is bringing to venues throughout Chicagoland.

Northwestern faculty will be participating in program throughout the Chicago Humanities Festival, some of which will take place on campus. For example, creative writing professor Eula Biss will have a conversation about her new book on vaccinations and motherhood with medical humanities and bioethics professor Katie Watson on Oct. 25 at the Jacobs Center on campus on Oct. 25. And theatre professor Harvey Young will discuss African American culture in Chicago on Oct. 25 at Cahn Auditorium. Tickets for students are discounted or, in some cases, free.

Click here for the full program.

Project Management Course Will Teach Students How to Lead

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

The words “project management” seem inevitably (and unfortunately) linked to corporate office world tedium: cubicles. Conference rooms. Maybe even a broken fax machine.

This fall, Dan Heck is hoping to change that, by turning project management into a skillset targeted toward people interested in working in artistic industries. Heck will be teaching a course for Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment.

“Performing arts environments know how to close projects so much better than corporations,” Heck said. “When corporations close, they never close the curtain, but there’s nobody in the audience anymore. They look around and realize they’re working on something that’s obsolete.”

The purpose of Heck’s course will be to offer students the skills they need to work with people on artistic pursuits, but also to become aware of the many ways they can use the skills they’ve honed, regardless of whether its proficiency in acting or in playing a musical instrument. “Part of getting into the business of the arts is to learn to be adaptable,” Heck said.

He described the career trajectory of a friend who began as a musician with a record deal and ended up a patent lawyer with a recording studio in his basement.

“He’s not beholden to any music company,” Heck said. Then, with a laugh, he added, “I thought some of the music stunk, but he couldn’t care less.”

What’s exciting for Heck about this class is not just the chance to teach students skills they can use in their artistic pursuits, but also the opportunity to drive home the idea that corporations are waking up to their need to hire people with fine arts backgrounds.

“The corporate world is waking up to creativity and imagination as a key component to creating and marketing new products,” Heck said. “It’s a great challenge to mix the utility of project management with the relationship competencies of the performing arts mindset.”

Project Management Professor Learned Show Biz from His Kids

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

Dan Heck is the first to admit he doesn’t have much professional experience when it comes to creative industries. But his kids have a ton.

A self-proclaimed “theater dad,” Heck has watched and supported his three children as they’ve gone from participating in high school theater to professional theater opportunities throughout the country. Currently, Heck’s oldest son Bill (pictures above) is starring in the Broadway production of “Cabaret,” his second oldest is about to begin a prestigious two-year dance program in Brussels, and his youngest daughter is in the midst of a successful career working with set designs and costumes for stage productions in Milwaukee.

“They’re perseverant, that’s for sure,” Heck said about his children. “We’ve always pressed them to do their dreams and not make money the go to anchor for the decision and I think they have all done that quite well.”

In September, Heck will be teaching a course for Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. His course will focus on project management skills, which are discussed at length in the corporate world but, as Heck has learned through his children, are just as invaluable outside of it as well.

“It’s a great challenge to mix the utility of project management with the relationship competencies of performing arts mindset,” Heck said.

A lot of project management is learning how to transfer and combine seemingly disparate skill sets, according to Heck. This is as important when working with a group of people in a stage production as it is when trying to make acting or musical skills relevant to another job.

“If we have a theatre person and a violinist, conversations will explore strengths and weaknesses that are transferrable to other departments,” Heck said about the class.

“Awareness and adaptation are always part of the game.” Learning the skills is one thing, Heck says. Figuring out what your passion is, on the other hand, sometimes requires a more meditative approach. “I’ve always encouraged them to lay down with me and look at the clouds,” Heck said about his kids. “Once the realization is there you can act on it.”