Why anthropologists should become journalists
We need courses and programs in “Anthropology & Journalism” to help create the critical public intellectuals of the 21st century, Brian McKenna writes in Counterpunch. Such programs will help equip students with skills to popularize critical knowledge:
One thing is certain. We need a new wave of writers and journalists, unafraid to do the most radical thing imaginable: simply describe reality. Their ranks will largely come from freethinkers, dissenting academics and bored mainstream journalists who rediscover what got them interested in anthropology in the first place, telling the truth. Anthropologists have no choice. They must become media makers and journalists themselves.
Many anthropologists look skeptically at journalism. But whenever McKenna hears one of them saying “I never talk to journalists, they always get me wrong. I just can’t trust them", his mind churns, “Then why don’t you become the journalist and write it yourself?”
Anthropologist have lots in common with journalists. They can make great journalists:
What makes a good journalist? In a telling Slate Magazine article, “Can Journalism School Be Saved?” editor Jack Shafer said that “I’d rather hire somebody who wrote a brilliant senior thesis on Chaucer than a J-school M.A. who’s mastered the art of computer-assisted reporting. If you can crack Chaucer, you’ve got a chance at decoding city hall.” (Zenger 2002)
Anthropologists can crack Chaucer and much more. Anthropologists can debate Foucault, survive in foreign lands with little more than the grit of our teeth and write insightful interpretations of the global/local intersections of capital. Anthropologists would make great journalists, albeit if they learned to write more quickly, urgently, succinctly and in a public voice.
Anthropologist James Lett is a former broadcaster and present-day anthropologist. In 1986 he wrote abut his dual life commenting that found it “remarkable that [the] similarities [between the two professions] are not more widely appreciated. As an anthropologist, I have been trained to observe, record, describe, and if possible, to explain human behavior, and that is the essence of what I do every day as a journalist.” (Lett 1986)
McKenna discusses in this article several papers on anthropology and journalism
His texts reminds me of another texts I wanted to blog about earlier: “Anthro-Journalism” by Randolph Fillmore that is part of the site Communicating Anthropology (lots of advice for better writing).
Sybil Amber has collected some links in her post Journalism in Anthropology. One of them leads to the blog Making Anthropology Public
(links updated 20.1.2016)