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Ethnographies of journalism

June 4, 2008

By Jay Gabriel

(query put to the Media Anthropology list)


Dear list,In response to my query last week regarding book-length ethnographies of journalism that were well received in undergraduate courses, I received much useful information. Below is a summary (I have tried not to mangle what anyone actually told me):

— Hannerz, Ulf. 2004. Foreign News: Exploring the World of Foreign
Correspondents. Chicago: University of Chicago.

One work mentioned by nearly every respondent was Ulf Hannerz’ Foreign News. While quite a few people had never used it in a class, they found it accessible and useful for understanding journalists’ lives. Others, who had used it in a course, reported that students found it “easy” and straightforward in comparison to more experimental works. It was noted, however, that FN does not particularly demonstrate the relationship of journalists to the institutions in which they work, live and produce news–especially the journalistic organizations. This is not necessarily a flaw, just something of which to be aware, depending on the structure of your course. Also, some students may find focusing on the text difficult as it wends through numerous examples en route to the point. (Examples and evidence, however, are desirable in any ethnography.) For my own part, I could see this text working well in a course that emphasizes comparative readings of ethnographies.

— Hasty, Jennifer. 2005. The Press and Political Culture in Ghana. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

This book was spoken highly of by many list members, both in terms of its
accessibility to non-anthropologists as well as its treatment of how Ghanaian journalism is situated in national, political, economic and social contexts. I’ve not (yet) read her book, but Hasty’s article in Ethnography* holds for me the promise of a text that will prompt students to consider how local practices are linked to journalistic practices and challenge their notions of “seemingly universal practices of journalism” (Hasty 2006:70).

(* Hasty, Jennifer. 2006 Performing Power, Composing Culture: The State Press in Ghana. Ethnography 7(1):69-98; this entire special issue of Ethnography was dedicated to journalism)

— Bird, S. Elizabeth. 1992 For Enquiring Minds: A Cultural Study of Supermarket Tabloids. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.

Enquiring Minds is clearly written and methodologically ambitious as the author examines both processes of consumption and production and presents data from her surveys, interviews and visits to the publications. It would work well in all sorts of courses: anthropology, sociology, comm studies. As far as the teaching utility of this text is concerned, I see EM provoking students to reexamine their assumptions about tabloids, media consumption generally, as well as gender and class.

— One respondent pointed out that Rothenbuhler and Coman’s Media Anthropology reader has quite a few chapters on journalism. (Rothenbueler, Eric W. and Mihai Coman, eds. 2005 Media Anthropology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.)

–The same person further reminded me that Elizabeth Bird’s edited volume The Anthropology of News and Journalism is on its way.

A few other texts also garnered quick mentions:

–Boyer, Dominic. 2005 Spirit and System: Media, Intellectuals, and the Dialectic in Modern German Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

–Kosnick, Kira. 2007 Migrant Media: Turkish Broadcasting and Multicultural Politics in Berlin. Indiana University Press.

–Stahlberg, Per. 2002. Lucknow Daily: How a Hindi Newspaper Constructs Reality. Almqvist & Wiksell Internat.

And finally, quite a few people and I agree that it’s a real shame that Mark Pedelty’s War Stories is out of print.

Thanks again!



One Comment leave one →
  1. June 4, 2008 2:09 pm

    Nice, I was looking for something like this! Thanks!

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