The Center for Anthropology and Science Communications facilitates improved communication between anthropologists, the public, and science media.
Merry Bruns, Director

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CASC Survey

"Anthropology and Journalism-Perceptions of Relevance"

by Merry Bruns
Director, CASC

(Published in "Sciphers" (Spring 1995 )
Science Communication Interest Group
of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.)

Anthropologists, archeologists and biological anthropologists have unique viewpoints on today's issues and can often lend rich background material to a news story. Many reporters know this. Many anthropologists are reluctant to talk to the media. Some anthropologists do wish to communicate their work via the media, but don't know how.

Anthropologists have long been concerned with how to approach the media and the proper way to disseminate information. Their methodology has been based on traditional press office activities, which are sometimes inadequate for the unique needs of both anthropology and the media. Fashioning a news operation that would satisfy both anthropologists and the news media would provide a valuable service to both.

Many anthropologists have a long-standing mistrust of media, for a variety of reasons. Fear of inaccurate depictions of complex issues and an inability to correctly translate often complicated research makes anthropologists hesitate to promote their work through media channels.

Adding to this fear is a ingrained sense of losing professional standing when perceived to be a "popularizer." With this comes a concomitant fear of loss of academic credibility among peers. Combined, these problems present often insurmountable difficulties for those anthropologists who do wish to speak to a wider audience about their work and to present it in terms of relevance to today's issues.

To make matters worse, journalists are often frustrated by anthropologists' inability to transcend "academese" and present their work in concise, easily understandable terms. Interviews with anthropologists often result in frustrations on both sides, as journalists need to sort their material into traditional "pyramid" news format. Academics must present work in a more linear fashion. When methodologies and goals clash the result is a stand-off that creates losses for both.


My research is aimed at addressing some of these problems. In 1995, I mailed a multi-variate questionnaire to 300 science writers -- in all media -- questioning them about their perceptions of anthropologists as news resources. Responses could be confidential, although I gave respondants an opportunity to receive the results if desired. Of the 300 surveys mailed out, I received 88 usable responses.

In designing the survey I attempted to determine whether writers have contacted anthropologists for stories, and which stories they feel anthropology has relevancy for. Frequency of contact, and the desirability for further contact was questioned, as well as determining their understanding of the different branches of anthropology.

In addition, I wanted to determine the best ways to disseminate anthropological press releases to the media and discover the least desirable methods as well. Members of the media are also questioned as to where they would go to find anthropologists to interview.

To my knowledge, providing practical information of this nature, based on quantified data, has not been done previously. I hope that questioning the people who write the science stories will provide some answers.

Results will be published in 1998. Please Email me if you are interested in receiving results.

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