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






Working in Media as an Anthropologist

Applied Anthropology

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"Working in Media as an Anthropologist"

By Merry Bruns
CASC Director

There have always been anthropologists who have worked in media. Historically, there have always been anthropologists who wanted to, and did talk, to an interested public about what they did as anthropologists. Sometimes they worked through the filter of media. Sometimes they've talked directly to the public itself. But anthropologists have always communicated.

Attempts have been made, over the years, to establish "Media Anthropology" as a discipline or interest group of its own, as a unit with the AAA, or as a field one could find work in. To date, little of this has been achieved. But the interest in communicating remains strong, and anthropologists continue doing it.

Anthropologists and media

In general, anthropologists often have a cautious attitude about media, though some don't. Many scientists as well are concerned that those interpreting their work for a general public will get it wrong or distort their data and work. To make things more difficult, and excluding archaeology and biological anthropology, (which deal more with hard data), much of cultural anthropology is a "slippery field," and hard to categorize.

Journalists have complained that the lack of absolutes and consensus in anthropology is extremely frustrating. This makes the whole idea of communicating through media very difficult, as it creates mutual antagonisms on both sides.

Media Relations

There are as yet few official outlets in place for media communications for anthropology, short of Public Information Officers at universities and professional science organizations. Many anthropology organizations exit on short funds, with minimal staff to handle press requests. There is no Public Relations office at the AAA, and only one Press Officer.

The Individual

But there's a lot that anthropologists can do as individuals, however, to gain greater press coverage and public awareness about their work.

Dave Givens, who established the Press Officer role for the AAA, has contributed a "sure fire method" for gaining increased press coverage for an anthropology department.

Try writing newspaper columns for your local paper on anthropological topics, or your area of focus. Make sure what you write about has a sharp local angle, or a strong tie-in with national news. Try taking several courses in journalism and magazine writing at your school or elsewhere to gain the proper writing technique.

Writing books for the public on anthropology topics is a great way to excite people about your fieldwork, dissertation, or idea. Several anthropologists have turned papers into popular books. Helen Fisher successfully turned her Ph.D. dissertation on early hominid pair-bonding into "The Sex Contract," 1982. (Finding a publisher is another story!).

Become friends with media contacts at nespapers, TV, and radio stations in your local community, and offer to help them get stories, and find anthropologists to interview.

Terry Redding, at USF, has created the Media Anthropology Project web site, at the University of S.Florida, that directs local media to an annotated list of faculty willing to talk with them on local community-based issues. Work with your own anthropology department to see if this is an option.

Some anthropologists have become media relation specialists, working within university News departments-they are in a unique position to present anthropology in a manner consistent with media's needs. It's a valuable route to take if you're interested in gaining visibility for the field.

Science Writers

Science writers sometimes cover anthropology-many were anthropologists themselves. Most have had training in some science field, but many come straight out of journalism or communications. It's an exciting, if not always lucrative field.

Your best information about science writing will come from the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) itself.
Also jump over to my section for science writers here at this site. There's additional information about becoming a science writer, and a terrific book, "A Field Guide for Science Writers," available online, which was especially written by NASW for new writers.

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