- The Anthropology of News and Journalism: Global Perspectives ed. by S. Elizabeth Bird
The central aim of this collection of essays edited by S. Elizabeth Bird is to bring an anthropological lens to the analysis of news media. To this end, Bird's introduction stresses the unique contribution that anthropology can make to the multi-disciplinary field of media scholarship, primarily through its global and comparative reach. Beyond the emphasis on disciplinary distinction, the volume has an important contribution to make that is not unique to anthropology: it analyzes the news as "embedded in culture, reflecting and reshaping it in an ongoing process" (2). For this reason, the essays focus, for the most part, less on the reception of news than on the process of creating it as a means of producing truths about a culture. As Bird points out, this is a debate over how "'truth' is defined and contested in a world where control over information determines who holds power, whether at the local or national level" (14).
In order to analyze the media's role in producing cultural truths, the first and lengthiest section of the volume focuses on the ethnography of news production by examining news producers in their element. Karen Wahl-Jorgensen's useful opening piece challenges media studies' tendency to focus on newsrooms, particularly elite newsrooms. Wahl-Jorgensen argues that an understanding of news production needs a more nuanced approach that is closer to the ethnographer's practice of "studying down" in order to uncover what is happening in more marginalized, understudied sites of news production. Wahl-Jorgensen's piece offers a provocative challenge, and it could have been more effectively used as a starting point to establish the logic and method of the section as a whole. Unfortunately, while many of the essays in the first section do take up Wahl-Jorgensen's challenge to examine how news is produced outside the newsroom in non-elite, marginal news outlets, the essay that immediately follows Wahl-Jorgensen's, Zeynep Devrim Gürsel's otherwise useful examination of the newsroom-based competition between print and image over space in the pages of U.S. Newsworld (a pseudonymous name for U.S. News & World Report, Time, and Newsweek), suffers in comparison. The placement of these two essays seems like a missed opportunity to give a stronger sense of organizational structure to a collection that literally covers the globe. The [End Page 83] second section of the volume, organized around "News Practices in Everyday Life," moves away from the focus on news production to consumption, and particularly noteworthy is Mark Pedelty's study of the influence of popular music in generating awareness of the news. The third and final section, focused on "News in the Era of New Media," examines both the proliferation of news on the internet and also how the role of the journalist is affected by the changing media landscape.
On the whole, the essays in this volume live up to Bird's claims for anthropology's global reach, moving from the production of news in Bethlehem to Saigon to India. In most cases, the essays uncover specific local conditions that influence how news is produced. For example, Ursula Rao's insightful essay on local journalism in India underscores the ways in which citizens use the newspaper—or, rather, find ways to insert themselves and the issues they care about into newspapers—in order to gain political influence. Likewise, as Christina Schwenkel points out, the difference between Western coverage of the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War differed starkly from that of coverage by Communist journalists, not because it reflected the government's propaganda, but because it emphasized the individual strength and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese people, which is in stark contrast to the emphasis on victimization in Western news coverage.
While the essays in the volume illuminate global news production, this collection is just as much about defining disciplines. In her introduction, Bird sets up the question of what anthropology is, as well as what unique contribution...