I feel absolutely blessed to have access to the Toronto Public Library.
I feel blessed as well that I have access to Twitter and other online resources, and to CBC Metro Morning and The Current on my laptop and car radio.
I feel blessed, as well, that years ago, even before laptops and personal computers had been marketed, I gained experience as a freelance writer.
Natalie Edwards of Cinema Canada
After my many years of writing as a student reporter and editor, a kindly magazine editor – Natalie Edwards – sat down with me at the Toronto offices of Cinema Canada in the mid 1970s and proceeded to tear apart a manuscript that I had prepared for the magazine.
She showed me how to say in a sentence what I had said in three pages of double-spaced typewritten text. Because I knew I could write well, I didn’t mind having my drafts torn to shreds, so that I could learn to write even better. That experience also taught me that some of the best writing involves the work of many people working together to write the final text.
In those days I worked with an Olympia portable manual typewriter. Sometimes I would literally cut and paste pieces of paper as I worked on the draft of a text. When the draft was ready, I would start all over again, with the typewriter, and manually type out the final version.
Writing can be harder work than physical labour, in my experience
A few years later, working on a text for a tabloid newspaper, I had the experience of taking a vast amount of text and condensing it to fit within a specified word count. I recall at the time how hard the work was. By that stage in my life, I had worked in many jobs involving intensive physical labour. Yet putting that article together, cutting down on the word count, was physically more of a strain on my body/mind than all of the physical labour that I had performed until that time.
Once I had learned to get the job done once, to get an article into shape, it was much easier the next time, and the many times that followed.
Ethnography offers the opportunity to practise journalism
I enjoy reading about anthropology and ethnography because it’s a great source of diversion for me. Because I don’t work as an academic, I don’t have a stake in anthropology or any other discipline. My interest is purely in working with interesting ideas for my own enjoyment.
If I were offering advice to a young person interested in a career in journalism, I would advise them to explore the concept that many fields offer a person the opportunity to do what a journalist does.
Among those fields are ethnography and the practice of law.
Some of the best journalism I’ve come across has been based upon ethnographic field research or has taken the form of legal reports by lawyers who’ve been well paid to conduct inquiries about a wide range of contentious topics.
After all, what does a journalist require?
A journalist requires a job or contract, and an audience. Print and online newspapers and magazines currently don’t offer many opportunities. For that reason, if you want to get paid to write, get a job as an anthropologist. Or a lawyer. There are many great jobs around where you get paid to write, and what you write sometimes makes a difference in people’s lives.
What is the distinction between an anthropologist and an ethnographer? What is the difference between ethnographic field research and the research that a journalist conducts? You can figure out these fine points yourself.
First, find out who pays you for your work, if you seek to get paid for your writing
In order to make a living as a journalist posing as an anthropologist, you have to know who the person is who can get you published. That person is sometimes known as a publisher. In academic work, the person may not have the title of publisher but it’s not hard to figure out who that person is.
Producers, publishers, and curators are all terms for the same function. A good introduction to this topic can be found at my previous posts concerned with the production of independent films, such as:
If you want to know what to write, know your audience
As an anthropologist, you want to figure out who your audience is and what they are interested in. In other words, figure out the history of the discipline. If you need some help, a good resource is a chapter by Sherry B. Ortner in a book called Culture/Power/History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory (1994).
The chapter is entitled: “Theory in Anthropology since the Sixties.” A key quotation (p. 382) reads:
“The anthropology of the 1970s was much more obviously and transparently tied to real-world events than that of the preceding period. Starting in the late 1960s, in both the United States and France (less so in England), radical social movements emerged on a vast scale. First came the counterculture, then the antiwar movement, and then, just a bit later, the women’s movement: these movements not only affected the academic world, they originated in good part within it. Everything that was part of the existing order was questioned and criticized.”
[End of quotation]
Was that written by an academic or a journalist? What’s the difference? Does it matter?
If you want to make great films, get a job as a linguistic anthropologist
I have tremendous admiration for the film work of linguistic anthropologist Marjorie Harness Goodwin. The link in the previous sentence explains why.
I have never actually seen her films, but I’ve read her transcripts and they are awesome. They bring her movies to life. You don’t need to see the videos because you can read the detailed scripts.
If you want to excel as a screenwriter, get a job as a linguistic anthropologist
In the previously noted link, I describe the great scripts that Marjorie Harness Goodwin has created.
Among the scripts, or more precisely, transcripts, that she has created are descriptions about how bullying in school-based cliques, the subject of Goodwin’s linguistic anthropological research, actually occurs. Such a script gives a person a much better sense of what bullying, intimidation, and harassment entails than some general description based upon interviews and surveys.
A recent podcast at CBC The Current provides information about technical advances applicable to ethnographic research
In the link that I’ve noted earlier, I speak about how GoPro equipment can be used in future refinements of groundbreaking linguistic anthropology research.
This topic is treated at much greater length, and in a much more interesting way than anything that you have read in this blog post, at a Nov. 18, 2014 CBC The Current podcast entitled: Journalism project uses virtual reality to recreate Syrian conflict.
This is a great podcast. I recommend it highly.