2015 - Spring

WRRII – LitRep: Ethnography for Journalists

Course Number: JOUR-GA 1022.007

Day & Time: Thursday, 9:00am-12:40pm

Location: 652

Instructor: Ted Conover

Long-form journalism is often concerned with the story of people’s lives over time, and the work of many celebrated journalists has strong ethnographic components, whether pursued consciously or not. Adrian LeBlanc’s Random Family is one example. Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm and War are two more (and Junger, who majored in anthropology, more than once has cited his debt to the discipline). Leon Dash, William Finnegan, and Alex Kotlowitz are other writers who believe in the payoffs to their journalism of immersive, in-depth research that is essentially ethnographic.

Using that kind of research to do journalism is what this course is about. We’ll start with a look at some classic studies and learn how the ethnographic tradition arose. Next will be a short course in ethnographic fieldwork: How is it different from traditional journalistic research, and how does one do it? Early on, students will identify a person (it could be a bodega owner or a skateboarder), or small group of people (it could be a girls’ soccer team, a group of Masons, or political activists) whose lives they will study over several weeks; the final project will be a narrative article about them.


Literary Reportage priority, others by permission of the instructor.