Rethinking journalism from an ethnographic glance. Part I: The slow and the new

There is a small but also an interesting study field about the relationship between journalism and ethnography (Cramer & McDevitt, 2014; Hermann, 2014) where some scholars have contributed, to a greater extent, to discuss the possibilities and advantages of including ethnography in journalistic work. It is always in this way. The aim of this growing line of knowledge is how to improve journalism through the implementation of an ethnographical ethos into the daily practice of journalism.

There is, nonetheless, a contribution to this relationship I would like to highlight. This contribution is going in the opposite direction to the others (Spickard, 20017), it means that is presenting a clear demarcation between ethnography and journalism. James Spickard aims to differentiate ethnography from slow journalism, a “new alternative” (Le Masurier, 2014) for going out of nowadays’ mainstream and accelerated ways of journalistic production.

The concept of slow journalism results pretty interestingly to me due to, first, the fact that its “novelty” is almost sixty years old. This slow condition can be traced following the works of Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, and Hunter Thompson, among other authors. Thompson, precisely, is the founder of Gonzo journalism. Yes, I know that those works were not called properly slow, those were cataloged under the label of “new” journalism but, nevertheless, both new and slow journalism are producing similar pieces of information regarding their intention of creating deep long-form content.

I am also aware that the term slow is based on the “slow movement” and that the precursor of introducing the term slow to journalism was Peter Laufer in 2011. And this is, precisely, the second reason why I consider the usage of this concept interesting: becasue of rediscovering and reappropriation of a way of producing journalism that always has been at the edge of the discipline.

In the new journalism, for instance, the frontiers between this movement and literature were blended into a well-narrated non-fiction scenario producing great products in the shape of magazine’s reports and books. The slow journalism also took the creative possibilities gave by literature, but nowadays it is also mixed with design, information architecture and statistic into a digital environment, sometimes for publishing, sometimes just for creating content.

This paused way of understanding the journalistic work is also a scenario for experimentating new ways of narrating and telling stories. I see this possibility represented in two different but interlaced stages: one based on the exploration of new formats, platforms, and tools. The second —the one I want to explore— is related to a hybridization, to an encounter with other disciplines, ethnography in this case.

Why is this relevant? I mean, what is the point of going in that direction? Well, the faster answer is due to the possibilities for enriching both journalistic and ethnographic work. But we are not here for talking quickly, at the opposite. We are here for taking our time and discussing this issue with more details, in a profound way, slowly.

This entry is the introduction of a series of post about the relationship between journalism and ethnography. More than being a formal proposal for rethinking journalism from an academical perspective this is a collection of thoughts I have been compiling during some time ago in a messy way, regarding the encounter of those two fields.

In fact, more than rethinking journalism I would like to experiment with a bi-directional segmented essay about how to compose an entanglement spot between journalism and radical ethnography, a kind of methodological outpost for exploring urban life, without a particular disciplinary frame. In that way, this series of post is not about how to use a specific discipline for enriching the another; it is about how to construct an open and collective artifact for composing better stories and descriptions about the life outside.