Janet M. Cramer
University of New Mexico
University of Colorado, Boulder
Ethnography is primarily concerned with uncovering meanings—in particular, the meanings inherent to a particular group and its practices. The ethnographer accomplishes this awareness through a process of immersion into the life, routines, and rituals of the social setting under study. We describe in this chapter the principles and techniques of ethnographic journalism, but we are well aware that the method could put reporters in an awkward position in relationship to “sources. ” Reporting as social immersion would seem to violate the traditional understanding of objectivity as detachment from sources and subjects. However, we placed quote marks around the word “sources” for a reason—to emphasize that the task of grafting ethnography onto journalism requires us to revisit the author-subject relationship of reporting.
We offer what we hope is a persuasive rationale as to why journalists should use this powerful tool for observing and documenting social life. As we describe, ethnography is really not the alien concept that some in a newsroom might imagine; its narrative scheme and observational methods are close kin to long-respected journalistic practices. However, in providing practical suggestions for how to conduct this type of reporting, we will contemplate some of the ethical dilemmas that arise out of this blending of social science with journal-