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Not So Picture Perfect


What if I told you that a photograph was worth a thousand words? But what words? What if the words were “unethical” and “fiction”?

Though many would deny this claim, for the indigenous Maya people of Yucatán, it’s far from falsehood. What may have seemed like a typical act of journalism has in actuality created a slew of questions and concerns about the ethical validity in which photography plays in cultural perception.

For the Maya people, capturing suicide through photography isn’t the issue at hand but the way in which the photographs and reports are being presented to the public audience. Through images and articles “red” journalism has influenced the illusion that “Maya people have a cultural predisposition to suicide.” In The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean article “He Followed the Funereal Steps of Ixtab: The Pleasurable Aesthetics of Suicide in Newspaper Journalism in Yucat´an, Mexico ” By Beatriz Reyes-Foster, the issue of cultural misconception through media is addressed.

Though photography may portray images that allow room for misinterpretation, images also encourage us to engage in cultural aesthetics while also stimulating intellectual thinking and dialogue. A thousand words may not all perfectly fit into the “box” labeled “positive” but the conscious questioning and analyzing of these words is what drives progression towards ethical media.

Anthropology and Journalism: April AN Now Online

April Anthropology News In Focus commentaries on anthropology and journalism are now posted on our Current Featured News page, free to the public throughout the month. Authors include S Elizabeth Bird, Dominic Boyer, Maria D Vesperi, Mark Allen Peterson, Shannon May, Barbara J King and Gary Feinman. Full issue content is available via AnthroSource, including additional thematic articles from other sections by contributors such as Mark Pedelty and Kathryn Graber.

Anthropology has long had a complex relationship with news media. Increasing collaboration between anthropologists and print, broadcast or online journalists offers great potential for making our work more accessible, as well as boosting public understanding of and engagement with anthropological research findings and perspectives. However, it also poses challenges in balancing the goals, priorities, timelines and communication styles of journalism and anthropology, which have distinct methodological, ethical, theoretical and expository traditions. Read this month’s commentaries to learn more!


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