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You've Got News!
Archaeology Journalism on the Internet

John W. Hoopes

"Noah's Ark Found on Mars!" "Satan's Skull Unearthed!" "Elvis Buried in Mayan Pyramid!" The Weekly World News is one of the only national newspapers to feature archaeological headlines on a regular basis. Unfortunately, its role as a source for the latest news of advances in knowledge leaves much to be desired. Where can one go to get a daily dose of archaeology in the news? Furthermore, what's the best way to let the world know about your own latest discovery?

The Internet offers many options, ranging from Web sites to email discussion groups. It is now easier than ever to keep abreast of the latest developments in archaeology. With a little bit of expertise, one can track down details on stories for which the reports in local papers are woefully inadequate, or to follow stories that are rarely deemed important enough for extended coverage. News stories on the Web often feature color photographs and even audio or video clips that are especially elusive, simplifying the job of determining whether news is really news.

It is now relatively easy to stay informed about events in just about any part of the globe. For example, last Columbus Day, a story broke in the international press about a "lost civilization" that had been discovered in eastern Nicaragua by a Costa Rican videographer. The story was reported by the Associated Press and Reuters. CNN broadcast a video clip of stone walls deep in the rainforest, reporting that the site may have been part of an ancient city. The flurry of media attention was enough to stir skeptical interest among professionals, but the quality of the wire service reports was inadequate for even a moderately informed appraisal. The story disappeared from major media within a few days. However, I was able to follow it in detail by reading stories that appeared almost daily in La Prensa www.laprensa.com.ni/ of Nicaragua and La Nación www.nacion.co.cr/ of Costa Rica. Despite the initial worldwide attention, few news media carried the ultimate appraisal of the "discovery": a misinterpretation of basalt columns as manmade stone walls.

More recently, I was able to track down photographs of stone carvings found beneath a Miami apartment building, whose form was impossible to interpret from verbal descriptions alone (some of which described them as Mayan . . .)

Finding Archaeology News

Web Sites

The easiest way to find archaeology news on the Web is by means of some excellent resources created and maintained by colleagues who have donated their energy and expertise in the spirit of academic service. The best single news source for archaeology on the Web is Anthropology in the News www.tamu.edu/anthropology/news.html, a site created and maintained by David Carlson, an associate professor at Texas A & M University. It provides links for quick access to the latest news reports offered by several sources, including ABC, CNN, Fox, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nando Times, Archaeology magazine, university press releases, and other sources. Carlson also follows three archaeology-related email discussion lists (see below) for tips about current news items.

Carlson writes, "I started Anthropology in the News about two years ago as a replacement for a bulletin board with news clippings related to anthropology that I kept outside my office. Instead of stapling news clippings, I decided to create an electronic version of the bulletin board on the Web. The Web version draws over 800 hits per day (over 48,500 in November and December alone)." His biggest challenge is keeping the news up-to-date and eliminating "dead" links (hypertext that fails to connect with a document elsewhere on the Web). He notes, "I have tried several automated search bots to find news, but none so far has been very efficient. For example, a search on `evolution' turns up many business press releases about their `evolutionary, new product . . .'"

His method is to bookmark about two dozen news report Web sites that he checks for anthropology-related stories on a regular basis. Carlson notes that some of the news services to which it provides links require one to register and select a password in order to retrieve articles, but charge a fee to retrieve these news stories. The news reports linked through this site are all current within about 60 days. Hot stories at this time of writing include discussions of evidence for climate change, reports about the excavation of a tomb in China dating to "the `warring states' period from 475-221 B.C.," the arrest of a German smuggler for transporting a cave bear skeleton, and a report from the National Park Service declaring a 19th-century "treasure chest" from Death Valley to be a fraud. Although its scope is worldwide, it also is important to note that Anthropology in the News provides links in English to stories in English-language Web sites. Other sources should be consulted for news of archaeology in foreign-language online publications. The page provides links only, without summaries of the online articles. It also may include multiple versions of a story that originates from an AP or Reuters news release.

Archaeology Magazine Online www.archaeology.org, published by the Archaeological Institute of America and maintained by Amilie Walker, provides an up-to-date list of news stories as well as a list of "Newsbriefs" that appear in the most recent issue of the magazine. There also is an online archive of past news stories, organized by geographic region. As with the magazine, the Web site is rich in high-quality photographs and illustrations. Among the current features is an exceptionally well-illustrated report by Angela Schuster about Saburo Sugiyama's latest excavations of a tomb in the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan.

The Atrium web.idirect.com/~atrium is a multi-part Web resource in progress that has been created by David Meadows, a doctoral student at McMaster University, to serve as a clearinghouse for information about world archaeology. While its principal focus is classical archaeology, its scope is quite broad. One of its most ambitious features is Explorator: Watching the Web for News of the Ancient World, an electronic newsletter edited by Meadows. Another feature is Commentarium, which serves as an online repository of links to worthwhile stories. Rostra provides a list of links to online audio recordings, including NPR broadcasts of archaeology-related stories. There also is a television schedule for programs related to the ancient world. Information for The Atrium is culled from at least 60 different online news sources in a variety of languages from around the world. It is collected via "a spider program which scans assorted sources (listed below) for news of the ancient world. Anything that is found that is worthy first appears in Explorator, our darned-near-daily free email newsletter. After that, news stories which haven't expired make their way to the monthy ezine Commentarium, sound files make their way to the Rostra, and magazine articles, etc., go to the media archive. In point of fact, eventually it all will end up in the Media Archive." To subscribe to Explorator, send an email to dmeadows@idirect.com with "Explorator Request" on the subject line. The message itself should consist of only the words "subscribe explorator."

Commentarium is not as current as Anthropology in the News (the latest update was September 1998), but provides a number of useful links to online news reports. The principal focus is on classical archaeology, but there are also stories about Neolithic sites and the ancient Maya. Meadows' list of links to five dozen online news sources is itself worth a visit to the Web site. There are a number of features that appear to be "under construction" at the site, including a media archive, a bibliography, link pages, and a site search engine. Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, many of these features were dead links.

Email Discussion Groups

Among the best sources for current news about archaeology are discipline-related email discussion lists, of which a comprehensive list can be found online at Anthropology Resources on the Internet home.worldnet.fr/clist/Anthro/Texts/anth-faq.html, compiled by allen lutins and Bernard Olivier-Clist. Some examples of these would be ARCH-L (for general archaeology), to which one subscribes by sending the message "subscribe arch-l your name" to listserv@listserv.tamu.edu or AZTLAN (for Precolumbian studies), to which one subscribes by sending "subscribe aztlan your name" to listserv@ulkyvm.louisville.edu. Caliche is an electronic newsletter distributed via email by the Southwestern Archaeology Special Interest Group (SASIG) www.swanet.org (follow the "Got Caliche?" link from their homepage). It is described by its creators as "Keyword-filtered journalism, short-lived news blurbs, and timely press releases--information about the archaeology, anthropology, and history of the American Southwest--received from individual contributors, and from media wirefeeds and search bots crawling the World Wide Web." To receive a free subscription to Caliche, join the SASIG email swa@dogyears.com by sending a message with the following information: name, institutional affiliation, mailing address, phone/fax, website URL, keyword research interests, and email address.

Media Sources

There are currently hundreds of news media sources on the Web, most of which can be found via Web gateways and search engines such as Netscape Communications www.netscape.com, AltaVista www.altavista.com, and Yahoo! www.yahoo.com. Some, such as The New York Times www.nytimes.com allow one to register for free news via email that can be custom-designed through the use of keywords. The MSNBC site www.msnbc.com features a free plug-in for Netscape Navigator that allows one to browse through hundreds of news stories. Virtually all of them have search engines that permit one to track down specific topics. Using these Web sites to find archaeology news requires intelligent browsing and strategic searching. For example, most archaeology stories tend to be posted in the science/technology sections of online news sources. It is important to remember that not all stories will contain the word "archaeology," so one should also try terms such as "archaeologist," "archaeologists," and even "ancient." Furthermore, in many cases, local media will provide far more detailed information about stories that are carried by national or international media. For example, stories about the recent Death Valley "treasure chest" find (and its revelations as a hoax) were posted at Deseret News (Utah) deseretnews.com/ and The Daily Independent (Ridgecrest, CA) www.ridgecrestca.com/.

Search Tools

There are various search engines that are especially tailored for seeking specific types of news. Artigen artigen.com, powered by the Infoseek search engine, is a Web site that probes several news sources to provide a list of current articles. The link to "Science and Technology" is the best bet for archaeology-related stories. It is a fast and efficient search tool with which one can enter a variety of keywords to find relevant news items. Artigen also provides links for specific searches that can be custom-configure for inclusion in an existing Web site. For an example of how Artigen works, follow the link (under "News Briefs") from Wayne Neighbors' excellent Points of Reference site anthro.org. It has been programmed to search Artigen using the following keywords: archeology, archaeology, archaeologist, archaeologists, anthropology, anthropologist, anthropologists, history, and prehistoric. (Points of Reference is itself an excellent starting point for finding a wealth of online anthropology resources.) NewBot www.netbot.com, operated via the HotBot search engine of Wired Digital, Inc., is a specialized tool for searching news stories on the Web. Searches can be conducted for articles posted within the last 6 hours, 24 hours, week, or month. At the time of this writing, a search on the term "archaeology" for the last month turned up seven stories, including two about Revil Mason's discovery of manmade shelter in South Africa dating to 15,000 to 10,000 B.P. Unfortunately, not all of these recent links are active, since new sources will move articles to new locations in archive files.

Contacting the Media

Exposure in the press is not necessarily a good thing. The news media are notorious for sensationalizing serious science and fanning the flames of wild speculation. However, one strategy for keeping the public better informed about archaeology is to be proactive about providing reporters with accurate information. Email has made it especially easy to send electronic "press releases," while the ease of creating Web pages has made it practical for anyone with a digital camera or scanner to make both text and images available to a world audience. A combination of the two may be the most effective means to bring accurate information to the attention of the press, while exercising some control. At sites like that of Science Daily www.sciencedaily.com a previously registered public information officer for a university or other research institution can gain password access to post news releases.

There are several ways to make contact with editors and reporters who wish to cover archaeological stories. The electronic masthead at Archaeology Magazine Online www.archaeology.org/ provides links to email addresses for several editors and writers who can be contacted directly. Another strategy is to use online stories to identify the writers at specific news organizations who cover archaeology. John Noble Wilford wilford@nytimes.com is the principal archaeology reporter for The New York Times. He writes, "Email is one good way to correspond with me, as long as people show some restraint and not flood me with press releases of marginal interest. By marginal interest, I mean subjects that represent only small incremental steps toward solving some question in archaeology. Questions of special interest these days seem to be peopling of the Americas, early agriculture in Americas and in Old World, origins of Indo-Europeans and their language roots, ancient trade routes, marine archaeology, early empires in Mesopotamia, early `contact' studies in Americas, etc."

However, contact with a reporter is no guarantee of attention. Wilford notes, "I do not have time always to respond to your suggestions. If I'm interested, I will be getting in touch with you. If I don't, it does not necessarily mean I have no interest--I could be traveling, I could be filing your material away for later use, or I could be too dense to see the merits of your brilliant idea. Just remember, you don't have my undivided attention, for I also write about astronomy and paleontology." With regard to content, "It helps if you can give a brief summary of what the story is about, then follow that with details emphasizing why the development is both interesting and important. Reference to a website is helpful, if this adds more details and has material that can be downloaded for graphics. Be sure to note if there is some special reason that the story is timely, about to be published in a journal, completion of a digging season, how it relates to other recent stories about the same general subject."

Conclusion

The Internet offers a variety of new approaches to both getting and distributing news about archaeology. While it will probably never compete with the buzz in the halls at regional and national meetings, there is a lot to be said for its immediacy and increasing ubiquity. As the general public is increasing its reliance upon the Internet for all kinds of information, the medium also is offering valuable tools to professionals in both archaeology and journalism.

However, the potential of the medium is far, far greater than what has been realized. Among the resources that are needed are sites similar to Anthropology in the News that feature researchers' own stories and reports. We need to work on creating Web sites where we can rely upon each other to keep ourselves informed, rather than counting on the condensed versions that appear in commercial news reports. We also can create resources to help journalists identify newsworthy research, develop tie-ins that make archaeology attractive for their media, and contribute to the quality of overall knowledge of what archaeology is all about.

John Hoopes, associate editor for the Networks column, is associate professor at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kansas. He can be reached by email at john@hoopes.com, web john.hoopes.com.

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