You've Got News!
"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 . . .)
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 email@example.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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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."
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 email@example.com, web john.hoopes.com.