Leon Dash and Ted Conover have modeled an ethnographic approach to literary journalism. This approach combines literary journalism's compelling narrative techniques with ethnographic “naturalist-like” (Brewer, 2000) thoroughness and trustworthiness. Rosa Lee: A Mother in Urban America, by Leon Dash, and Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, by Ted Conover, exemplify this painstaking method that skillfully uses the narrative craft, generates trustworthy data, and contributes to an academic body of knowledge as well as exposing findings to the general public. Dash, Conover, and others have demonstrated the synergy and problem-solving potential of merging anthropology with literary journalism, yet there is no typology, no common name and no set of ground rules describing this work. Identifying Dash's and Conover's methods may advance cross-pollination between anthropology and literary journalism, fields that share the role of reporting on contemporary culture. This cross-pollination serves both disciplines. Ethnography stands to increase its numbers of readers by enlisting the writing techniques of literary journalists and by publishing “more public-spirited” (Fillmore, 1987, p. 1) findings in more public venues. Literary journalism stands to be seen and applied as a credible form of qualitative science by enlisting trustworthy naturalistic methods and aiming to contribute to an academic body of knowledge. This thesis explores the promise of ethnographic naturalism in narrative form, as “scholarship for real readers” (S. Olsen, March 2, 2009, personal communication) by examining how practitioners meet rigorous naturalistic criteria for trustworthiness (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) and how they present findings in narrative forms and public venues. This exploration draws on personal interviews with Dash and Conover and analyses of their long-form narrative research texts in the context of other scholars' outlooks. Key findings include the discovery that although Dash and Conover were not consciously using naturalistic criteria for trustworthiness, their work meets these criteria. Another key finding is that while both writers consider themselves primarily journalists, they both have read anthropology extensively. A notable finding is the fact that Dash and Conover rely on time-invested “unfettered inquiry,” (Dash, 1996) the mind-set of insatiable curiosity, caring and the liberty to apply practices of other disciplines to conduct research, free from external controls.



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Fine Arts and Communications; Communications



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Leon Dash, Ted Conover, ethnographic literary journalism, journalism, ethnography, literary journalism, Walt Harrington, reflexivity, inter-subjectivity, cross-disciplinary, journalism, narrative structure of research, naturalism



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Communication Commons