MC7019 thought blog on Indian Country: Telling a Story in a Digital Age by Victoria and Benjamin LaPoe.

One of the central arguments of Indian Country: Telling a Story in a Digital Age by Victoria and Benjamin LaPoe is that the mainstream media treats Native Americans as stereotypes as opposed to real people with depth and individuality. I agree with the authors argument, but their method of investigation did not directly address their conclusion. The authors conducted interviews with Native journalists and observed Native newsrooms, such as the Navajo Times. This approach uncovered some of the norms and routines of Native newsrooms, which was another focus of the book, but it did little to advance reader’s understanding of the different ways Native people are portrayed in either Native or mainstream media. Through interviews, we learned what Native journalists thought about Native media and mainstream media, but there were few in-depth examples about the ways that Natives were portrayed and the examples that were included didn’t originate from the interviews and instead drew on commonly known information (ex. Washington Redskins). What the reader is left with was Native journalist’s opinions about the mainstream media’s stereotypical portrayals of Native people. While getting Native journalist’s opinions is important, the question of stereotypes could have been addressed more directly by looking at the news coverage. The authors could have done a content analysis of native vs. non-native news organizations and then had an abundance of examples that illustrated the differences in the way Native people are portrayed. Instead, we are given opinions and generalizations when we could have had evidence and specific examples. Harold Isaacs book, Scratches on Our Minds: American Images of China and India is an example of one approach to uncovering the sources of stereotypes. Isaacs shows the way American books, movies, news and other sources portray China and India and the historical origins of the stereotypes.

Interviewing Native journalists lends itself better to their other area of focus: understanding the routines and norms within Native newsrooms and finding out how technology is changing the way Native newsrooms operate. The authors write that Native journalism is more ritualistic and has more respect for privacy. This was most evident with the example of using private ceremonies, instead of the media, in to discuss community issues and problems; once everyone had aired their grievances at a ceremony, the emphasis was on healing and not on public accountability or exposure. It would have been helpful if the authors had told a few stories of specific cases where newsworthy information was confined to a ceremony and Native editors decided not to publish because it violated the communities right to privacy.

This reminded me of speaking with journalist’s in Ethiopia, who said they could not report on conflict or violence between different ethnic groups. One journalist said that she was investigating a student who had been killed. The journalist found that the deceased student had gotten in a series of volatile arguments with students from a different ethnic group. Once the journalist’s editor found out that the death may have been due to ethnic conflict, the journalist was told to drop the story because it could further inflame tensions between the two ethnic groups. I asked the journalist if she thought this was the right decision and she agreed with her editor. She asked me what I thought and I told her it went against the journalistic norms that I have come to respect — that wrongs need to be exposed to the public so that problems can be addressed. I likened it to reporting on police shootings of unarmed African American’s. The issue has become highly charged and can result in protest that has at times led to violence, but it is still necessary to expose abuse so that it can be corrected. Reporting on sensitive and volatile issues may lead to an increase in conflict in the short term, but is necessary for long-term progress.

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