As a newscast producer for a commercial television station I often found myself fighting to get coverage on tribes.
I recall showing my executive producer a line up of stories. One was a short story about a coup taking place on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. The people had stormed the tribal office, changed the locks and were demanding the leader resign. We didn’t have video of the scene. I only had a map to show where San Carlos was located in relation to Phoenix. It’s less than a three hour drive from Phoenix, definitely in our “coverage area” in those days, but considered a little too far to travel for a story.
The E.P. looked over my list of stories and told me it was a story I could drop if the newscast ran long. I was beside myself! I told him if that was happening in any other city in the state, we’d have a satellite truck there reporting on the situation. I yelled about our lack of coverage of tribes in a state that has 22 federally recognized tribes. I ended my rant saying, “That’s the only story in the newscast that I care about.”
Well, today my rant is over. I no longer have to justify why a story is a story. I don’t have to give an Indian 101 lesson to my colleagues on tribal sovereignty, tribal jurisdiction, or even cultural taboos. They get it. Why? Because today I am in a newsroom that’s filled with journalists who are from tribal communities.
Together we produce the nation’s first television newscast that comes from a Native perspective and features Native experts on everything from the COVID-19 pandemic, the CARES Act to Supreme Court rulings.
When this pandemic hit Indian Country, we quickly saw the need to get out information on how tribes were being affected, what medical attention was needed and how tribal economic enterprises were faring. Despite working from our homes we managed to start producing this weekly newscast. Within a few weeks, we were picked up by the FNX Network and our newscast started airing on PBS stations nationwide. That list has grown and we have evolved.
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After four months of broadcasting from my living room, we moved to the Phoenix Indian School Visitor Center and created a temporary set. This building was part of the government-run boarding school that was open for 99 years. How ironic to use the space meant to assimilate young Native children and instead use it to broadcast our news. You could almost feel the ancestors smiling.
Eight months later we moved into our studio at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Our effort is to bring you a highly produced newscast filled with information and stories you don’t see on other newscasts.
I tell our broadcast team we are making history they might not truly understand until 10 years down the road. It’s the best job ever!
We get letters from viewers who say how much they appreciate our coverage and how they learn from our guests. Some even apologize saying they are non Natives and ask, is it OK for them to watch our newscast? Yes! Yes, it is. We welcome everyone to watch, learn, and enjoy.
We do need more people to continue to grow our broadcast team. We want to go to more Native communities to tell those stories. And believe me, there are thousands of stories out there.
Executive producer, ICT