One of my main motivations for pursuing a career in journalism was to improve and enlarge coverage of Native Americans. Growing up, I seldom saw Native people depicted in the news beyond the occasional obligatory mention on Thanksgiving or as gold standards for despair in stories about our plight focusing on high rates of poverty and other social ills.
Dreaming of changing this dynamic I began working as a staff photographer and photo editor for daily newspapers. I eagerly brought Native-related story ideas to my mostly White male editors, confident they’d be interested in covering a long-overlooked community.
I was crushed to learn that for the most part, they weren’t interested. I recall an editor who told me that since I am an Ojibwe woman, I wouldn’t be able to maintain my journalistic objectivity in covering Native people or issues. I asked him why he wasn’t concerned about sending White male reporters to cover City Hall since most of the political leaders were also White males. He laughed and shook his head no. That was different, he insisted, and besides why was I being such a smart ass?
Native Americans and other communities and people of color simply fell outside of the legacy press’ institutional definition of news. Real news involved people running other institutions such as government, schools and industry, who for the most part are White. Even if Native journalists are employed by the legacy press, we are usually measured by our ability to adhere to the framework of White centered reporting and news coverage.
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Emotionally and spiritually exhausted by forcing myself into the pigeonhole of mainstream journalism, I simply left. I began producing stories about Native peoples and issues mostly for the ethnic press. The legacy press gradually began to offer me story assignments but again, I found the constant calls to center Whiteness, to explain, justify and mute Native voices draining and uninspiring.
The truth is, White men don’t possess an exclusive, priestly hold on journalistic skill and truth telling. And they certainly don’t have a premium on objectivity. All journalists bring our birth, ethnicity and identities to this work. Thinking otherwise is an illusion that helps stifle opportunities for Native journalists to do our work with the institutional support we need to move the needle forward on understanding our issues. Worse, it deprives the public of important news about the whole community and perpetuates the illusion that only certain people are newsworthy.
Indian Country Today gives its journalists the support to report on Native people and issues such as the often-defining role we play in local and federal elections, the innovative ways tribes have dealt with COVID-19 and vaccine hesitancy, the role treaty rights can play in protecting the environment and natural resources for the entire community and most recently how Indigenous ways of knowing can light a path forward in addressing the climate change crisis.
Our news coverage at Indian Country Today offers nuance and depth about Native issues and people that you won’t find elsewhere, news that truly informs and enlightens. As a journalist, I’m living the dream at Indian Country Today, breaking new ground and exploring rich untold stories that you need to read.
We need more Native journalists to help give readers all the news, news that leaves no one out of the whole story.
Mary Annette Pember
National Correspondent, ICT