The power is in your hands: Increasing the visibility of our stories

Jaclyn Sallee (President and CEO of Koahnic Broadcasting), Allison Herrera (Reporter for PRI and creator of "Invisible Nations"), Loris Taylor (President and CEO of Native Public Media), Sue Schardt (CEO of AIR and Executive Producer of Localore)Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Allison Herrera’s keynote speech at the 2017 Native Broadcast Summit (NBS) in Sulphur, Oklahoma. Hosted by Native Public Media, NBS brought together journalists and station managers in radio and television from across Indian Country to engage in dialogue, share resources, and glean best practices.

Herrera championed Native journalists, spoke about her Localore: Finding America project, “Invisible Nations,” and the need to keep reporting on issues affecting Indigenous communities—all behind the question: How can we increase the visibility of our stories?

Herrera’s speech, delivered to Native journalists from throughout the country, is threaded with key points for journalists looking to better their practices and strengthen their partnerships with underrepresented communities across America.

  • Collaboration is important to surfacing hidden voices. Working with other media organizations—whether it be other Native public radio or television stations or your local NPR stations. If going beyond your listening radius is important and there are issues you feel need state appeal, talk to those stations. Sometimes they want to tell stories involving the local Native American communities, but don’t have a way in. An example worth pointing out is the four tribally run radio stations in Minnesota. Each station produces content about language, culture, heritage, and issues affecting communities. These stations are also part of an organization called Ampers, which distributes their content not only statewide, but also through PRX.
  • Develop the talent of young reporters. Who are those passionate storytellers in your community? Are they students in a language class? A group of young people interested in technology? Some teenagers interested in music? Identify those people in your community, and take some time to mentor and nurture those young talents. It’s how tradition and culture live on.
  • As Native journalists, it’s important to keep doing the work we’re doing. I asked reporter and Native policy expert Mark Trahant about what Native news organizations can do to increase visibility, and he agreed with me: Keep working, keep telling good stories, and keep practicing good journalism. We have the power.
  • Talk to people. If you don’t like the way something is reported or it’s reported incorrectly, it’s important to hold those news organizations accountable. Whether it’s the New York Times, National Public Radio, or the small paper and radio station in your community—they need to know when they got it wrong or right. Recently, NPR’s Code Switch podcast released an episode about treaty rights and hunting in Montana. A listener called them out on some of their reporting—albeit lovingly.
  • Maintaining credibility and ethics is important. We’re not advocates; we’re journalists. And that means we need to maintain those standards that set us apart as the fourth estate. We do not take sides, even if it’s an issue we feel strongly about. Just the very nature of what we’re doing—giving voice to people in some of these communities that sometimes face immense challenges, or are doing incredible things—is enough. That’s your advocacy. We can look to the work of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), we can look to reporters like Jenni Monet, Tristan Ahtone, Antonia Gonzales of National Native News as they report on some of the most pressing issues. We can’t cross that line because then our profession loses its weight.

Standing Rock was one of the most important events I’ve witnessed in the last ten years I’ve been a journalist. I watched as Indigenous communities from all over the world poured their support into the Oceti Sakowin camp. I listened to and read the reports from numerous journalists, including freelancers, those from major networks, bloggers, national reporters. All gathered as the clashes went down, the camps were cleared, and celebrations were had. And … after all the camps have cleared, there is still more reporting that needs to get done. I’ve seen more stories about Native American issues in legacy and public media—but it’s not enough.

I work at Public Radio International (PRI) and I am always trying to push Indigenous stories on our news and editorial team. When I was first hired, I explained that covering Native American issues is important. I continue to push my boss and the rest of our team on the need for a beat dedicated to Indigenous issues. Our flagship show is called “The World,” where we highlight international issues. And so I argue that Native American issues are international issues. We’re talking about sovereign nations that have a place at the table at the UN and should be treated as separate nations by the United States. News coverage, from the largest to the smallest organization, should reflect that.

For more on pushing past traditional news cycles to become a more inclusive public media, read or download AIR’s 2017 report, “Break Form: Making Stories With and For the People.”