The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) presented a virtual roundtable training June 30 for Oklahoma Media Center (OMC) partners called “Check Your Bias: Filtering Cultural Preconceptions when Covering Indigenous Communities.”
NAJA Membership Manager Sterling Cosper, a Muscogee (Creek) citizen, served as moderator, joining panelists Allison Herrera, KOSU’s Indigenous affairs reporter of Xolon Salinan tribal heritage, and Liz Gray, the new managing editor for Mvskoke Media, Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s independent and tribally funded news organization.
The Zoom presentation began by discussing a “BINGO card” reporting guide with terms like “warrior,” “spirits or ghosts” and “reference to the ancestors” to avoid cliched storytelling. This tool, produced by NAJA and High Country News, helps identify the use of tropes or stereotypes when reporting in Indian Country.
“Check your article after you’ve drafted it. If you score a bingo, you may consider redrafting it,” Cosper said.
“Even if you don’t score some in a row, you might start considering that there may be an issue.”
Professional journalists from 25 print, digital, and broadcast newsrooms are participating in the OMC collaborative, facilitated by Local Media Foundation. Besides offering training, the media partners work to spur innovation through statewide collaboration that benefits diverse audiences.
In 2021, OMC partners unanimously decided to cover the affirmation of tribal sovereignty and ramifications of the McGirt v. Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling. “Promised Land” was announced as the story-sharing subject for the collaborative this year.
Cosper said the landmark decision is the “big banner issue now” and journalists should re-examine coverage with a more thoughtful approach in a contemporary context. He also discouraged “parachute journalism” where assigned reporters spend just enough time with an Indigenous community to get their content and leave.
“You have to remember that these are real people with real lives and real connections,” Gray said about the significance of interviewing stakeholders. “Humanize this a little bit more.”
Newsgathering from a variety of networked sources and perspectives also helps to explain complicated tribal issues, Herrera said.
Oklahoma is home to 39 federally recognized tribes, but the vast majority do not have fully independent media. In the fall, Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizens will vote on the issue of making that tribe’s free press protections permanent.
Herrera said her KOSU audience includes both Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens. Reporters can avoid unconscious bias by contemplating how they would want their own communities covered.
“We have a duty to hold tribal leaders to account, just in the same way that we hold our elected officials to account,” Herrera said.
“We’re not a monolith. We have very different tribal government structures, tribal courts — different issues. And there are some things that tribal nations share in common, but again, they’re all different, and different people speak for different issues in those communities.”
NAJA previously offered OMC partners training on the tribal media landscape and historical context.
With support from LMF, which is awarding stipends through OMC’s Innovation Fund, NAJA will host a September training with tribal media on the importance of free press in Indian Country, ethics and journalism.
Launched by the Inasmuch Foundation and LMF in 2020, OMC is working to establish its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status in 2021.