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SPJ's Diversity Blog » New York Times | A Society of Professional Journalists Blog

Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

News Coverage of Native Americans: It’s all about context

The New York Times recently produced several excellent, well-reported articles exploring residents’ concerns about crime and alcohol on Indian reservations. But for those who don’t get their Native news elsewhere, these are fine but dangerously finite offerings.

The strong dose of negativity drew a sobering response from 19-year-old Willow Pingree, who wrote in a comment on one article:

“I have lived on the reservation since I was born. I will be only twenty in July, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve seen my share of good and bad things on this reservation. Not EVERTHING about this reservation is bad. Sure there is a huge problem with domestic violence and alcoholism, but we try to work together as a community to fight it. We have not given up. … It is a sad thing that people are quick to judge about a place where they have not lived.”

Indeed, it’s far too easy for most of us to be quick to judge. Unless we’re American Indian ourselves, it’s quite likely that all we know or read about Indian nations points to hard times and hard lives.

News Only Focuses on the Negative

The “Indians, American” section in Times topics, plus a quick search on Lexis-Nexis for good measure, reveals a dearth of stories about anything other than troubling topics. Besides the crime and alcohol stories, so far this year readers have learned about a violent tribal power struggle, a cigarette tax fight, and a New York legislator who got into a fight in a casino. To be fair, a Mar. 14 Style piece discussed cultural appropriation and a January piece highlighted the Makah Indian Nation’s efforts to draw tourists to a their home, where the wind is “brutal” and the rain, ”relentless.”

Perhaps it’s unjust to pick on the New York Times. Native Americans rarely make it into the news anywhere other than the Native press, and when they do, the story is usually the same: crime, violence, alcohol.

Improve Your Coverage of Native Americans:  List of Sources

Navajo children at Ft. Defiance, AZ/ Photo Courtesy: Donovan Shortey

We can all do a better job filling out a more balanced picture. For some leads and ideas, check out these news sites and blogs:

Indian Country Today

News From Indian Country


Native Legal Update

Turtle Talk

Tsalagi Think Tank


Julia Good Fox


Sally Lehrman is a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee. She holds Santa Clara University’s Knight Ridder — San Jose Mercury News Endowed Chair in Journalism and the Public Interest.  Sally is also an author and independent journalist who specializes in covering identity, race relations and gender within the context of medicine and science.

NY Times joins CNN in demonstrating how to cover diversity of sexual orientation

Friday’s New York Times article “When the Bride Takes a Bride” is a keeper of a media example on how to reflect diversity in your news product.

Not only does writer Kevin Sack spotlight a couple who has started an online magazine, EquallyWed, to fill a void in the media outlets that address concerns of same-sex couples, but he also identifies other media outlets and reviews mainstream media’s challenge in deciding how to handle what is still a controversial issue- same-sex marriage.

Historical Context Included

If you’re like me, handling the issue of same-sex marriage in my stories is not something I’ve done a lot of in my work as a journalist.

So Mr. Sack, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes in his journalism career,  provided a little background on the fact that gay wedding have been depicted on network TV since the mid 1990s.

According to his article, 70 percent of daily newspapers also carry same-sex wedding announcements.

Following CNN’s Lead?

While I certainly think neither Mr. Sack nor his editors had CNN in mind when he wrote this piece, it’s interesting to note that this week’s story follows another reporting on the experiences of same-sex couples.

If you missed it, CNN’s latest installment of its “In America” series included a depiction of the challenge of same-sex couples who try to adopt.

“Gary and Tony Have a Baby” aired last month on the number-3 cable network.   You can read my thoughts about that program on my blog.

Leaving Out the Naysayers

I thought University of Pennsylvania Communications Professor Katherine Sender’s comment in Sack’s story was especially important to mention.

“The market doesn’t wait for politics to catch up,” she told Sack.

That’s why I’ve been talking about the business imperative of diversity for years.

Absent from this article was the political debate about same-sex marriage.    That was not relevant for the reporting on this media trend.

CNN was criticized by some for not giving “both sides” (presumably those opposed and those supporting) of the issue of gay marriage.

In our reporting on diversity, we have to be comfortable enough to establish parameters for our stories that they don’t get sidetracked by politics, which is a fight for another day.

Sack mentions that Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and District of Columbia joined Massachusetts as areas where same-sex marriages have been recognized.

But, that’s sufficient to acknowledge the political context without allowing it to dominate the reporting on this trend.

Appropriate Media Critique Adds to Diversity Within Diversity

There is no one way to write about the experiences of same-sex couple.

In the concluding graphs of his story, Lack engages in a little media criticism by noting how EquallyWed is more content driven than competing sites.   He also depicts the diversity in content in the online magazine.

Other Web sites such as Queerly Wed, and SoYou’re EngGAYged and GayWeddings.com are mentioned in this article.

But, Sack also addresses those, like me, who are new to covering this trend, this part of America.   He includes a quote from EquallyWed’s Kirsten Palladino about how there are some photographers who were uncomfortable with knowing how to gather images of a gay wedding.

That discomfort is an important part of the story that comes with covering or reporting on anything that is different.   But, media outlets like the New York Times (which has a fairly long history of covering issues of sexual orientation) have to have the courage to tell this story.


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