Newsletter: Indigenous stories are a public service, not a flavour of the month

You don’t need a dinner invitation to express your thoughts

Recently, I’m told, The Globe and Mail held a thought-leaders dinner in Vancouver, and I understand that Indigenous issues were touched on.

Now, I wasn’t invited, and to be fair the Globe doesn’t know me. But you don’t need a dinner to talk about your ideas, so I’m going to crash the party with some thoughts of my own.

For starters, Indigenous issues are more prominent now than they have been historically. Gatherings like Idle No More, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have thrust Indigenous news higher up on the public agenda.

But the TRC concluded three years ago, and the inquiry only has a year or two left, at most. So I’m concerned that coverage of Indigenous issues won’t last forever, or at least might get scaled back because of how various editors interpret the latest analytics on article traffic.

If you think that this can’t happen, I’ve seen it.

I know one small-town newspaper that used to regularly publish stories about Indigenous issues as several First Nations were located in its region. Then the paper changed hands, and a new publisher and editor were assigned.

The publisher allegedly met with the paper’s newsroom staff and ordered the reporters and editors to stop putting Indigenous issues on the front page, and to scale back their coverage of Indigenous issues overall. The publisher’s justification, according to the reporters who later whispered this story to me: Indigenous people were a small part of the paper’s subscribership and advertising base.

The paper has since closed (though another small paper continues to publish), and the publisher and editor are no longer in the news business. But this didn’t happen last century. It happened within the last decade.

The community still has a weekly newspaper, which continues to publish Indigenous stories as part of its regular news coverage.

Which leads me to my second point: Reconciliation is a fundamental part of building Canada’s future, and stories about it should be considered an ongoing public service — and not just a flavour of the month subject to the whims of advertisers.

Governments and institutions may talk about reconciliation, but most people aren’t really sure what it means. Good journalism is essential to help make the concept concrete and show what it can look like in practice.

Reconciliation stories are also important to show how our country is hurting, and what we must do to begin healing. They show how prevalent racism is, for instance, and explain why it isn’t acceptable and how we must grow beyond it.

News beats may not be so common anymore (present company notwithstanding), but there are still lessons to be learned from the ways in which communities were once regularly covered. Every beat has nuances that reporters need to know how to navigate, and the Indigenous beat is no different.

The Reporting in Indigenous Communities course at UBC has a practical guide that helps journalists navigate reporting in Indigenous communities. And in my decade as a journalist, I’ve developed some tips of my own: take your time, build relationships and show diverse voices and viewpoints.

These nuances aren’t congruent with quick-hit daily deadline journalism. But adhere to them, and you’ll come out with deeper, more incisive stories about Indigenous issues, people and communities.

In this age of reconciliation, the importance of taking the time to build relationships, and report with more depth, can’t be overstated.

What do you want journalists to know about reporting on Indigenous people, issues and communities? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me via Facebook, Twitter or email. Finally, if you enjoyed reading this newsletter, please ask your friends to subscribe.

First Nations housing video — take one

Think housing on #FirstNations reserves is free? Well, think again.

My colleague Francesca Fionda and I dug into the data to test this myth — and the myth got busted.

We shared our findings in this video:

ICYMI

  • The nursing department at Mount Royal University has dedicated space on its website for reconciliation issues. You’ll find  guides, tools and various reports to peruse.
  • Are you a K-12 teacher who wants to put reconciliation into practice with students at school? Check out the University of Toronto’s website for lesson plan ideas, kits and videos.
  • The city of Hamilton, Ontario is creating an Urban Indigenous Strategy to strengthen relations with the city’s Indigenous people. The strategy can be found here.[end]

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