DECOLONIZING YOUR NEWSFEED
A lingering sunset I photographed at 8:55 Monday evening in Fairbanks, Alaska.
CONQUERING DARKNESS | 04.17.22
In Alaska, the light is a thing to marvel at. It's always changing, sometimes dancing, and most often, stops me right in my tracks - I find it stunning. I was reminded of this on a Monday night ski through tall, spindly birch trees. At five minutes to nine, the
same sunset I had started out with had only intensified its glow, lingering there as if it were waiting for me at the end of my ski.
One of the oldest and most meaningful symbols is light. In journalism, we lean on such metaphor to demonstrate how what we do as investigative reporters is akin to conquering darkness; restoring order from chaos - and there is no shortage of that. But there is an
increasing scarcity of fearless, fact-based journalism. It's a problem and one of the main reasons I keep up with this newsletter.
It's why I'm truly delighted to have your readership. Some of you have been with me since I launched Indigenously in June 2020. Others found your way here quite recently, after watching Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! mention our recent Izzy Award in honor of I.F. Stone, the godfather of the modern
newsletter. Again, I'm glowing like the sun knowing that you are all here.
Much of what I write about from time to time, here, is about the craft I love so much: journalism. I've read a good many books about the history of the profession, though, some would argue it is not a profession at all given that journalists are not licensed but are
instead drawn from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In the end, we stand on our credibility, something that is called into question for me at least every weekend upon issuing a new edition of Indigenously. It's you, my readers, who determines my worth; who I maintain my loyalty to.
As author of this newsletter, I strive for a few fundamental principles: accuracy, transparency, and ethics. That means correcting mistakes as they are made, providing clear source materials that back up my reporting,
and being fair in how I frame narratives and the voices of others. I also don't accept shady or political foundational support which, lately, has commodified the Indigenous experience by creating new "boxes" to check. If ever I've violated one of these cornerstone values, it makes me nauseous. That's how much I care.
And when I say I love journalism, it's not merely expression. My whole life has been about "the news" from the time I was watching Nightline with my grandfather at the age of six, to those lean years as an unpaid intern
that turned into my first salaried job, albeit, below poverty wages. You didn't hear me complain, not even when changing a flat tire in the middle of the Navajo Nation - before cell phones - while out on assignment, alone. In those moments, it makes you rethink what other kind of job you might pursue as an alternative.
Except, journalism is not a job. It's a calling. It's what you do because you can't help yourself, even though the pay is lousy and the hours, even lousier. And the industry, itself, is incredibly homogenized - white and male. In recent years, there is also the issue of "objectivity" that is increasingly blurring the lines of where activism ends and journalism begins. In this progressive era, nowhere are the standards in journalism ignored more greatly than in the mishandling of the Indigenous narrative.
From some of these experiences, I authored “The Crisis in Covering Indian Country” for the Columbia Journalism Review, a Mirror Award-winning essay in 2020 which speaks to the difficulties and demands that meet my industry as it aspires to invest in people and places long-marginalized by the
Fourth Estate. The essay was in response to a noticeable uptick by newsrooms to report on Indigenous affairs following the anti-pipeline demonstrations at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Such draw has only intensified from all that 2020 laid bare: inequality and the structures of racism that live on the side of such disparity. Several years on, the crisis in covering Indian Country continues.
The new frenzy to tell Indigenous stories has led many publications to discard these standards and publish
works of Native writers who unabashedly ignore or twist facts to promote their own ambitions. So there is a deeply ironic double-standard at play; such behavior would not be condoned for any other genre in media. The real impact is felt when these writers are believed by an overwhelming majority who know little to nothing about Indigenous people and form worldviews from such distortion and misinformation. But it is not our way to call out other Natives, even if they represent the liars and the cheats making it a harder place to discern what is real and what isn't - which is also part of the lingering crisis in covering Indian Country.
What is our way, and what journalism itself should represent, is building community, by virtue of
uplifting those making positive change, and by outing others making it harder to live in this world. And it's about urging all of us to do better, work harder, and demand better ecosystems, including our wells of information.
More than anything, to be a journalist is to be honest. Again, credibility is the only stock in the trade.
I just filed my taxes this week and although I won't be receiving a refund, but rather paying the federal
government this year, I pinch myself that I get to write for a living - something my mother argued would make a hard road for me. She wasn't wrong. But I was right to not let it discourage me. I truly believe that you can make change through journalism. Ida B. Wells did it over lynchings with The Memphis Free Speech; Howard Rock did it over Alaska Native land colonization with the Tundra Times. A Lakota drone operator from Standing Rock, Dean Dedman did it, too - with a single aerial shot that exposed illegal construction of the
Dakota Access Pipeline which led to the project's stalling at the end of 2016. These are as good as any reason to value journalism.
Wrapping things up, here are the four newsletters that Indigenously was judged by for the Izzy
I'm making my way back into the field this week for some more reporting. Secretary Haaland is expected
to tour Alaska all week with a schedule that could change at a moments notice. I've cleared my week to monitor her travels, a trip that had been planned since last fall but was canceled due to Covid-19. I'll have a dispatch on what happens, next weekend.
Til then, be well, everyone!
Number of months Indigenously has been in publication: 22
Total issues produced since June 19, 2020: 78
Average monthly expenses to produce Indigenously: $750
Estimated costs in monthly software fees, alone: $365
Average received in monthly donations: $300
Total amount Indigenously received from the last grant awarded in August: $40K
Percentage of Indigenously readers polled who have college degrees: 88%
Who work in the nonprofit sector, the largest representation of readers: 18%
Approximate ratio of women readers versus male, based on polling: 2:1
Exact age range of the most represented readers: 30-39
Percentage of readers who say climate change is their most pressing issue, the highest of any other topic of concern: 74%
Who said "Land Back" issues were top of mind: 71%
Total percentage of readers polled whose main source of news comes from newsletters: 68%
Percentage of readers who have recommended Indigenously to others: 77%
Who have promoted the newsletter on social media: 18%
Who say they were enlightened by something they've learned from Indigenously: 82%
NOTE: The June 2021 poll was a sampling of 122 readers who responded to 20 questions anonymously from a survey produced by Indigenously.
Come watch me and some fine journalists make short speeches about what we love about the craft in accepting
our Izzy Award. The virtual ceremony will be held by Zoom, April 26 at 6:30 PM Eastern.
Thanks for soliciting community interests and your essential advocacy; I look forward to reading your newsletter!
Jeremy, New York
I heard from several of you who signed up and responded to my prompt for feedback from you as new readers. Dawaa'e,
thank you for those of you who took the time out like Jeremy to share with me what he'd like to see in the coming editions of Indigenously. The door for suggestions, feedback, and yes, even criticism is always open. It may take me some time to circle back, but I will. Send me a note, anytime.
If you are among the 77% of Indigenously readers who have shared this with friends, save them the step:
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