October 02, 2012

Pine Ridge gets media attention

SD reservation sees barrage of media attentionBefore the [Whiteclay] lawsuit, an ABC documentary titled "A Hidden America: Children of the Plains" that aired last year drew both appreciation and consternation among tribal members because it focused on poverty, alcoholism and violence on the reservation.

More recently, Oprah Winfrey's OWN aired "Life on the Rez" part of its "Our America" series hosted by journalist Lisa Ling, in July. Rapper Lupe Fiasco mentioned Pine Ridge in his hit single "Around My Way" and tweeted photos from an impromptu visit to the reservation. And in August, National Geographic Magazine featured a 36-page spread documenting the history of the Lakota people, the poverty that has become entwined in their lives and efforts to overcome it.

Arriving to cover a story with a narrative already decided before the first interview is conducted isn't new in journalism. It's happened in Detroit with reporters writing about empty schools, skyscrapers and factories after the city's economy faltered. There's even a term for it: ruin porn. In Brazil, shantytowns known as favelas and the associated poverty and gang activity is a common thread that sees a lot of newspaper ink.

Giago has blasted "beer-sniffing reporters" who swoop in to Pine Ridge to report a story about alcoholism on the reservation without fully appreciating why the reservation has the statistics it does. Reporters often miss the people who are running the anti-alcohol programs or the schools trying to educate tribal members so they can get a job, he said.

Yet that media coverage on poverty and alcoholism has drawn many people from outside the reservation to donate their time and money to travel to Pine Ridge to try to help.
Comment:  I talked to an Indian Country Today editor about this "barrage of media attention," so people are aware of it. But we're not sure what's causing it. Is each story triggering more stories? If so, that shows the power of the media and the need for more coverage of Indian country.

It's also why I've blogged about Indian country for years: to draw attention to the issues and problems. I'm sure one TV special has more effect than my 10,000-plus postings, but every little bit helps.

For more on Pine Ridge, see Rally for Pe' Sla Purchase and My Interview with Steven Lewis Simpson.

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