Monday, July 7, 2008

Can I get a little objectivity?

The Anchorage Daily News is going to drive me insane.

On Sunday, the Juneau Empire chose to run this headline:

Sealaska seeks resolution of land claim

It’s a story about Sealaska trying to resolve the land claims from 37 years ago. I don’t think Sealaska has to be held up as doing everything right (Without actually knowing the whole story, it sounds like there are some questionable decisions going on.) But here’s the headline ADN decided to run:

Sealaska’s proposed land grab raises worries

Not that the tone ADN consistently uses with Native corporations is anything new, but really. Same story, but ADN editors went with a much catchier headline, only a little more biased. And just to make sure I wasn’t steeping in paranoia, here are just a few definitions of “land grab”:

“The term ‘land grab’ is almost always used in a pejorative sense to describe a hostile or unfair real estate transaction.” (WiseGeek)

“...the seizing of land by a nation, state, or organization, esp. illegally, underhandedly, or unfairly.” (Random House Dictionary)

Not that you need a definition to see the difference.

I don’t think Native corporations have always treated the land Native people paid for as they should. But in no way does the upholding of a legal transaction that should have taken place in 1971, or shortly thereafter, make for a land grab.

This is another area in which it is easy to get mired, and I really hate mentioning things that seem so small. After all, why should the “slight” difference of wording be so upsetting? Why should a few different words on a headline make any difference?

I happen to have a healthy respect for the responsibility of the media, and the Anchorage Daily News knows very well what “slight” differences in wording make. People read headlines. Many people will only read headlines. Sensationalism in any form gets people to read the story more, gets more newspapers sold. But for those that only read the headline, Native corporations (once again) come out on the wrong end. The headline sets up the whole tone for any article.

If you really want to see the difference in reader reactions, read the ADN (Anchorage reader) reactions vs. the Empire (Juneau reader) reactions. The ADN readers give out the “there go the Native corporations again” comments, the anti-Native comments, the “enough already” comments. The Empire readers discuss the ACTUAL ISSUE, which is not Sealaska trying to unfairly grab land from the government. Same story, different tone. The interesting part is Anchorage readers are the pissed off ones, while the Juneau (Southeast) readers are the ones who are actually going to have to deal with the results from this supposed “land grab.”

I would love to talk about the actual issue more. It is not something I am completely resolved on myself. But it is difficult to focus on real issues when the repeated attention of Anchorage’s only daily newspaper tries again and again to shed Native corporations in a negative light. I think it’s great that we are hearing about Native corporations, but without the bias, please.

Again, I don’t think the Native corporations are all angelic. But they certainly aren’t the devil incarnate either. There are many corporations, serving a diverse people in a completely unique circumstance, and were formed as a requirement from the government. It is frustrating, not to mention a bit ironic, that the Native people are so frequently vilified for being successful at what they were required to begin.



Ishmael said...

I think your perspective is spot-on.

I know my Native Corp. is as you describe: not angelic, but not the devil, either. I do like to complain about them on occasion (don't get me started on board-solicited proxies for board-selected candidates!), but the quarterly checks have been getting bigger.

Keep the ADN's feet to the fire. Just because they've gutted their newsroom doesn't mean they can't act like a real newspaper and not the National Enquirer.

E. Ross said...

You're right that the headline is biased, and you're right to call them on it, even if it seems like a small thing.

As for the reader comments, I've noticed that the ADN has a group of haters who comment regularly. They use anger to bully people who make serious comments and to shut down conversations about diversity. Some posts get enough support to overcome the bigots, but most don't. So the comments but may not be a good test of how an article was received by the many readers who did not comment.

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