A colleague made an off-handed comment that studying news media framing lacks value. But I argue that, particularly when it comes to science and Indians, news reports can be illuminating.
In both cases, most Americans glean information about science and Indians from textbooks and from the popular press. So we hear about the benefits (or risks) of coffee drinking alongside stories about casinos, and lodge them in our brains.
Media researchers figure that people create little pockets in their minds to store information. We have one pocket labeled, “science” and another labeled “Indian.” Films, television, books and the internet fill the pockets with stories and images, and we end up mashing the information into our own pockets of knowledge.
When media covered the Kennewick Man case, Indians were framed as anti-science. A 60 Minutes reporter explained that “science doesn’t matter to them [Indians].” You would be hard-pressed to find a popular story about Indians who are pro-science.
But when I attended a recent salmon conference, I found that the Indian biologists, tribal leaders and environmental experts all embraced science—they just did so without abandoning their Native American values.
So I continue to argue that studying media is important so we can identify how images and stories are created. And the less personal experience we have, the greater the ability of media to fill our pockets of knowledge.