How the Press Covered the Sea Lion Controversy in Indian Country

Next week we present results of our study at a national conference in Chicago, sharing details of how the press covered the salmon and sea lion conflict at the Columbia River.

Local Indians have a great stake in the salmon fisheries, a center piece to their culture and livelihood.

Portland State alum Tess McBride, principal author, looked at news coverage over more than 6 years and learned that tribal members have little access to the channels of communication.

In other words, tribal folks are sought after less frequently than government sources or advocacy groups (such as the US Humane Society).

Most of the sources quoted in the period we studied—from 2003 to 2010—were state, local or federal government spokespeople, officials and scientists. About 19% were sources for advocacy groups—like animal rights or fishing organizations.

And about 8% were tribal people.

You may ask: Does it matter that so few sources were American Indians?

In our research, we show that sources are an important piece to the information puzzle. When mainstream journalists report on news, they are trained to be objective. Bias free.

But sources have an agenda and reporters depend on sources to help frame stories and add color to the narrative.

So a compelling source can set the framework for a story. And you have greater access to reporters, then it’s more likely your version of the story gets told.

If Indians are rarely quoted then our views are less likely to be heard.

(AP wire photo)

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. She is enrolled with the Osage tribe.
This entry was posted in authenticity, framing, Native Science, salmon, science, science communication, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How the Press Covered the Sea Lion Controversy in Indian Country

  1. Russ L says:

    An impression I get from reading this is, these particular Indians lose out because they are (generally) passively waiting for news people to ask them their opinion. Of course there are always exceptions but I think there is some truth that many Indian groups are reactive. Writing their own news, opinion pieces, and press releases are ways that this could have been avoided. I believe this points to a disconnect between Indian societies of oral and white written traditions.

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  2. Good point. In some cases tribes aren’t keen about talking with reporters and in this case the tribes were very active, and even proactive. My guess is that reporters see tribes as a small piece of the puzzle.

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  3. M Forner says:

    I have to admit I did not read the report you refered to (link on last blog) but I am curious: what percentage of their (local tribes) livelyhood is affected by the sealions?

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