Perhaps the only people reading the printed, paper version of my newspaper, Native Sun News Today, are the elders who still appreciate the value of the printed word. But I think it goes deeper than that.
40 years ago when my first newspaper The Lakota Times appeared on the counters and shelves of the reservation and border town stores, I knew that the one thing most important for the newspaper to succeed was accountability. Whatever story we did had to be backed up by facts. And to this day I believe that newspapers still believe in accountability even though there are those politicians out there who would attempt to diminish their integrity by labeling their stories as “Fake News.”
But all of that changed with the advent of social media, the Internet. And the culmination of this gigantic switch in news was Facebook. In fact the introduction of Facebook and the social media pretty well buried the word “accountability.” As newspaper publishers we knew we could be held liable for the content of our newspapers. We knew we could be faced with lawsuits if we varied from facts and the truth. Not so with the social media. One can say anything about anybody, true or not, on Facebook and not worry about accountability.
Oh, there were newspapers that preceded Facebook that were pretty loose with the truth and their brand of communications soon became known as “Yellow Journalism.” But these were usually fly-by-night tabs that built their reputation on sensationalism. Even their headlines screamed scandalous captions. But every reader knew what they were getting whenever they picked up one of these tabs at the newsstand. They bought these papers for the very scandals they espoused.
But there had to be newspapers, whether daily or weekly, that reflected the happenings within a community. These papers covered local art shows, printed the obits of their citizens, covered their schools and local politics, and served as the social media for their communities.
As publishers we got to know the reading habits of our local Native citizens. As the publisher of a Native American newspaper we reached into a community that was underserved or never served by the state or national media. We filled a void that had existed since the founding of this country. When we first started to publish one of the biggest complaints we heard from our readers was the lack of coverage of the Indian reservation sports teams. And that was an important facet of the Indian reservations. We have great teams, we have some of the best athletes. Why are they not being covered by the mainstream press?
And so in keeping with our readership we began to produce great sports sections for our readers filled with stories about the athletes and graced with terrific sports photos. For example, one of the greatest basketball tournaments in South Dakota, the Lakota Nation Invitational Tournament, was getting little coverage by the mainstream media. We made it a focal point of our sports coverage. And strangely enough, we think that is why our newspaper grew so quickly. We were printing the news our Lakota readers craved. And the mainstream media soon learned what they were missing and began to treat the LNI with the respect it deserved helping to make it one of the biggest and best Native basketball tournaments in America.
White high school boys and girls could build a portfolio to send to the athletic managers of colleges they hoped to attend and would often be offered an athletic scholarship based upon their portfolio. The Native boys and girls did not have a platform from which to build their portfolios until we came along and featured them in our news coverage.
And so we found that many high school students read our printed newspaper because their schools were often covered in our new reporting. But like all news sources, we had to follow the trend and the Internet was now the main source of news. It became much more convenient to go online to read the news than to go out and buy a newspaper.
I attended a National Newspaper Conference in New York City 30 or 40 years ago at which the keynote speaker was Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. So here I was a Lakota man from a small newspaper on an Indian reservation who had enough common sense to know that Bill Gates and his Microsoft would soon spell the death knell of printed newspapers. I mentioned my concerns to a couple of the big city newspaper editors and they looked at me as if I had just fallen off of the turnip truck. Well, 40 years later I hate to say it, but I told them so.
Ironically, as people get tired of reading their news on the Internet, local and national newspapers are making a comeback. The foundation of our ability to stay in business is advertising and Google and Facebook nearly killed this source of our revenue. It was only the local merchants and tribal governments and schools that kept my newspaper afloat.
Social media may be the final nail in our coffin, but until then “Extra, Extra, read all about it.”
(Contact Tim Giago at email@example.com)