Nothing in Tara Gatewood’s career went according to plan. If it had, she says, she would be a photographer somewhere doing “amazing shoots.” Her interest in journalism — and course of study — started with photography at Montgomery College in Maryland, having moved from her home in the Isleta Pueblo tribal community in New Mexico. The cutlines of her photos “started getting really long,” and savvy editors noticed she had a knack for writing, not just photography. After stints with the Boston Globe, Aberdeen American News and St. Paul Pioneer Press, she returned to her roots in New Mexico, where she went back to school to formally study journalism at the University of New Mexico.
A chance meeting of the executive producer of “Native America Calling,” a national daily call-in radio show covering Native issues and based in Albuquerque, got her in the door as an associate producer in 2005. Though she hadn’t thought of a career in broadcasting, she fit in well and became the show’s back-up host in 2008 and full-time host in 2012.
Gatewood describes the show, with its focus on Native issues, as “covering everything under the sun — including the sun.”
How do you think the format or topics of “Native America Calling” would change, if at all, if the show were aimed at a general audience? In other words, aimed at educating and informing the general public about Native issues?
I don’t think it would change much. We’re already there. We already understand that our audience isn’t just Native Americans. If we were to go even more national, I don’t think we’d change much. I think it’d be even more a priority to continue with that mission of creating understanding.
I know you have a music production interest, too. What’s your go-to music?
It’s basically mostly Native music in any form. Albuquerque is excitedly a kind of hub for Native music. There are really huge conferences that end up here. Seeing the interest in Native music here, interest in it has grown, which is something to celebrate. It’s Native music that I’m consuming, which means I’m consuming jazz, punk rock, R&B, polka and everything else.
And if you weren’t a full-time professional journalist, what would you be doing?
Oh boy. I would probably be working in my community or on the music scene. But I’d still be doing these same rhythms, learning about the environment and the culture to create more understanding.
It’s no secret that Native and other minority voices are still greatly underrepresented in U.S. newsrooms, particularly in general-interest national news outlets. It makes sense that outlets with a sizeable Native American audience would need and want Native journalists on staff. But what would outlets like, say, NPR and The Washington Post gain from having more Native journalists on staff?
They would have a better line to understanding the populations they serve. If you look at a percentage of Native Americans, the majority actually live in urban settings. You probably have a significant Native population living around your area. It really opens the ability to connect to your community. It only helps to create more understanding. And if you have a diverse view of issues, you can get closer to a story than you could have otherwise.
Your show often references the idea of an “electronic talking circle,” which I think is neat in that it really is emphasizing the idea that everyone gets a voice and has a say. Do you think more general news media outlets would benefit from that kind of thinking?
What this talking circle does is give instant feedback on the kind of coverage that you’re doing. We’re starting from the point of a news item, and then hearing our human voices articulate what they think about that story. It really lets you know immediately if your coverage has covered the issue. That only makes journalism stronger when you understand the importance of the story you did. It’s a refreshing system that helps you become a better journalist by hearing that kind of feedback.
Your show of course covered the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and I wonder what, if anything, you think the larger national news media missed or could have done better?
More coverage on treaties and the weight they hold and how they’re being exercised or ignored. The coverage about the diversity of voices could have been better. Hundreds of tribal nations are represented in (the protest camp in) North Dakota. And there could have been more coverage of water issues in general, about what Native communities face. There was some good coverage of people who talked to Native Americans from their area who had traveled to North Dakota, so that’s something I could definitely applaud.
Most journalists probably don’t live near or cover Indian Country on a regular basis, and may only do so when Indian Country issues bubble up to the national scale (e.g. Standing Rock, sports team mascot controversies). What would you recommend journalists do or research to better inform themselves on Native issues well in advance of things that bob in and out of the news cycle? Personally, I’d recommend they listen to your show, but that’s just me.
Fortunately, a majority of the issues that face Native nations are playing out publicly. There are always hearings taking place on Native issues in our nation’s capital. There are organizations having conferences that are streaming (video) of these conferences, such as the White House Tribal Nations Conference. There’s the National Congress of American Indians that publishes things. Indianz.com covers a lot of this, too. And you can go directly to the source. A large number of Native tribal-owned radio stations stream their programs online. And then just critically asking yourself where are the Native Americans in your community, and you might surprise yourself, because we’re everywhere.
I always ask about sports team loyalties — though you’re in New Mexico, which doesn’t have as many professional sports teams as other regions. Any teams you’re a die-hard fan of?
My connection to sports is to play them. There is nothing more fulfilling than wiping sweat off your brow after a good competition. I’m a retired volleyball woman, I’d say. I do find the importance in healthy living through sport. Anytime that element comes into my life, it’s inspiring.
Since it’s important for anyone in New Mexico: red, green or Christmas?
(As in what kind of chile with your food – Christmas being red and green.)
It depends on what you’re eating and who you’re eating with.
Is there ever a need to separate the journalism you do from the advocacy on issues that would affect Native Americans? Not that you need to, but I wonder how you personally view that interaction between your profession versus personal interests for your Native community.
I think when you make that commitment to honest reporting, you do the same thing in any place no matter the outlet. It’s your role to accurately report, to accurately research, to ask challenging questions. It doesn’t matter what you’re covering. These elements of journalism are where you start. It doesn’t matter if you’re covering something of your own community or your race, I see it as exactly the same.
Tagged under: diversity