Extra! Extra!: 'News for the People' emphasizes the impact of local journalism

Aug. 27—As New Mexico detonated into the tumultuous '70s, local newspapers, radio and TV stations held those in power accountable.

Open at the Albuquerque Museum, "News for the People: Local Journalism in the 1970s" explores that social, cultural and political turmoil and the outlets covering it.

The exhibit showcases the state's reporting on local issues in a visual timeline. An 1865 Santa Fe Weekly Gazette blares the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. An Albuquerque Tribune trumpets the 1945 World War II death of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ernie Pyle.

Alternative journalism was an integral part of the local story of how news reached the people, and would come to define a decade where local communities turned away from mainstream media and focused on local reporting. With the growing popularity of the Chicano Movement, the Women's Liberation Movement, and increased awareness of Indigenous views, reporters and news outlets across New Mexico began to reexamine their ethical standards. Editors, from Carl Magee (Albuquerque Tribune) to Mark Acuff (New Mexico Independent) and Tom Barry (Seer's Catalogue), established alternative publications to indicate how an impartial approach to news coverage was crucial.

At the time, no one else was reporting on a refugee crisis, in-depth pieces on the artists at the Gallup Ceremonial and farming in the South Valley, said Jonathan Wright, the museum's history curatorial assistant.

"Everyone has the right to tell their story in the way they want to," he said.

"It's almost as though what started as alternative became mainstream. They were activists first and then journalists. You're drawn to a cause, and you want to tell people about that."

Charlotte Robinson became one of the early pioneers of women in radio in Albuquerque after answering an advertisement on KUNM-TV for "chicks to sharpen pencils." At that time in the early 1970s, women on the University of New Mexico campus were subject to a midnight curfew, but Robinson's radio shift was 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. She worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to eliminate this UNM curfew policy. Women grew in prominence over the airwaves in the 1970s and Robinson would go on to use her KUNM experience in broadcasting at ABC, NBC and CBS TV networks in New York.

The work of New Mexican community organizer, activist and journalist Arturo Sandoval was paramount in the fight for journalistic equity, first at Seer's Catalogue and later at the Albuquerque Journal.

Sandoval and others like him remained persistent, and a documentary series on racism that won a New Mexico Interpretive Press Association award also won Sandoval more freedom to ensure that local Chicano/a, Black and Indigenous stories continued to be told.

In print, Indigenous communities experienced increased representation in media through publications like Wassaja and the Navajo Times. Alongside the nationally distributed newspaper Wassaja, the Navajo Times became a prominent voice for the Navajo Nation and the broader Native American community.

The Spanish-based El Grito del Norte focused on the Chicano Movement, spanning the late 1960s to the early '70s. The Seer's Catalogue's debut featured "News for the People" hand-painted graffiti-style on its cover. By the end of the 1970s, more traditional outlets were covering the same subjects.

Sometimes, the reporters became part of the story. During the University of New Mexico 1970 riot, the National Guard bayoneted reporters and bystanders who were protesting in response to the Kent State shooting. KUNM reported live from their station trapped in a campus building.

"The student union was the only one that remained open so they could report the news," Wright said.

In 1971, 11 people were injured, including teachers and journalists, at a Roosevelt Park demonstration when the police began firing. A young Chicano man was reportedly arrested for selling a joint to an undercover officer. As the situation escalated, the Black Berets, a Chicano community organization, were called in and the police fired on them.

"We're not shying away from the tough parts of the '70s," Wright said. "Fifty years ago substantial groundwork was laid and upheld democracy to make sure the media was accountable to itself."