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Savannah Maher Joins KUNM With A Focus On Indigenous Affairs Across The Mountain West

Loring Schaible
Savannah Maher and her dog Sally working from home in Wyoming, spring 2020

Public radio listeners in New Mexico and across our region have heard a new voice over the last month. Savannah Maher has joined the staff at KUNM as a reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. KUNM's Nash Jones spoke with Maher about the kind of reporting you can expect to hear from her, and what it’s been like to move to Albuquerque during the pandemic.

SAVANNAH MAHER: It's strange. Like, I moved from a little tiny town in Wyoming and we can't really do any of the things that we would have been excited to do in a city like going to restaurants and museums and things like that, but hopefully soon.

KUNM: When things open up, we will give you the grand tour. So, our listeners have heard Mountain West News Bureau stories for a few months now. But, they still might not know what it is exactly. Can you talk a little bit about the collaborative and its relationship with member stations like KUNM?

MAHER: Sure. The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration of public radio stations across the region. I think we've got just about every state in the Mountain Time Zone plus Nevada. Each station hosts a reporter. And we all have our own interests, but we try to make it so that every story – even if it's rooted in New Mexico, which most of my stories will be – is still relevant to somebody that lives in Idaho or lives in Nevada.

KUNM: So, what kind of stories are you planning on covering in the coming months?

MAHER: Well, obviously, it'll be a lot of coronavirus coverage. My focus though is Tribal Affairs reporting. It's part of what made me excited about this job and excited about moving here. More than 10% of the population in New Mexico are Native people, and I know there's a lot of complex and really fascinating stories that need to be told here. And I also don't want to make it sound like I'm saying that there like is not good Tribal Affairs coverage in New Mexico, because there really is.

KUNM: You've covered the Wind River Reservation while you were at Wyoming Public Radio and you're Mashpee Wampanoag yourself. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of having voices on the air that reflect the community, and the values that you bring to reporting on Indigenous communities?

MAHER: One of the reasons why I became a journalist myself was because I grew up kind of dissatisfied sometimes with the way that my community was covered. It just felt to me sometimes like the focus was sort of misplaced. Like, they would come around when there was some kind of perceived government dysfunction going on, and then they would come once a year very reliably to the powwow and kind of write the same story every single year about the powwow. And there's so much in between those two extremes in every community, and I felt like we deserved to have the more complex stories told on our behalf. So, that's just how I try to approach my reporting is to try and produce every story with Native people in mind as the audience.

KUNM: So, you're joining KUNM a really difficult time for our team. Our News Director, Hannah Colton, died by suicide just last month and our team is coping with just the immense grief of that. Something you said on Twitter that really touched me was that you're committed to carrying on Hannah's vision for our newsroom, along with the rest of us. What did you understand that vision to be, and what does contributing to it look like for you?

MAHER: Well, I never got to meet Hannah in person, but I had seen over the summer what happened when Hannah made the decision not to air an NPR story that she felt had gotten the story wrong, not really reflecting the on-the-ground reality of the protests that were happening in Albuquerque. And, not only that, but that she had been transparent about why she chose to instead air an interview with an Indigenous scholar from Albuquerque. It didn't seem to me that it had anything to do with like ego or anything like that, it was just 'this story doesn't serve my community.' Hannah was also a News Director who understood that our journalism could be in service to justice. That thinking of it that way doesn't make us bad journalists or biased. I think that's a really special quality in a newsroom, to hold all of those values, and I'm excited to help uphold them.

KUNM: Well, we're really excited to collaborate with you and get some really great work out there and carry on Hannah's vision for the kinds of stories we tell, and how we tell them, and doing this work responsibly. Thank you, Savannah.

MAHER: Thank you, Nash. I'm super happy to be here.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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