Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Cattle drive in Springview...

Posted 10/27/20 (Tue)

In the early ‘90s, I got my first managing editor job at the Winner Advocate in South Dakota.

The position included finding story ideas and ad sales in Mission, S.D., which is on the Rosebud Reservation, and nearby Valentine and Springview, Neb.

Bill Sniffen, the owner of the Advocate, who is from Lusk, Wyo., wanted to regionalize the Advocate, even though Mission had a newspaper of its own and Valentine actually had two newspapers. Springview is a small town east of Valentine and doesn’t have a newspaper and is represented by the Midland News of Valentine.

This was a large area and it wasn’t hard to find newsworthy items, but there were those time of drought. As we say in the newspaper industry, feast or famine.

One day, while I was finishing my route in Springview, someone told me about a cattle drive that was coming up and that I should consider writing an article about it. I got in touch with the rancher and it was set for a week later.

As you might imagine there are a lot of cattle in western Nebraska and the Springview area is no different.

And because the beef industry is the major economic engine in Keya Paha County, high school kids were let out of school to assist in the cattle drives and branding of the calves.

I spent an entire day on that work site near Springview and enjoyed it, even though I was as exhausted as everyone else at the end of the day from taking photographs and interviewing people.

On the way back to Winner, I got to thinking I had enough information to create an entire page of information and photos to make it more noticeable.

I got the okie dokie from the publisher, I wrote a major article and developed the best negatives It made for a nice photo page.

The article wasn’t on the front page of the Advocate, but was a full page in the regional section of the newspaper. However, there were several people locally who commented on how unique this was that high school kids would be dismissed from school to help work the cattle.

That was the good news. The bad news came via telephone a couple of days later after the Advocate hit the newsstands.

I received a call from PETA in Norfolk, Va. PETA is an acronym for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

These people were outraged that the newspaper, in which I was a managing editor, would stoop to the level of printing photographs of calves being branded.

We had a long, contentious conversation about me doing my job in cattle country in western Nebraska, but that wasn’t good enough. The person on the phone told me if I didn’t print a retraction, PETA was going to sue the newspaper, the official newspaper of Tripp County and have it shut down.

This was a bit intimidating because I was a lot younger and less experienced than I am now and wasn’t sure what to do.

I talked to a few people, including the rancher who allowed me access to his property for the interview and photo shoot.

In the end, it was ascertained that it was a threat from PETA and they probably had no intention of coming to south-central South Dakota and shutting down a weekly newspaper.

PETA called a week later and asked me if I had printed a retraction. I politely said no and the woman on the phone blew a gasket.

Even that early in my career, I knew an organization like PETA couldn’t control what was printed in a local newspaper.

Secondly, during that second conversation, I told the woman that I was simply recording history in a small town in Nebraska and this had nothing to do with angering PETA.

I told her this is what ranchers do in cattle country. They have to brand their cattle so they don’t get stolen, and if they do, the livestock  is easily identified.

Branding has been going on for probably 200 years and she didn’t seem to understand that.

That conversation ended with “I will not print a retraction” because it was neither a mistake or something that needed to be clarified.

There weren’t any other calls from PETA. It never bothered me again.

But I have to wonder, they could have threatened the Denver Post, the Albuquerque Journal or the Dallas Morning News, but they chose to pick on a small weekly paper in South Dakota.

I stood by that edition and would do the same all over again. Besides, the story was about the high school boys, not the branding.