Reznet Aims To Inspire Indian Journalists

By: John Kuglin, Associated Press Writer

(AP) When Denny McAuliffe looked at reservations and tribal colleges, he saw too few with their own newspapers. When he looked at American newspapers, he saw too few with any American Indians.

McAuliffe, the University of Montana’s Indian journalist in residence, drew a connection between the problems and offered a common solution: reznet, an online Indian newspaper he founded at the university’s journalism school in Missoula.

McAuliffe hopes that reznet, which brings Indian news to tribal colleges, will also inspire young Indians to consider careers in journalism.

Many students from Indian country “don’t think of journalism as a career,” because newspapers have little presence on so many reservations, said McAuliffe, a former night foreign desk editor for The Washington Post. “Newspapers may play no role in their lives.”

That lack of influence reflects back on the nation’s newsrooms. This year’s annual diversity survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which polled two-thirds of the nation’s daily newspapers, found only 307 of 54,414 newsroom employees were Indians, McAuliffe noted.

Enter reznet, launched in September by McAuliffe and Jerry Brown, dean of the journalism school. Aiding the effort were the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which contributed a $250,000 grant, and the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, Calif., which hosts reznet’s Internet server and posts articles and photos.

Reznet’s 20 Indian reporters and photographers are students reporting from all over Indian country, representing 13 tribes from 12 states and 17 colleges. They get editing and guidance in reporting and photography from McAuliffe and Keith Graham, head of the journalism school’s photography department. The students also are supplied with digital cameras.

“The big value in this is that the kids get the opportunity to see their work published online, get clips,” Graham said.

They also get paid. Some of the grant money is being used to pay the reporters and photographers $50 for a story or photos, up to $200 a month each.

“In order to show that journalism is a viable profession, we’ve got to pay them,” McAuliffe said.

Luella Brien, a University of Montana journalism student from Montana’s Crow Tribe, is reznet’s editor. But she says, “We’re not big on titles here.”

“Everyone wants to see and read stories about concerts, CDs, theaters, and movie reviews, and profiles on athletes,” said Brien, a former intern at The Seattle Times. “Maybe we’ll have a Native American version of Ann Landers, or a fashion column.”

Contributions started being posted on reznet in mid-September, after college classes began, but before then the site was seeded with stories and photos from students who had attended the American Indian Journalism Institute and Native American Journalists Association conference over the summer.

Included was a “pregnancy Weblog” by Christiana GoodVoice of the University of Oklahoma, who was expecting twins. Michale Kosechequetah, a Comanche Indian who attends the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, contributed a photo of Indians dancing at a rattlesnake festival. A piece about reservation littering was written by Jimmy Hallum, editor of the student newsletter at Nebraska Indian Community College.

McAuliffe said students can write about anything, “as long as they are reporting and talking to people.”

The goal is for the “reznetters” to collect online clips to help them get newspaper internships and ultimately regular jobs in journalism, said McAuliffe, an enrolled member of Oklahoma’s Osage Tribe.

Although Brien is reznet’s editor, McAuliffe keeps a close watch over the staff’s work.

“I won’t turn this over to the students, because the point of this to get more Native Americans in the newsroom,” he said, explaining that it’s important to make sure stories are well-edited and that writers get e-mailed critiques of their work.

“The stories have to get past me,” McAuliffe said. “I’m the troll under the bridge.”

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