The future of today’s Indian country is bright after a near-death experience – Non Profit News

The publication Indian country todayfounded in 1981, will celebrate its 40th anniversaryand birthday this year. It might be a trivial fact, except for one detail – it almost failed. Indeed, on September 4, 2017, the publication shut down, seemingly for good.

Today, the story couldn’t be more different. Like Sara Shahriari from Nonprofit Institute for News (INN) noted at the organization’s annual conference last week that the publication now attracts more than 400,000 readers a month, while broadcasting on television on two dozen stations. Speaking at the INN conference, Shoshone-Bannock editor Mark Trahant told how the publication has come back strong.

The first step, notes Trahant, was the will of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) to step in and accept the publication’s donation from its former owner, the Oneida Nation. At the time, Trahant was a professor of journalism with an endowed chair at the University University of North Dakota. Trahant had been an editor before, at the Seattle Post-Intelligent, but did he really want to leave academia to lead a new Indian country today?

Trahant admits he had to face an “extraordinarily important decision”, adding that the independence of journalists was a major concern. In a series of numerous meetings with the NCAI, he indicated that “if you want to do this, you have to make it work independently. You can’t let politicians decide the news.

Initially, Trahant’s small team made two key business model decisions: first, the publication would be mobile-centric to reach young readers; second, there would be no paywalls. This meant that publication would depend on member support, publicity, and donations from foundations and corporations. A third decision that followed shortly was that the publication would opt for higher salaries for fewer staff, rather than relying on lower salaries to be able to keep more people on staff.

As of June 2018, the publication was operational with four employees. A few foundations have provided the publication with “some breathing space”. It has since experienced extraordinarily rapid growth. Today, it has 18 full-time employees (and a total of 26 people, including broadcast partners). It had 5.5 million web visitors last year and aims to reach 12 million by 2022. About three-quarters of its readers access its articles on phones or tablets, and its main segment is he audience includes people between the ages of 25 and 34. nearly half of its revenue comes from advertising and small donors, with the rest coming from large donors and foundations. In 2020, it had a break-even budget of around $2.1 million.

Along the way, partnerships have played a big role. Partnerships with Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and with Alaska Pacific University. As a result, the publication, which initially had only an office in Washington, DC, now has its main office in Arizona and another regional office in Anchorage.

Another important partnership has been with the Associated Press (AP). In October 2019, AP distributed a Indian country today story, the first time he had ever distributed a story from any Native-led publication. The partnership has a rather unusual origin story. As Trahant explains, “AP had an editor I really wanted to hire. I wanted her to be our editor. She said no. I went back to her and said, ‘What if we borrow you for a year?’ AP and the publisher agreed, and she came to work for us for a year, and has since returned to AP, helping to build our systems internally and creating a process for our stories to be shared on AP.

Serendipity has also contributed to the publication’s growth. Trahant notes that the publication had hoped to air on television once a week, but the pandemic has reduced travel costs and funds released for more regular broadcasts. It also made the use of Zoom and other lower-cost technologies like cellphone video more palatable. This then made it easier to produce shows.

And, as it turned out, interest was high, with Arizona State Television picking up the show within a week. “It started to develop,” observes Trahant. “We realized there was a market for a daily news program.” The daily newscast now airs in several states. Trahant adds: “We are in Australia every day. We have a large audience in Winnipeg.

Indian country today last change was to gain independence. Since March 2021, Indian country today is now owned under the aegis of a newly formed non-profit organization in Arizona, Indian public media. It was a friendly transfer, with NCAI President Fawn Sharp endorsing the change in ownership.

“We are in a new era,” says Trahant, an era where a 12,000+ word article on the story of a pipe once gifted by George Washington to Chief Cornplanter (Gaiänt’wakê) of the Seneca Nation is one of the publication’s most widely read articles, and one where a 2,500-word story by Trahant about a tribal vote 50 years ago years that ended federal efforts to “end” its relationship with Indigenous nations are distributed nationally by AP.

The vital role played by the native press is evident. Without this, Trahant notes that many stories “would probably not be told or accurately told.” When asked how non-Native writers can better cover Native American issues, Trahant noted that “the big challenge is this: don’t be in a hurry. Our community has histories that go back 100 years, or 10,000 years. This is not about what happened 10 minutes ago. That’s how it fits together. »

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