The numbers tell a harsh story. Natives make up just 100 of the 56,000 daily newspaper journalists in the United States. It's little wonder that First Nations stories don't get a fair shake in the nation's media.
Denny McAuliffe, a veteran Washington Post foreign editor and member of Oklahoma's Osage tribe, is working to change that using the Internet. While on leave at the University of Montana School of Journalism, McAuliffe started reznet, an online newspaper that gives aspiring Native Pulitzer-winners the first chance to see their byline on a story.
Kicked off last June, reznet hired 20 Native college students across the U.S. as reporters, supplied digital cameras and training and let them loose in their colleges and communities.
They stay in their own colleges and send in stories and photos by email, getting college credit for their work. The project is the first distance-learning journalism program available to tribal colleges.
It has been more successful than any of us thought it would have been, says McAuliffe, who enjoys educating Native journalists so much he has extended his leave from the Washington Post to three years.
More than half of reznet's first crop of 20 journalists got paid internships at daily newspapers, says McAuliffe, who sits on the board of the Native American Journalists Association.
The association had been looking for years for a way to draw more Natives into journalism. McAuliffe got the idea for reznet after he started a small project in the Mid-West to have a newspaper hire some beginner Native journalists, so long as he edited their stories. All the material was sent back and forth via email.
The project was a huge success and expanded the newspaper's circulation, which gave McAuliffe bigger ideas. I said, 'Hey, why not do this nationally?'
McAuliffe has big plans for expanding reznet. Only two of the 31 tribal colleges in the U.S. have student newspapers, because of the prohibitive cost of equipment and printing. To fill the void McAuliffe is helping the colleges start online papers for a negligible cost through reznet.
This summer, he also plans to start a full-fledged long-distance journalism class via the Internet. He invites Native students to apply for the classes and for next year's reznet positions.
Out here it's only through the Internet that you can do this and get them excited like so many of us journalists were, says McAuliffe.
We're using the Internet to try to spark interest in journalism the old-fashioned way.