AJR  Drop Cap
From AJR,   July/August 2000

Connecting Native American Students to Journalism   

Camps for high school students try to interest this minority group in careers as journalists.

By Bridget Gutierrez
Bridget Gutierrez is a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News.     

TEN YEARS AGO the South Dakota Newspaper Association created a task force to figure out how to interest more Native Americans--the most underrepresented minority group in the nation's newsrooms--in journalism careers.
"Because it was a task force, it was very short-lived," recalls Larry Atkinson, editor and publisher of South Dakota's Mobridge Tribune, who served on the committee.
"I always felt it needed to be an ongoing effort," Atkinson says. "In one year, you couldn't fix a problem of that magnitude."
So last year, when Atkinson became president of the association, he created a permanent committee to address the situation. Headed by Arnold Garson, president and publisher of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, the group decided to create a journalism workshop for Native American high school and college students.
"We started out with extremely modest expectations," Garson says. "We talked about the possibility that we would...attract probably...30 or 40 young people."
To Garson's delight, at the end of April, the first Native American Newspaper Career Conference drew 74 fledgling reporters to the Black Hills of South Dakota--becoming what Garson calls "the largest program ever" devised to entice Native Americans into the newsroom.
Plans are underway to make the conference an annual event. "From the standpoint of a journalism professional, it was a real exciting and exhilarating two or three days," Garson says. "I hope that it can become a model."
The Native American Journalists Association also holds a yearly high school journalism camp--Project Phoenix--in which participants publish a newspaper called Rising Voices. Usually 10 to 20 young people participate in the camp, which began in 1997.
Like Project Phoenix, one of the goals of the newspaper career conference was to create an online newspaper, Native Journal (www.nativejournal.org).
With the help of 23 professional journalists, students learned the basics of reporting, writing, editing and photography. While the participants were a bit shy at first, Atkinson says, once the hands-on training began, "they just blossomed."
"By the end of the conference, they were asking wonderful questions," he says. "You could see the excitement in their eyes. They really got excited about journalism."