NAJA-OMC partnership to train Oklahoma media on Indigenous coverage

The Native American Journalists Association and Oklahoma Media Center will provide statewide newsroom trainings with support from the OMC Innovation Fund

The Native American Journalists Association has partnered with the Oklahoma Media Center to provide training on ethical coverage of Indigenous issues for journalists throughout the state. 

The collaboration reflects OMC’s mission to spur innovation through statewide collaboration that benefits diverse audiences and NAJA’s mission to encourage mainstream and tribal media to attain the highest standards of professionalism, ethics and responsibility. 

Supported by OMC’s 2021 Innovation Fund, NAJA’s Red Press Initiative will deploy experts into tribal and mainstream newsrooms for free press, equity and ethics training, leveraging the collective experience of diverse trainers to facilitate newsroom education. 

The training will help reporters meet these standards by providing a context for covering tribal sovereignty issues in Oklahoma, which is home to 39 federally recognized tribes. No two tribes are the same and reporting on them effectively requires an understanding of the government, economy, geography, treaties, people and culture. 

The partnership kicked off with a training on tribal media March 12 by NAJA board member and national reporter for NBC News, Graham Lee Brewer (Cherokee). 

As part of OMC’s “Promised Land” project, NAJA representatives gave a presentation June 11 on proper coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court case that reaffirmed the Muscogee Nation’s reservation in Oklahoma. 

NAJA Executive Director Rebecca Landsberry-Baker (Muscogee) said the NAJA-OMC partnership is first-of-its kind and will meet a significant need for an unprecedented number of newsrooms in the state. To date, there are no other organizations or outlets specifically addressing the mis- and disinformation around reporting on the case.

“In the wake of the Muscogee Nation’s SCOTUS decision in the McGirt v. Oklahoma case, the contextualization of history is essential to every story published on the topic. We’re breaking new ground with this collaboration and NAJA is thrilled to partner with OMC to provide support and resources to outlets across the state and highlight the critical role and expertise of tribal media in ethically framing this news coverage,” Landsberry-Baker said. 

During the training, NAJA Program Manager and Society of Professional Journalists, Oklahoma Chapter President Sterling Cosper (Muscogee) and Mvskoke Media Director Angel Ellis (Muscogee) emphasized the importance of covering the historical and jurisdictional context of the case along with breaking news regarding criminal cases and potential civil implications. 

Cosper highlighted the fact that the case, its question and ruling focused on tribal jurisdiction and that these elements should be reflected in coverage. 

“I understand that often in coverage, something that happened way in the past will often be placed towards the bottom of the copy for background context.

“But again, given the name of this project is ‘Promised Land’ based on Gorsuch’s lead opinion regarding the land promised to our tribe. I argue that with this story, history is very much current and needs to be presented as such,” Cosper said. 

Cosper said the ruling and partnership between NAJA and OMC presents a unique opportunity for long overdue discussion and collaboration among tribal and non-tribal journalists in Oklahoma. 

“Often mainstream and tribal journalists cover what appears to be two different worlds in the same area. As a starting point, exploring coverage of the case not only provides a chance to break out of silos, it also highlights the fact that in a sense, Oklahoma is and has been one body with many different cultures and governments trying to operate together.

“It is our hope that this project and collaboration will lead to long-term relationships across outlets to continue fostering better journalism in service of Oklahoma as well as more accurate coverage of Indigenous communities,” he said. 

Along with presentations from NAJA, Ryan Leonard, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s special counsel for Native American affairs joined a Zoom call May 19 to discuss the state’s perspective in an on-the-record session with OMC partners.

With support from the Local Media Foundation awarding stipends through OMC’s Innovation Fund, future trainings will be announced through the NAJA and OMC websites, social media channels and media releases. 

Launched by the Inasmuch Foundation and the LMA in 2020, OMC is working to establish its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status in 2021.

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