NAJA Working to Improve Reporting of Native Health Issues


The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) hopes media coverage of Native health will improve thanks to a new partnership with the Native Health News Alliance.

The collaborative effort, NativeHealthNews.com, will serve as a health information cooperative for American Indian media. Any journalist who reports on Native health issues can create a username, contribute thoughts and share links to their stories, states a NAJA press release. The site will offer journalists reliable, pre-packaged background information on health issues and their particular concern to indigenous communities.

The project is funded by a $157,537 grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation for June 1, 2013 through May 31, 2014.

The website NativeHealthNews.com was developed in February 2012 through collaboration between NAJA members Teresa Trumbly Lamsam (Osage) and Rhonda LeValdo (Acoma Pueblo), who recognized a need for enhanced coverage of health issues facing their own Native communities.

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Reporting kiosks will be a primary Native Health News Alliance feature, offering journalists reliable, pre-packaged background information on a health issue of particular concern to indigenous communities. Native journalists will be encouraged to localize the issue and then share their stories with the larger community through the Native Health News Alliance cooperative.

NAJA will contract with freelance journalists to create the first news kiosks on breastfeeding and oral health. The kiosks will include a series of reports that include text, informational graphics, images and video reports as appropriate.

Lamsam, associate professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha, serves as Native Health News Alliance board president and executive editor.

“When the tragedy of disease is so prominent within your own families and communities, you either give in to it or you find that spark of resiliency,” Lamsam said. “I chose to dig deep and find that spark and that’s when it happened. What I started seeing around me were the stories of wellness, even among those who were struggling the hardest with health.”

LeValdo and Lamsam initially recruited fellow American Indian journalists and launched a citizen wellness blog, Wellbound Storytellers, in May 2012 to share their unique fitness journeys.

“Our original idea was the Wellbound Storytellers would be a blog for Native journalists to get real about their health and become role models in their communities,” Lamsam said. “But, we had such an interest from other Natives, that we opened it up to the non-journalists as well.”

Eventually, the idea for Wellbound Storytellers served as the model for a web-based virtual reporting assistant for Native media outlets. NAJA members can now expand their Native health news content by utilizing NHNA resources as an information base and cooperative network for the coverage of shared American Indian health issues.

“Through the website, our goal is to not only provide assistance to resource-strapped Native media but also to provide the avenue for Native American journalists to become the national media leaders in setting the news agenda for health in Indian country,” Lamsam said.

LeValdo, Haskell Indian Nations University media instructor and NAJA board president, said she hopes the Native Health News Alliance will have a positive impact on the welfare of Indian country and Native media by providing another opportunity for members to tell their own stories.

“NAJA now has an opportunity to provide content for use by national media outlets while also helping tribal communities by sharing information beneficial to them. We are excited to work with our NAJA members in this endeavor,” LeValdo said.