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Native Health News Alliance Ramping Up in Second Year

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The Native Health News Alliance is entering its second year looking to expand the number of topics it specializes in and to begin a collaboration with a news source program at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix.

NHNA ( plans to increase the number of health news “kiosks” it maintains in the next year, says Teresa Lamsam, president and executive editor of the nonprofit group that provides health news mainly for tribal newspapers. In its first year the group has developed kiosks on oral care and breastfeeding, topics of interest to one of its funders. (The principal source of funding for the first year was a $157,537 grant from the Kellogg Foundation.)

RELATED: Two American Indian Academics Examine the Media Slant as the Diabetes Crisis Looms

Lamsam says other second year goals are to increase marketing/outreach efforts, find more freelance health news writers, and to find additional funders. NHNA is a partnership with the Native American Journalists Association, which presented this session on NHNA during its annual conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

Rebecca Blatt, bureau chief of the Public Interest Network (PIN) at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix, says PIN is starting a collaborative effort with NHNA and NAJA to add to its goal of connecting journalists to knowledgeable sources (it currently maintains a database of more than 220,000 sources).

How this will work, she says, is that NHNA will come to PIN with a story idea. PIN and NHNA will create a query for sources on that story. NAJA members will share the query with their social media contacts via Twitter/ Facebook etc. to get sources to inform the reporting. After NHMA publishes a story, NAJA members can access and republish it.

Blatt says NAJA members then can link to the story, or e-mail the link to their contacts, or even embed the story on their websites.

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Shannon Shaw Duty, editor of the Osage News in Pawhuska, Okla., says her newspaper is a user of NHMA content. She says she has basically two writers on her staff, “not enough to cover all health issues.”

Duty also points out that the Indian Health Service is expert at delaying answers to press queries, sometimes taking two months if they answer at all. “When we’re shut out like that, NHMA is a real relief,” she says.

At the session, Lamsam shared some of the details of the first content analysis NHMA conducted, a review of 644 health articles generated by tribal newspapers. She says just 13% was produced by staff writers, with 45% coming from “information subsidies” like press releases. “Less than 4% of staff-produced health news could be categorized as enterprise reporting,” she says. The topics of the alliance’s first two kiosks were “minimally present,” she says, with 3% on oral care and just 1.3% on breastfeeding.

The top health news categories were health services, at 18.5%, public safety, 13%, food/nutrition, 12%, domestic violence, 7%, and drugs/alcohol/diabetes, 6.5%. Just 6% of stories related tribal culture to health, she says, and 68% had no visual element. About 25% was devoted to coverage of events.

The good news is “the public trusts media for health information,” Lamsam says, meaning media can be effective in addressing community health needs. Minorities rely heavily on news media for health news, she says, and they take more action based on media reporting.

Correct “framing” of a story is another concern. Taking the topic of obesity, Lamsam says the food industry has framed obesity as stemming from a lack of physical activity, requiring public education to overcome it. But public health groups have framed the topic as resulting from the food industry’s marketing of low-cost, nutrient-poor food, requiring the regulation of the food and marketing industries.

NHMA also maintains a health blog, “Wellbound Storytellers,” at its website at