The Washington Post. Home of Woodward and Bernstein, the reporters who took down President Richard Nixon during Watergate. Home of numerous Pulitzer Prize winners. Home of current top-notch investigative reporting on the Edward Snowden/National Security Agency fiasco.
But not home to many Native Americans.
There are currently two Indian reporters working in the newsroom of 600, according to data collected by the newspaper’s employees, which means that only 0.3 percent of the newsroom is Native.
When The Washington Post released a report on its newsroom diversity in 2010, it omitted noting the lack of Natives altogether. Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, women were all there. That same report indicated that “journalists of color comprise about 24 percent of the newsroom,” while 43 percent of The Post’s circulation area is minority. Indians there at that time: still 0.3 percent.
Is that a problem? Many in Indian country say it is. A common lament is that one of the nation’s top publications, based in the heart of the nation’s capital, does not devote any full-time reporters to covering tribal affairs, even though there are countless Indian-focused legislative hearings, Native bill mark-ups, Supreme Court cases, federal agencies and programs devoted to Indians, and tribal leader meetings taking place every month in D.C. Not to mention NFL team name disgraces, tribal lobbyists and lawyers running amok, and regular Indian cultural activities at the many museums around town.
A Native American journalist – or two, or three, or even 10 – surely could help address this problem. The two Indians currently on staff, Denny McAuliffe and Dana Hedgpeth, are assigned to other areas, with McAuliffe working as a financial news night editor, and Hedgpeth as a local news reporter. Both have expertise in covering Indian country, and could aid the publication in this area, but for whatever reasons, they have been focused elsewhere.
When I asked McAuliffe, founder of the popular Reznet Indian student publication, about the state of affairs in early August after it was announced that Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos had purchased The Post, he directed my inquiry to Tracy Grant, the new senior editor for newsroom recruitment. She never got back to me.
Like in 2010, it seems that Native concerns are invisible at The Washington Post.
Many Indian journalists are hoping that Bezos, who put down $250 million of his own money for the purchase, will change that culture.
“I personally and professionally believe that any major news outlet should consider taking advantage of diversifying not only their editorial segments, but at least include Native Americans in the discussions on relative issues and concerns,” says Ronnie Washines, a Yakama Nation journalist. “We are here to help people sell papers through telling the truth.”
“I would hope they would want to hire more Native journalists, but with the news of the loss of revenue for The Post, who knows how they will make up for that loss?” adds Rhonda LeValdo-Gayton, past president of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA). “Mr. Bezos has been called an innovator—that might include a mission aimed at diversity at The Post, and we certainly could use more Native journalists in the newsroom.”
Brian Bull, a longtime Native radio reporter currently reporting for Ideastream in Ohio, says now is the time for The Post to pay attention. “Given our shifting demographics in the United States, I think it serves any newsroom to diversify its ranks. Whether that’s Native American, Latino, African-American, or Asian-American, the ongoing ‘browning’ of the nation’s complexion makes the case that any responsible news organization should seek reporters from diverse communities.”
But Bull says it’s also time for current and aspiring Native journalists to take action, by boosting technical skills, making noise, and being part of the conversation of America. And also by pushing for better broadband and improved computer access for Indian communities so that more Indian students can become prepared to enter the tech-driven world of contemporary journalism.
The National Association of Black Journalists, with members already well represented in the current Post newsroom, is already taking action of its own, calling for a meeting with Bezos to be sure that black journalists are accounted for under his leadership.
Will NAJA be doing the same?
Not now, says Mary Hudetz, newly-elected president of NAJA and a reporter with the Associated Press.
“We do not have plans to immediately seek a meeting with Jeff Bezos,” she writes via e-mail. “If that changes, I will let you know.”
Washines, for one, is ready for a meeting. “We (NAJA) needs to try and burst that bubble of opportunity to get national newsrooms ready for the Native youth we are training today to be future story tellers,” he says.