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Reading Red 2008.

New report focuses on Indian media representations

By Rob Capriccioso -- Today staff

CHICAGO - The Native American Journalists Association has released preliminary information about the current state of American Indian representations in the media.

In a panel discussion at the UNITY 2008: Journalists of Color convention, Cristina Azocar, president of NAJA, detailed findings from the new Reading Red report. NAJA has produced three previous reports that focus on various Native issues as presented in the press.

Azocar said the most important finding from this year's report is that when there are more American Indians in a community, there tends to be better coverage of their issues by press in their area.

NAJA officials used the Lexis/Nexis news database to conduct their research, and focused on newspapers with circulation areas that have the highest percentages of Natives, according to 2000 census data. Anchorage, Alaska, Tulsa, Okla., and Oklahoma City, were among the cities with the top percentages of Natives, according to the report.

As a result of two years worth of study, NAJA found that coverage in areas with large numbers of Natives tended to be more neutral in tone regarding American Indian issues. NAJA officials are encouraged that in these coverage areas, too, there tended to be large amounts of articles focused on Indian education and health.

At the same time, even in these better coverage areas, more than 75 percent of sources relied upon and quoted in the media were non-Natives. Azocar, a member of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe of the Powhatan Nation, said it's important for journalists to reach out to Indian sources when writing about Indian issues.

In 2002 and 2003, NAJA conducted the first Reading Red reports to examine mainstream news coverage of American Indians. They both found that large mainstream media outlets often do a poor job at covering Native topics. Additionally, the 2003 report called on the U.S. news media to stop publishing and broadcasting sports teams' Native mascot names and images. It also highlighted six newspapers that had policies against using mascot names when reporting on teams that used Native mascots.

The third report, issued in 2007, examined whether newspapers in circulation areas with high percentages of American Indians fairly and accurately covered Indian country. Results in that report were ''very similar'' to this year's findings, according to Azocar.