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Mark Trahant

Indian Country Today

Digital? Broadcast? Readership? Company news? Where to start? There is a lot going on at Indian Country Today these days.

Just as the pandemic was beginning last year Katie Oyan was starting her a new job as Indian Country Today’s first managing editor.

She never saw her desk. Instead she entered Zoom World, leading reporters and editors who were all working at home across time zones. And what a time: There was more breaking news to cover than any of us have ever experienced.

But that did not faze Oyan. She reminded reporters (and editors) that the story was a marathon not a sprint. She asked some reporters to come in late, work a shift, and then go home. She kept lists. She planned what our coverage would be in advance. She fine tuned every story until it was complete and more readable.

And everyone at ICT loved working with her. The “chore” of having a story edited was always more of a pleasure.

Oyan, Lakota, came to Indian Country Today in a partnership with The Associated Press where she was the enterprise editor in Phoenix. The AP agreed to let Oyan work for us for 10 months. Her managing editor role at ICT ended Friday and she is returning to the AP this week and we expect our collaboration to continue.

Stories from ICT are often picked up by the AP — Sunday it was Dalton Walker’s piece on the Hoop Dance — carried around the world. That will continue, but now Oyan will be on the other side of that content. She’ll also make sure that AP continues to report stories of interest to our readers improving the new agency’s coverage of Indigenous people and governments.

Meanwhile we have new leadership for the digital team at ICT. The virtual newsroom will now be led by Managing Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné’. She is based in Washington, D.C., where she had been working as the deputy managing editor alongside Oyan.

Dalton Walker, Red Lake Ojibwe, will now serve as the deputy managing editor. Walker is based in Phoenix. He joined ICT a little more than a year ago as a national correspondent. He has written some important stories — and fun ones. 

We are also adding a third senior editor, Dianna Hunt, based in Tennessee. She is of Cherokee Nation descent. Hunt has extraordinary experience having worked at newspapers in Texas, Louisiana, and most recently editing a project for ProPublica. She has won the Texas APME Freedom of Information award twice and the national Brechner Award for Freedom of Information. She is a former board member and executive committee member of Investigative Reporters and Editors and is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

More public television stations are carrying ICT Newscast

We have a lot of news on the broadcast front, too.

About the same time Oyan started at ICT, a Facebook live experiment evolved into a daily broadcast. At first it was produced on Zoom out of Patty Talahongva’s living room. Now we are located in a makeshift studio at the Phoenix Indian School Visitors Center and produce both a daily show and a weekly version.

Everyday the broadcast process gets a bit smoother. We shoot in the morning, edit the show, set up closed captions, and then send off the files to our broadcast partners. It’s aired three times every day on FNX: First Nations Experience and at 11 p.m. weeknights on Arizona PBS’s World Channel. We have viewers (and hear from) in Denver, Chicago and New York in addition to statewide in Alaska.

The list of stations carrying ICT continues to grow. Starting Feb. 15 Prairie Public Broadcasting in North Dakota will broadcast the news show nightly at 11 p.m. The weekly version is now carried on South Dakota PBS and soon Rogers State University TV in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will carry the daily show.

We’re also going international. Australia’s National Indigenous Television will broadcast ICT daily (a day ahead of us, at that).

This is only the beginning. Shirley Sneve has been working with us to expand our broadcast reach. Our goal is for people anywhere in the country to turn on the nightly news and see our reports. It’s one more way to change the story about Indigenous people and governments.

If you watch nothing else … be sure to catch the Weekend Edition. It’s a 30-minute show that’s really packed with news.

Readership data

There was a lot of interest in the election and readership was high. Then it quieted a bit. And in January, whoa!

We reached more than 600,000 unique users (readers) with 814,278 page views. That’s pretty cool. Our readers are 53 percent female, 47 percent male. Last month older readers, 55 to 64, were the largest group (that’s unusual for us, most often are top demographic is 25 to 34) but only by a fraction.

About three-quarters of our readership uses a mobile device or tablet. And that vast majority — 80ish percent — uses an Apple device.

There is another interesting data point: Reader contributions to our nonprofit business. We decided from the beginning that ICT would be free. No subscriptions.  We figured that it was better for people to contribute what they can, rather than a set cost.

And we do not charge other media that "repurpose" our content, especially tribal papers. The idea is that we are a public service.

So far so good. Our budget has grown from $600,000 a couple of years ago to a little more than $3 million next year. And reader contributions last year reached about $90,000 (the rest coming from advertising, foundations, tribes and other contributors).

But here’s the cool thing: Only 44 people donated more than $250. Most of our donations came from individuals, often $50 to $75. That’s a powerful base of support. I love the days when a letter comes in from a reader along with a few dollars. The words of support are touching and invigorating because the work we do is seen as useful and worthy of people’s time (and, yes, money).

Most people read the news directly from our site, IndianCountryToday.com. Others read our copy on Facebook or other social media. And about 60,000 people a week turn to The Weekly, our electronic newsletter. This is especially helpful for those who don’t have the time to keep up with events in real time. It’s easy to sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.

We also know an important resource is our archive material. This is especially important to students working from home during the pandemic. We are looking for ways to make stories easier to find and share.

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We are grateful.

Then we are grateful for so many things. Thank you Katie Oyan. The staff kicked in with gifts of a star quit and moccasins. A reminder that we still have so much to do together.

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

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