Cherokee students learn journalism basics at NAJA conference
Cherokee Nation citizen Cheyanne Hodge, 16, of Tulsa, Okla., works on a news story as part of “Project Phoenix” on July 10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The Native American Journalists Association conference project exposes high school students to journalism and how it impacts Indian Country. “Project Phoenix” honors the first Native American newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
United Keetoowah Band citizen Brittney Bennett, 21, of Kansas, Okla., takes part in the “Native Voice” project at the annual Native American Journalists Association conference in Santa Clara, Calif. Here she works on a news story on July 10. The project strives to help college students gain hands-on experience in print, digital and broadcast media under the guidance of Native professional mentors from across the country. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY WILL CHAVEZ
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Two Cherokee students from Oklahoma traveled to the annual Native American Journalists Association conference in July to learn the skills of good journalism.
Cherokee Nation citizen Cheyanne Hodge, 16, of Tulsa was part of “Project Phoenix,” which exposes high school students to journalism and how it impacts Indian Country. “Project Phoenix” honors the first Native American newspaper – the Cherokee Phoenix, which was first printed on Feb. 28, 1828, in New Echota, Ga.
United Keetoowah Band citizen Brittney Bennett, 21, of Kansas took part in the “Native Voice” project, which helps college students gain hands-on experience in print, digital and broadcast media under the guidance of Native professional mentors.
Hodge will be a junior this fall at Will Rogers College High, a college prep school. Along with learning more about journalism, she wants to become a veterinary technician.
She said she spent her week as a “Project Phoenix” student shooting videos, gathering stories and interviewing people, and “more and more” she’s also looking at journalism as a career.
She said what interested her about journalism is that “you have a voice and that people can hear you.”
“There are so many things offered to you because you get to go and see things that other people don’t,” Hodge said.
She added that the most important thing she learned from mentors was to learn how to write news and shoot video.
“That’s a lot for me because I didn’t have any experience,” she said. “I’ve definitely learned to be patient. We’ve been in this (news) room from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep. You just have to put your all into it.”
Mentor Benny Polacca, a reporter with the Osage News in Pawhuska, Okla., said the students are exposed to all disciplines used by today’s reporters. They wrote news stories for the newspaper published during the conference, wrote stories for the “Native Voices” website and created audio and video assignments using Apple technology.
“In the end we are giving the children an opportunity to learn the tools of the trade, especially during this time when we’re seeing a shift in ways of communication, a shift toward online and computer gadgets, including smart phones,” Polacca said. “I think this is a good opportunity to introduce students to those skills because in the end we would really like to see more Native journalists working in the field, and these are the tools of the trade they need.”
Bennett attends the University of Oklahoma where she’s studying public relations.
“I’m here to get a better feel for journalism and kind of learn the ins and outs that I haven’t gotten to (learn) because I am a PR major. It’s similar in a lot of ways, but different...especially this year since they are going more digital,” she said. “I haven’t really worked with a lot of the equipment. Being PR you don’t take that many broadcast classes or any editing classes, so that is definitely new to me.”
Bennett was selected as a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholar and has been named to the President’s and Dean’s Honor Roll at OU multiple semesters.
She said the first few days of the “Native Voice” project was spent learning the “nuts and bolts” of journalism. From there the students produced short stories about local events, and then produced short videos on local attractions.
She graduated to helping work on a web story about the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay area, which is not recognized by California or the federal government. She said it required her to make “a lot of calls” and do research. She also worked on a print and video story about NAJA raising more than $10,000 for a fellowship.
NAJA oversees “Project Phoenix and the “Native Voice” project.
She said during the week she got rid of the misconception that a journalist has to have the “nicest equipment” and work “in the nicest studio” to be successful. She learned there are phone applications and computer programs she can use to help her report news.
Bennett is focusing on a career in the film industry and doing public relations work for Native American actors and films. She landed an internship at the Oklahoma Film and Music Office’s PR department for the fall semester. She plans on graduating next May.
Polacca said students participating in the student projects have the opportunity to network, meet other Native American journalists and possibly find a place to work in the future.
“Who knows, maybe in the future the students will work for someone in the field whether it’s a journalist working with the student project program or whether they are here as a conference participant,” he said.