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UND journalism professor to lead prominent Native American news outlet

Mark Trahant

GRAND FORKS—A University of North Dakota professor soon will be leading one of the most prominent outlets in the country for Native American news.

Journalism professor Mark Trahant said Wednesday, March 7, he's "eager to start" his latest role as editor of Indian Country Today, an online publication with a national audience. Trahant currently is winding down a three-year term at the university as the Charles R. Johnson endowed professor of journalism, a position set to end this academic year.

A member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe of Idaho, Trahant marked a first for North Dakota last spring when he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Earlier this year, the longtime journalist found himself in the middle of an embroiled discussion on academic freedom when he took to Facebook to describe his disappointment with UND while attempting to launch an event centered on discussion of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

Trahant announced in that post his intent to leave UND at the end of his endowed professorship, writing that his "inclination is to leave the academic world and focus on journalism" in some way. That inclination led to the job at Indian Country.

The publication has existed in some form since 1981 with roots in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of South Dakota. The outlet moved to New York after an acquisition by the Oneida Nation and, after going dark for a time in September, is now being relaunched under the new ownership of the National Congress of American Indians.

Trahant said representatives of the National Congress offered him the editorship after first discussing with him what the revived outlet might look like. He accepted with assurances that Indian Country would be run with full journalistic independence.

He'll now help build the newsroom back up with associate editor Vincent Schilling, a long-running correspondent. When describing his editorial vision for Indian Country, Trahant says readers can expect a "much stronger emphasis on hard news" than seen previously, driven by a core team of about four staffers in the outlet's new home in Washington, D.C.

Trahant also hopes to establish a flow of journalists and content between the central hub and the tribal communities it serves. That stream will be assisted by fellowships to bring reporters and editors to the capital or to fund their investigative work in the field.

There are other outlets that provide content specific to Native American communities, but Trahant described Indian Country as "really the only one" with a sizeable reporting staff.

That's just one advantage he hopes to leverage when getting out the news.

"The big one is we have the audience," he added. "Even when it was dormant, there were more than a million people who took a look at our website."

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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