Assistant editor Greg Hanscom headed to Seattle last month for the Unity Conference, a gathering of 6,000 Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian American journalists. Power-suited journalists packed the Seattle convention center for four days to hear panel discussions, prize-winning authors and four presidential candidates expound on the importance of media that reflect the diversity of the American public.
Minority journalists make up less than 12 percent of newsrooms' staff, according to Vice President Al Gore, who gave the keynote speech, while 40 percent of all newsrooms have no journalists of color.
Blue-eyed Hanscom stuck out like a sore thumb in this crowd, he tells us, but he was welcomed by the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), of which High Country News is a member. The association sponsored discussions on the freedom of the press - or lack thereof - in Indian Country, the struggle to convince groups like the Atlanta Braves baseball team to find new mascots, and the debate about "Kennewick Man," a skeleton unearthed in Washington that raises questions about who came to the continent first.
Alexie: "Quit romanticizing'
One of the clearest voices at the Unity conference was that of Sherman Alexie, author of Reservation Blues. Alexie's movie, "Smoke Signals," has made him a hero in Indian Country, particularly among young people. He's known for challenging stereotypes, even among his own people. "My job is to teach kids - whatever color - to question the status quo," he said.
During one panel discussion, Alexie objected loudly to a fellow panelist's assertion that racism is a "White Man's idea," that didn't exist in America before Columbus arrived.
"Quit romanticizing our past," said Alexie, grabbing the nearest microphone. "There's no way we can live up to those ideals, "There was no racism, there was no sexism." We're just like everybody else. We cannibalized, we enslaved. It's not to say we're bad or good. But we're just as fraught with magic and flaws as anyone else."
Other highlights included a salmon feast and an eardrum-blasting night of blues with the all-Indian band, "Indigenous." Hanscom returned to Paonia with a pile of story ideas, a deck of business cards and a 12-pound Alaskan king salmon, packed in a box for the airplane ride.
High Country Foundation board president Emily Swanson spent two days in Paonia, talking with staff members and seeing what we do here. Because the board meets around the region three times a year, members rarely get to see the paper in action. But the next board meeting, scheduled for Sept. 18, will be in Paonia. Please put the Friday, Sept. 17, potluck on your calendar.
Emily, who was just termed out as minority leader of the Montana House, also spent some time with Maria Forster, who is helping us get our house in order. The paper, whose mission is to worry about the 1-million-square-mile West, is also an organization that requires care and feeding. Maria interviewed the staff and four board members, and then wrote reports and job descriptions. Before becoming a consultant, she had worked for the nearby City of Delta for two decades, as assistant city manager in charge of personnel and other matters.
When we first saw Maria's report, we thought: "Well, we can implement this report, or we can put out a paper. But we can't do both." When we looked at it more closely, we saw that the recommendations could make life easier. Chaos and anarchy are attractive in the short run, but they get old over time. Maria's work should help us get better organized.
A more formal organization is necessary because staff no longer just puts words and photos on the page. We put them on cathode ray tubes through our Web site, we put them on the airwaves through the half-hour show Radio High Country News (now on nine stations, thanks to the marketing efforts of producer Adam Burke), and we put them on the opinion pages of 43 subscribing newspapers with 2.2 million readers, thanks to Paul Larmer and his Writers on the Range syndicate. We also distribute news leads and articles from the pages of High Country News to 100 newspapers, thanks to marketer Steve Mandell and editor Marion Stewart. It turns out that a media empire is no big deal. The next step is to get a ranch and bison herd.
We get letters
We filled two pages with letters in this issue, and there still wasn't room for those about the Idaho Neo-Nazi march and other stories. They will be in the next issue.
We were sorry to hear of the death of long-time High Country News subscriber John Reubens of Livingston, Mont., on July 1. We send our condolences to his family.
* Ed Marston, for the staff