Mark Trahant. Photo: Indian Country Today

Indian Country Today revived with a veteran Native journalist at helm

Mark Trahant tapped as editor of storied publication

ICT now owned by National Congress of American Indians
By Kevin Abourezk

The demise of Indian Country Today will be short-lived following a Wednesday announcement by the National Congress of American Indians that it plans to relaunch the publication and hire a veteran Native journalist to lead it.

Mark Trahant, an independent journalist and journalism faculty member at the University of North Dakota, will serve as editor of the publication, which will be under the ownership of NCAI.

“We are excited to have Mark Trahant on board to help us lead this next chapter of Indian Country Today,” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel in a statement. “Mark is respected in and beyond Indian Country for his professionalism, journalistic skills and keen insight into issues and developments impacting tribal nations.”

Trahant, a citizen of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, has had a storied journalism career, having worked at a host of mainstream daily newspapers like the Arizona Republic, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Salt Lake Tribune, as well as tribal publications like the Navajo Times and Sho-Ban News.

He is the former president of the Native American Journalists Association and publishes a blog called TrahantReports.Com.

NCAI also has hired Vincent Schilling, 50, as the publication’s associate editor. Schilling brings his 10 years of experience with Indian Country Today as the former arts and entertainment, sports and powwows editor. He is the author of four books promoting role models in Indian Country and a U.S Army veteran.

Trahant said the third iteration of Indian Country Today likely won’t include a print edition and will have a much smaller staff than its most recent one.

Legendary journalist Tim Giago (Oglala Sioux) founded the operation in 1981 as a weekly newspaper in South Dakota called The Lakota Times but renamed it Indian Country Today in 1992 to reflect its national focus. The Oneida Nation bought the newspaper in 1998 and continued publishing it as a weekly until 2013, when it shifted to a mostly online operation and added “Media Network” to its name.

The publication announced a “hiatus” in September as the Oneidas sought a buyer. The tribe said at the time it was unable to maintain the operation due to "enormous" and "unsustainable" costs -- a former editor linked ICT's demise to the expansion of non-Indian gaming in New York in a report on Voice of America.

In October, the tribe announced plans to donate the publication’s assets to NCAI, the largest inter-tribal organization in the United States. NCAI officially took over the publication on February 1.

Trahant told Indianz.Com he plans to run the publication more as a news service that will offer its content to tribal newspapers, radio stations and websites at no cost with proper credit attributions.

“I just believe the internet wants things to be free and people are going to use it anyway so why not just make it a part of your mission and encourage people to give you full credit and expand your readership?” Trahant said.

He said he plans to develop a funding model much like public media, focusing on grant funding and audience donations. Trahant said he hopes to be able to pay for freelance work and offer fellowships to journalism professionals to pay them to work on specific projects.

“One of the challenges for us is to figure out ways to give people time to do the good work,” he said.

He said the publication will house core staff members in a newsroom in Washington, D.C., where he plans to move in May.

“I think one of the important things of a newsroom is just the feedback you get and the back-and-forth collaboration, and I’m really looking forward to that,” he said.

Asked about how he plans to ensure the publication’s independence from NCAI, Trahant said Indian Country Today will be established as a separate corporation with its own board of directors. But much like most other publications, its independence largely will depend on Trahant’s own ability to protect it.

He said he’s looking forward to being able to explain complex but important topics to the publication’s readers.

“I just love explanatory journalism and being able to get in there and say, ‘Here are some things we need to think about it,’ in a very serious, thoughtful, deliberative way and doing it, hopefully, in a way that appeals to readers,” he said.

Also Today:
A Letter From The Editor: Mark Trahant – Indian Country Today Enters a New Stage (Indian Country Today February 28, 2018)

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