By Alex Cassara | LSU Student
LSU alumnus Bryan Pollard, executive editor of the United States' oldest Native American and first bilingual newspaper, says newspapers and websites that cater to small populations are critical.
Pollard publishes the Cherokee Pheonix, the monthly Cherokee Nation broadsheet headquartered in Tahlequah, Okla., with a total circulation of approximately 40,000. The paper focuses on issues important to Native Americans in general, such as water rights and tribal government, and Cherokees specifically.
Native Americans are the least represented minority in the country according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported that American Indian and Alaska Native persons made up only 1.2 percent of the population in 2011. Pollard, an LSU alumnus, told students recently this fact, combined with the isolated nature of tribes, causes the general public to overlook Native Americans.
Pollards career has been dedicated to serving what he called "marginalized communities." Prior to landing at the Cherokee Pheonix, Pollard learned journalism at the Portland, Ore., street newspaper Street Roots, which addresses the city's poverty and is sold by the homeless to provide a means of income.
"You're telling stories that the mainstream media is not telling."
The Cherokee Nation is partially underwritten by the tribe, he said. "Just as the tribe itself if subsidized by the federal government to administer certain services, we are subsidized by the tribe as a service," noted Pollard. "Our service happens to be information."
While it's financially dependent, the Pheonix's journalistic independence is assured by the Independent Press Act. It wasn't until 2000, after a constitutional crisis that saw journalists reporting on it fired, that the Cherokee were protected from the influence of government.
"What we have done (in the Cherokee Tribe) is now being modeled across Indian country," Pollard said.
The Pheonix publishes several stories in English and Cherokee, as it die when it began in 1828, to assist in the revival of a language that Pollard estimates is spoken by only 3.3 percent of a Cherokee population of 300,000.
Growing up in a Cherokee household, Pollard said his grandmother was not allowed to communicate in the native language to avoid further discrimination. This was common at the time and resulted in a "lost generation" of Cherokee speakers. Today the Cherokee culture is seeing a renaissance, he said. Cherokee schools are establishing language programs in the effort to revitalize the language among children.
"You're seeing a lot of young Cherokees wanting to learn (the language)," Pollard said.
In addition to the bilingual print copy, the Phoenix offers audio files of Cherokee speakers for its audience along with the English digital content on its website. That kind of flexibility and advancement, says Pollard, underscores the advantage his smaller-scale publication possesses in the rapidly changing newspaper industry.
While the Pheonix's narrow audience severely limits the opportunity for expansion, Pollard said it will have a much easier time adapting to the inevitable digital age that so many corporate "monolithic" newspapers fear.
"[Newspapers aren't struggling] because people don't want the news, it's because they're struggling at delivering the news in a way that people are ready to accept it."