Native and Arab American
Native and Arab American Media
By the Project for Excellence in Journalism
Native American media enjoyed a milestone in 2008 with the debut of first tribal cable network, and radio ownership was poised for a sharp expansion. But there were also fears that the recession would weaken some of the vulnerable media outlets serving the population.
Loris Ann Taylor of Native Public Media, which represents the interests of Native American-owned radio stations, Native Voice One (satellite) and other media platforms, said that the economic downturn could have a “trickle-down effect and that any hardships being felt at the national level of media would be magnified throughout the Native American community. … The economic downturn takes away buying power… tribal governments will reduce their workforces and people will have to reduce spending.”
At the close of 2008, however, there was anecdotal evidence that showed Native American media had not yet begun to see significant declines in operational revenues or staff cuts. Most experts expected to see the impact in 2009.
The population of Native Americans is small and concentrated primarily in the West.
Slightly more than 2.4 million people were identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, making up about 1% of the U.S. population in 2007, according to the latest estimates available from the U.S. Census Bureau.1
The Native American population has its greatest concentrations in California (689,000), Oklahoma (394,000) and Arizona (335,000).2
The population is notably poor. Native Americans have the second-lowest annual median household income: $35,343, just ahead of African Americans. That compares with a national median income of $50,740. They also have the highest percentage of people living in poverty. In 2007, more than a quarter of Native Americans (25.3%) lived below the so-called poverty line, compared with 10.2% of whites, 24.7% of blacks, 10.6% of Asians and 20.7% of Hispanics.3
There is little data on Native American media consumption, but according to experts, print and radio are the two most common sources of news information for Native Americans.
According to Taylor, executive director of Native Public Media, a nonprofit organization that promotes Native American media ownership, “Radio works because it crosses over socio-economic barriers, across education, employment, gender and age, and is open to innovation and creativity that allows broadcasts in Native languages and encourages citizen engagement. It is a platform for a conversation, a sharing of ideas and concepts, discussion, debate, and dissemination of diverse ideas that can range from local tribal political issues, to high school sports to debates about environmental degradation or discussion about border-town racism.” 4
The most widely read newspaper in the Native American community is Indian Country Today.
The paper is a weekly published by Four Directions Media of the Oneida Nation. It is distributed nationally and is also available by subscription online with live streaming audio and podcasts.5
In 2008, Indian Country Today reported an average weekly circulation of 13,000, unchanged from the year before, Sabrina Sharkey, the paper’s audience development manager, told PEJ.6 The paper’s circulation figures are not audited by an outside agency.
Heading into 2009, the paper’s executives were optimistic it would weather the recession. Heather Donovan, the paper’s sales manager, said that, as of October, ads sales had not declined significantly from 2007. This was due, she told PEJ, to a diligent effort to “replace old business that has left with new business.” 7
As the economy worsens and larger national advertisers scale back, however, Donovan said the paper would have to work to replace the revenue. She used the example of the 2007 closing of Greenpoint Bank, one of Indian Country Today’s biggest ad spenders, and said the paper had found ways to recover and at least hold ad revenues steady in 2008.8
Native Americans do not own any commercial television stations in the U.S. and have had a hard time making inroads into the field,9 but they took a big step forward in 2008 with the creation of a cable channel.
In March, the Tulalip Tribe in Western Washington became the first Indian tribe with its own cable channel. The channel provides programming to subscribers to Tulalip Broadband, the tribe’s Internet and cable provider, as well as to a local cable station, KANU-TV 99.10 The station’s programming is also available as a live webstream to broadband subscribers anywhere.
According to the station’s website, KANU-TV’s programming “includes news and information directed to Tulalip tribal members and their families. In addition, there are other programs of general interest to all Native Americans.”11
Native American radio appeared to be on the brink of growth. The number of tribes that had new license applications pending before the Federal Communications Commission saw a big increase.
In the largest campaign to increase Native American media ownership, Native Public Media began an effort in 2008 to more than double Native American communications. Thirty-eight tribes and organizations filed a total of 51 license applications with the FCC in 2007. At the end of 2008, 29 of those applications had been granted construction permits for new radio stations, according to Loris Ann Taylor, the group’s executive director. The rest, Taylor told PEJ, remain in situations where more than one applicant is competing for the same frequency. Typically, it can take months to negotiate and settle.12
The 29 additional radio stations would bring the number of serving the Native American population from 33 in 2007 to 62. Still, With 562 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages in the U.S., Native American ownership of radio stations is currently less than 0.3% of the more than 13,000 radio stations in the country.13
“It is important to make sure Native Americans don’t just have access to media facilities, but have controlling interests in those facilities,” Taylor said. “When Natives tell their story, it is truthful and accurate and told through the voice of the Native American experience. It shows how having control of the ‘pen’ validates your own history and identity,” Taylor said.14
There was concern, nonetheless, about the financial stability of these stations. Many Native American broadcast stations receive a large portion of their funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Telecommunications Information Administration, both which rely on congressional appropriations. It was feared that those funds would be affected by budget cuts.
The Internet is a more complicated medium for Native Americans. The number of online outlets grew in 2008, but that did not translate into significantly greater usage among a population that has low rates of access to the Internet.
According to Taylor, only 69% of households on tribal lands have a telephone.15
Online news sources targeting the Native American nevertheless are increasing. Reznet.com is a project of the University of Montana School of Journalism and receives much of its funding from the Knight Foundation. Reznet.com, an online news service, provides news articles, blogs and multimedia on current events throughout the Native American community.
Indianz.com is another online news service that provides original reporting as well as summaries of other news media. Indianz.com is owned by Ho-Chunk of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and Noble Savage media, a Native American-owned media firm.16
Native American media also received a boost in 2008 because of the significance to the Native American population of the nomination and election of the country’s first African American president.
Not only did Native American media cover the story more heavily than other elections, but the native population also received more attention from the candidates and their surrogates than in past elections. During the 65th Annual Convention of the National Congress of American Indians in October, for instance, both Barack Obama and John McCain addressed the general assembly session of the conference by video and laid out their platform regarding Native American affairs.17
Native Public Telecommunications, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the expansion of Native American media, teamed up with National Native News to defray some of the expenses for Indian Country Today to provide coverage tailored to the native community.18 Native Public Telecommunications receives the bulk of its funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and National Native News is a daily radio program distributed by Native Voice One, a satellite distribution system that delivers Native American programming nationwide and is owned and operated by the Koahnic Broadcast Corporation in Anchorage, Alaska.
Indian Country Today, the most popular Native American Newspaper, sent reporters to Colorado to cover the Democratic National Convention in August. On Election Day, the paper’s online site offered coverage updated throughout the day from correspondents in states with large Native American populations: Colorado, Florida, Montana, Alaska and Oklahoma. Online the AIROS Network, an Internet radio service of Native Public Telecommunications and Native American-owned radio stations, provided news coverage from the native perspective before and throughout Election Day.
“This election symbolizes that a person of color can run for president,” said Loris Ann Taylor of Native Public Media. “For us, it isn’t such a huge leap for a Native American to be able to run for president now.” 19
Arab American media grew in 2008, reflecting the rapid growth in the population.
The number of newspapers increased and a new Arab American writers syndicate was organized.
In broadcast, Chicago got a new Arab American morning radio talk show host. There was mixed news, however, for Al Jazeera English.
According to the Census Bureau, there were 1.2 million Arab Americans in the U.S. in 2000, the latest year for which data are available on the group.20 In the past however, these numbers have been called into question. When the Census released its first report on Arab Americans in 2003, some Arab American groups complained that the Census missed about 2 million people of Arab ancestry. The Arab American Institute estimates the population at 3.5 million.21
Regardless of the exact figure, the Arab population has experienced substantial growth. Between 1990 and 2000, the Arab-American population grew 38%, according to Census estimates. That is faster than the 13% the overall U.S. population grew during the same time.22 About half of the Arab American population is concentrated in five states: California, New York, Michigan, Florida and New Jersey.23
The most recent median annual income estimates for Arab Americans are from the 2000 census. In that year, the census reported Arab American households having a median income of $47,000, above the $42,000 median for all households in the U.S. that same year.24
Arab American print media reflected that growth in 2008.
The number of Arab American newspapers increased to 85 in 2008 from 77 in 2007, a 10% increase, according to Ray Hanania of the National Arab American Journalism Association and a radio talk show host in Chicago.25
Membership to the association, which was founded in 1999, experienced a jump in 2008 to 263 from 178 in 2007, a 48% increase. 26
In September, the National Arab American Journalists Association the Arab Writers Group Syndicate. The group was formed by Hanania and other prominent Arab-American journalists, including Ali Alarabi, Anisa Mehdi, Sherif Hedayat and Saffiys Shillo. According to its website, the syndicate aims to “feature daily commentaries and op-eds targeting mainstream American newspapers and publications.” 27
The National Arab American Journalists Association also held a conference for Israeli and Palestinian journalists in Jerusalem in 2008, the second year the group has done so. It also joined with the Society of Professional Journalists to create an Arab Journalism section.28
The Arab American News, a paper published in Dearborn, Michigan, calls itself the “largest, oldest and most respected Arab American newspaper in the United States.” It is owned by Osama Siblani, who started the paper in 1984.29 The free paper reports an unaudited circulation of 30,000 in the Detroit area. The paper offers articles in English and Arabic and has contracts with Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor for wire news.
Aramica, one of the largest Arab-American newspapers on the East Coast, was started in 2002. It is a bilingual paper in English and Arabic published in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is distributed mainly in churches and mosques. The paper reported a nationwide circulation of 50,000. The majority of its copies are distributed in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, but the paper is also distributed in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Ohio.30
Al-Jazeera English is based in Qatar. The network, an American version of the Arabic cable channel broadcast in the Middle East, continued to have a difficult time in 2008 finding cable companies to carry it in the U.S. It also lost its most prominent American journalist when former Nightline correspondent Dave Marash resigned, saying he found an anti-American bias at the network. Al Jazeera’s Washington bureau chief Will Stebbins denied the station had such a bias. Al Jazeera, he told the New York Times, “seeks to evaluate United States policy rigorously but ‘give everyone a fair shout.’”31
At the end of 2008, Al Jazeera English was available in three cable markets — through Buckeye Cable in Toledo, Ohio; Burlington Cable in Burlington, Vermont, and Washington Cable in the District of Columbia.32 It is also available in the U.S. on digital satellite on GlobeCast World TV.
The channel launched worldwide in 2006 with a potential reach to 80 million households, according to its new managing director, Tony Burman, formerly of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. Within the first three years of operation, the channel grew to be available in 130 million households in 100 countries, Burman said in an interview with a newspaper in Qatar.33
Burman himself was new. He took over the position in May and offered seemingly contradictory messages about the future. In one interview, he indicated plans to make the English-language outlet closer to its Arabic parent. “We are working to take advantage of the close relationship between Al Jazeera English and Arabic,” Burman told the same newspaper. “It is very important for both channels to enrich each other.”
In an earlier statement, Burman also said he would make efforts to make the channel appeal more to American audiences. “The reality is that Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera English are two different channels that cater to different audiences,” he told the International Herald Tribune in an interview that also appeared in The New York Times.34
The network earned its first international Emmy nomination in current affairs and news categories.35 The nomination came from the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for Al Jazeera’s coverage of the crisis in Myanmar and the Red Mosque siege in Pakistan. On its website, Al Jazeera English also began to offer mobile news alerts to cellphone users.
Competition with Al Arabiya
Al Jazeera was dealt a blow early in 2009 when one of its competitors, Al Arabiya, was chosen by President Barack Obama as not only the first Arabic-language news network to be granted an interview by him, but as the first television network granted an interview by Obama as president.36
The move was seen by many as an effort by the new president to reconcile America’s relationship with the Islamic world, but it surprised journalists across the world.
“It’s different from what we’ve seen in forever,” said Jamil Mroue, a Lebanese journalist and publisher. “This is his first official interview, and it’s addressed to Al Arabiya? It’s a logical extension of his inauguration speech, but it’s unprecedented.”37
Al Arabiya is a 24-hour satellite news channel based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, owned by Middle East Broadcasting Corporation, a Saudi media firm.38
As with many ethnic media, radio also is an important element in Arab American communication.
There are no exact numbers on how many radio programs are aimed at the Arab American population in the U.S., but the National Arab American Journalism Association put the number at 12 toward the middle of 2008.39
But Arab American-targeted radio was not the only place the voices of Arab-Americans were being heard.
Radio station WJJG AM 1530 in Chicago got a new, Arab American voice on its morning show. He is Ray Hanania, a journalist, who now has a talk show Mornings with Ray Hanania. Although the show was not targeted specifically at an Arab-American audience, Hanania said it would discuss community issues in the Chicago area and also highlight Arab-American and Middle Eastern issues.
“I am a big believer in community news, community newspapers and community reporting and one important aspect of the show will be inclusion of community perspectives and news in our discussion,” Hanania said.40
1.U.S. Census Demographic and Housing Estimates 2007. http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/ADPTable?_bm=y&-geo_id=01000US&-qr_name=ACS_2007_1YR_G00_DP5&-ds_name=&-_lang=en&-redoLog=true&-format=
Statement excludes those reporting to be American Indian/Alaska Native in combination with one or more other races.
2. Cherokee Phoenix. “Census Bureau: Native Population Increases, June 2008. http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/PDF/2008/2008-06-01.pdf
3. U.S. Census, “Income, Earnings and Poverty.” http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/acs-09.pdf
Statement excludes those reporting to be American Indian/Alaska Native in combination with one or more other races.
4. Phone interview with Loris Ann Taylor, executive director, Native Public Media.
5. Indian Country Today Online. http://www.indiancountrytoday.com/about
6. Phone interview with Sabrina Sharkey, audience development manager, Indian Country Today, November 2008
7. Phone interview with Heather Donovan, sales manager, Indian Country Today, October 2008
8. Phone interview with Heather Donovan, sales manager, Indian Country Today, October 2008
9. Phone interview with Loris Ann Taylor, executive director, Native Public Media, November 2008
10. Cher Thomas, “Tulalip Tribe TV Station Hits the Airwaves,” Native Youth Magazine, March 4, 2008. http://www.nativeyouthmagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=0&Itemid=33
11. KANU-TV Online. http://www.kanutv.com/Welcome.html
12. Interview with Loris Ann Taylor, executive director, Native Public Media, November 2008
13. Interview with Loris Ann Taylor, executive director, Native Public Media, November 2008
14. Interview with Loris Ann Taylor, executive director, Native Public Media, November 2008
15. Loris Ann Taylor, citing Government Accountability Office Report “Challenges to Assessing and Improving Telecommunications for Native Americans on Tribal Lands,”GAO-06-189 (January 2006) (“GAO Tribal Telecommunications Report”)
16. Indianz.com. http://indianz.com/about.asp
17. Press Release, National Congress of American Indians, October 21, 2008. http://www.ncai.org/News_View.19.0.html?&no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=546&tx_ttnews[backPid]=9&cHash=29968d3d88
18. Native American Public Telecommunications Online. “Diversity Beat: The Election in Indian Country.” November 5, 2008.
19. Phone interview with Loris Ann Taylor, executive director. Native Public Media, November 2008
20. Haya El Nasser, “U.S. Census Reports on Arab-Americans for First Time,” November 20, 2003. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-11-20-arab-americans_x.htm
21. Arab American Institute Online. http://www.aaiusa.org/arab-americans/22/demographics
22. Haya El Nasser,” “U.S. Census Reports on Arab-Americans for First Time,” November 20, 2003. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-11-20-arab-americans_x.htm
23. Haya El Nasser,” “U.S. Census Reports on Arab-Americans for First Time,” November 20, 2003. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-11-20-arab-americans_x.htm
24. Arab American Institute. http://www.aaiusa.org/arab-americans/22/demographics
25.E-mail interview with Ray Hanania
26.E-mail interview with Ray Hanania
27.Arab American Media Services, News Wire, “New Arab American Writers Syndicate Launched,” September 4, 2008. http://aams.blogspot.com/2007/09/new-arab-writers-syndicate-launched.html
28. E-mail interview with Ray Hanania
29.Arab American News Online. http://www.arabamericannews.com/news/footer/about.html
30. Aramica Newspaper online. http://www.aramica.net/circulation.html
31. Brian Stelter. “American Anchor Quits Al Jazeera English Channel.” March 28, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/28/business/media/28anchor.html
32. Al Jazeera English online. http://english.aljazeera.net/aboutus/2008/07/2008717114526698333.html
33. Lubna Shaalan, “Al Jazeera Moving Away from Launch Phase,” Peninsula, November 16, 2008. http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/Display_news.asp?section=Local_News&month=November2008&file=Local_News200811164369.xml
34. Eric Pfanner, “Al Jazeera English Tries to Extend Its Reach,” New York Times, May 19, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/19/business/media/19jazeera.html
35. Broadcasting & Cable, “Al Jazeera Nabs First News Emmy Nod,” August 14, 2008. http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6587386.html
36. Scott MacLeod, “How Al Arabiya Got the Obama Interview,” Time Magazine. January 28, 2009. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1874379,00.html?imw=Y
37. Alan Cowell, “On Arab TV Network, Obama Urges Dialogue,” New York Times, January 27, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/world/middleeast/28arabiya.html?_r=1&emc=eta1
38. Robert F. Worth, “Drawing a New Map for Journalism in the Middle East,” New York Times, January 5, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/05/world/middleeast/05rashed.html
39. Ray Hanania, Arab American Media Services Newswire. http://aams.blogspot.com/2008/04/arab-american-journalists-criticize.html
40. Ray Hanania,Arab American Media Services Newswire. http://aams.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-10-12T06%3A54%3A00-07%3A00