Underscore + ICT reporter Nika Bartoo-Smith, left, leads a breakout discussion at an Underscore community listening session in 2023.

While we are understandably known for the journalism we produce, we also serve the community and increase our impact through programs beyond our reporting. These programs focus on community outreach, education and workforce development, with an emphasis on reaching Native youth and aspiring Native journalists, while also engaging with other journalists and the community at large in diverse ways.

Underscore Indigenous Journalism Fellowship

We designed the Underscore Indigenous Journalism Fellowship to help equip and encourage the next generation of Indigenous journalists. Each summer, we host and train an Indigenous collegiate journalism student or early-career journalist for a 10-week internship that provides an immersive and supportive newsroom experience.

Through the fellowship, we seek to provide a launching pad into the journalism profession, helping to encourage more Indigenous journalists to enter the field and more broadly contribute to better representation in an industry that has long failed to adequately represent communities of color in both coverage and newsroom personnel.

Jarrette Werk, an Underscore reporter and photographer, on assignment with Carrie Johnson, Underscore's 2023 reporting fellow.

Under the training of our experienced newsroom leaders, fellows have a chance to develop and showcase their skills, using our platform and republishing network to give them exposure and tools that will help them pursue a successful journalism career.

We designed the program through an equity lens, not only arranging for housing but paying for it, along with moving costs and an hourly wage in an effort to remove barriers that have traditionally created a non-inclusive media intern system. We also provide scholarship funds upon completion of the program.

FELLOWSHIP AT A GLANCE:

  • 10-week summer internship with full-time hours
  • hourly wage and desk at the Underscore office in Portland, Oregon
  • work and train under the guidance of senior staff and alongside fellow early-career Indigenous journalists
    • report and write in-depth stories
    • opportunities for audio and visual work
    • stories published by Underscore and wide network of publishing partners
    • travel on assignment to Indigenous communities across PNW
  • access to weekly journalism trainings offered by our partner The Oregonian, which also offer networking and camaraderie opportunities with The Oregonian’s roster of interns
  • fully paid housing on the beautiful campus of Lewis and Clark College
  • transportation stipend for move to and from Portland
  • $2,000 scholarship upon completion of the program if candidate is a degree-seeking student who will be returning to school after the internship
  • professional references and assistance from Underscore leadership for applications to jobs, graduate school or other opportunities

Our 2022 fellow was McKayla Lee (Diné) from the University of Montana. Our 2023 fellow was Carrie Johnson (Chickasaw and Pawnee) from Austin College in Texas. Our 2024 fellow is Aislin Tweedy (Nakoda of the Fort Belknap Reservation).

Youth Outreach and Mentoring

Our staff seeks out opportunities to mentor Native youth and aspiring journalists. That includes a reporter serving as an instructor at the High School Journalism Institute in 2022-23 and two reporters teaching media literacy courses at the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA).

Staff has also spoken to students Chemawa Indian School and mentored up-and-coming Indigenous journalists through NPR's Next Generation Radio project. Additionally, staff has participated in the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board’s Summer Research Institute and spoken in venues such as college senior seminar journalism classes.

A scene from the 2022 High School Journalism Institute, where Underscore reporter and photographer Jarrette Werk has served as an instructor two years in a row. Photo by Jarrette Werk/Cronogomet

Community Listening Session

In June 2023, we held our first community listening session. Funded in part through a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation, the session provided a forum for direct interaction between staff and Indigenous community leaders and members in Portland. We hope this pilot effort will be the first in a series for our organization, including more in 2024.

The sessions are designed to hone our community-led reporting approach, as we seek to better understand the community's information needs, perspectives and experiences with news as we work to integrate their voices and priorities into our editorial planning and strategies while building trust and long-term relationships.

Underscore held its first community listening session in Portland on June 22, 2023. Photo by Jes Abeita/Cronogomet

Professional Journalist Training

In September 2022, Underscore organized an Indigenous reporting workshop for editors and reporters at The Oregonian, the largest newspaper in the Pacific Northwest. We partnered with Brian Bull (Nez Perce), a veteran award-winning Indigenous journalist who has conducted similar courses as guest faculty at the Poynter Institute and is now a journalism professor at the University of Oregon.

The training explored appropriate approaches and considerations for reporters covering Indigenous communities to ensure that their reporting has higher degrees of cultural nuance, historical context, authenticity and accuracy, while avoiding the perpetuation of tropes and stereotypes too often seen in media coverage.

Brian Bull speaking at Underscore's 2022 Indigenous reporting workshop for editors and reporters at The Oregonian.

Elliot Njus, an editor at The Oregonian, said their journalists took away key lessons from the training. He called it an “incredible opportunity for our newsroom.”

“Our reporters and editors left not only more culturally informed, but with practical lessons on how to approach stories about tribal nations and Native people. Those lessons have already been put to use in our reporting. I appreciated that Brian shared several examples of published journalism and other media that demonstrate respectful and multidimensional depictions of Indigenous communities.”

Elliot Njus | Business and Economy Editor at The Oregonian

“I found this training to be very helpful and interesting. The speaker/trainer they used, Brian Bull, was able to touch on a wide variety of personal experiences as a Native American journalist AND experiences/knowledge of people he’d interviewed for stories over his long career so I found that to be particularly informative. It was also great that multiple Underscore journalists were there and could add to the conversation and we could put faces to the bylines on Underscore stories that we’ve published or read on their site.”

Hillary Borrud, Investigative Reporter at The Oregonian

Presentations and Panels

Our staff members are invited to speak and serve on panels at a wide variety of venues, from college classes to professional conferences, including:

  • Investigative Editors & Reporters' NICAR conference
  • Society of Environmental Journalists' annual conference
  • Lakota Media Summit
  • Oregon Rural Journalism Conference
  • Society of Professional Journalists' annual conference
  • Edward R. Murrow Leadership Program
  • Indigenous Media Conference