NBCUniversal selects IAIA to participate in NBCU Academy, a collaborative journalism training program for underrepresented voices.
In late November of last year, Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), received an invitation to review a grant agreement from NBCUniversal News Group, one of the world’s leading media companies. For the next two years, IAIA would receive $250,000 per year to build and implement a journalism program as part of NBCU Academy, a program IAIA had neither applied to nor been aware of. IAIA would also collaborate with NBCU to help build the curriculum, which would provide opportunities for their students to learn from and intern with industry professionals. Most importantly, it would provide a path to employment in journalism for students, leading to more Indigenous voices working in the field. The program would start in January, a quick turnaround especially considering the vast challenges of operating a university during a pandemic. But, as IAIA’s president Dr. Robert Martin said, it would enhance their mission to empower creativity and leadership in Native arts and cultures.
So, IAIA said yes.
NBCU Academy was built out of NBCU’s announcement last June to spend $100 million over the next three years to “help combat racism and injustice” following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The program has partnered with seventeen academic institutions across the country. The list of institutions includes colleges and universities with significant Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous student populations—voices that are often highly underrepresented in journalism and media.
According to Dr. Martin, IAIA is the only Native college on the list (about 80% of IAIA’s students are Indigenous). He sees an opportunity to amplify Indigenous voices in the media as well worth the efforts his administration is taking to launch the program. “We’re always looking to increase the Indigenous voice in the media,” he said. “What we’ve seen is that either we’re omitted, not present, or if there are Indigenous stories, they’re from a non-Indigenous perspective, and perhaps sometimes end up being cliché. Storytelling is an integral part of our culture—we have a tradition—so this will help to increase our voice that has been underrepresented in mainstream media.”
The program also creates a visible path to entering the field, something Dr. Martin explained is essential for his students. By working directly with industry professionals, students can learn new skill sets and get access to internships. As IAIA graduates begin working in journalism and media, their peers can in turn start to see themselves in the industry.
As part of the program, students at IAIA will have access to producers, editors, and journalists from NBCU through guest lectures and other elements of the curriculum. A new seminar class—created through collaboration with IAIA and the Academy—is set to begin next semester, and IAIA is working with the Academy to see what current classes would benefit from guest lectures or modules. The funding also includes money for paid internships, scholarships, and equipment.
For the next eight weeks, IAIA’s classes are primarily online. Dr. Martin said the digital divide illuminated by COVID-19 created an especially difficult time for IAIA students without access to WIFI and computers. IAIA helped students in need by providing laptops, paying for internet bills, increasing students’ phone data, and reducing tuition. Many IAIA students live in multigenerational households and have had challenges studying at home.
Still, Dr. Martin is hopeful that starting in the fall semester, things will start to look up. The new partnership with NBCU Academy is one bright spot in changing the future of Indigenous journalism and media.
“Our hope is that we see that we can contribute to a greater representation of Indigenous journalists and writers in the field, in mainstream media,” Dr. Martin said. “Often our voice is either underrepresented or missing altogether in mainstream media, we think with this partnership that we can make a difference and hopefully change that.”