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Getting to Know: Denny McAuliffe

Getting to Know:  Denny McAuliffe

Denny McAuliffe realized early on that traditional college recruiting wasn’t going to bring more American Indians to journalism school. As a result, “We don’t recruit,” he says. “We go to them.”

McAuliffe, a member of the Osage tribe of Oklahoma, takes journalism directly to Native students through Reznet, an online student newspaper based at the University of Montana’s School of Journalism. About 30 American Indian students from across the country participate in the newspaper each year, producing news stories, blogs and photos. The students, who are chosen from a variety of institutions, including tribal colleges and mainstream institutions, are paid an average of $50 per assignment. They also receive intensive mentoring and hands-on-training from McAuliffe and other Reznet editors.

A 16-year veteran of The Washington Post, McAuliffe says he decided to make the move to academia primarily to share his love of journalism with other American Indians.

In 2000, he was chosen as one of four Freedom Forum Diversity fellows as part of the Forum’s effort to increase the number of minorities in the newsroom. As part of the fellowship, McAuliffe visited 65 higher education institutions in the hope of finding potential American Indian journalists. He says he quickly realized that Native students were most comfortable going to colleges that were close to their homes. And since they were probably unwilling to leave those communities, McAuliffe decided that any successful journalism program targeting American Indians would have to come to them.

Only one tribal college, Haskell Indian Nations University, currently publishes a student newspaper, but most of the campuses have Internet access. And so the idea for Reznet was born.

Native students, in particular, need continued pressure and support to pursue their dreams of writing, McAuliffe says.

He half jokingly reports using a combination of requesting, ordering and pleading to keep students on task. Sometimes, he says, the students can let low self-confidence steer them away from their dreams of writing.

“I am in absolute awe of them,” McAuliffe says. “Many have overcome things I couldn’t dream of dealing with in order to go to college and pursue their love of journalism.”

His efforts seem to be working. “Reznetters” have gone on to pursue internships at The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. About 20 graduates so far have been hired at mainstream newspapers, which is significant because, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ 2007 newsroom survey, only about 330 American Indians are currently employed in America’s newsrooms.

Now in its fifth year, Reznet’s stories cover the spectrum, from hard news topics of drugs and corruption on reservations to lifestyle stories about popular Native music.

McAuliffe tells students that they can affect change and solve community problems through journalism.

“I tell them that journalists don’t do solutions; we tell the truth about problems and issues that need to be told,” he says.

Reznet is available online at

By Mary Annette Pember

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