UM J-School Professor to lead Native American Journalists Association

This fall University of Montana School of Journalism Professor Jason Begay returned with important new extracurriculars on his plate. He’s taken a long history with the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) to the next step by becoming the organization’s President.

NAJA official logo

When Begay was starting out as a journalism student, NAJA provided him scholarships and summer projects producing news during its annual conference. Over the last three years he has served on the board as Vice President and Treasurer, and in July the board voted him in as President.

Founded in 1983, NAJA’s mission is to empower Native American journalists, enrich journalism itself and promote Native American cultures. The organization has two main tasks, according to Begay. One is to promote 1st amendment rights throughout Indian country. It takes effort to establish independent journalism when many Native American papers are owned by Tribal Governments, Begay said.

NAJA’s other goal is to recruit and foster more young Native American journalists. With discouraging reports of less journalism jobs and industry upheaval, Begay said it can be a challenge, but a worthy one, to nudge new Native American students towards journalism school.

Begay graduated from the J-School in 2002, and took on an internship at the New York Times. From there, he moved on to a two year fellowship at the Oregonian, an award winning daily paper in Portland, Oregon. After the fellowship, he returned home to the Navajo Nation, where he worked for six years as a reporter at the Navajo Times.

Although both prior papers had prestigious national reputations, Begay felt out of place at them. “I left the New York Times and the Oregonian because I really couldn’t feel a strong connection with who I was writing about and what it was for,” he said.

Returning home to write about issues on the reservation where he grew up changed that for him. “I remembered why I love journalism,” said Begay.

To provide these same chances for a new generation of Native journalists, Begay faces fresh challenges in his new role as President. NAJA has seen a revenue streams dry up, and Begay said he’ll have to find new ways to raise money. One way to do so, Begay said, is to create projects attractive to donors, like expanding the conference newspaper into a year round project with an online presence.

Fresh from completing an MBA program in the spring, Begay is excited to apply his business training to NAJA’s real world problems. “I really, really think that the board has a great opportunity to make something new,” he said. That’s what Begay believes it will take to move NAJA forward.

By Andrew Graham