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Grant for Crow Reservation-based news site expands future for Native reporting

 Four Points Press founder Luella Brien
Four Points Press founder Luella Brien

Since starting Four Points Press late last year, Luella Brien has written nearly one hundred stories about the community living on the Crow Reservation.

The Apsáalooke journalist says she hears people on the street talking about local news they read on her website, and those pageviews have now translated into long-term funding. Four Points Press has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Reynolds Journalism Institute as part of the Tiny News Collective program.

Brien says the money, dispersed over two years, changes what the future looks like for Four Points Press and will allow her to focus on newsgathering and hiring additional reporters. She spoke to Yellowstone Public Radio's Jess Sheldahl about the site's mission and how, as a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, it feels to cover her community.

Interview highlights

On the mission of Four Points Press  

What it's really about is telling the stories that the community needs to hear in a way that it's relevant to them.

One of the good examples I like to talk about is we always see headlines about tribal leaders mishandling funds or embezzling funds and it kind of ends there, with, “Oh, this is what happened. They mismanaged funds.”

My readership knew that months before that story came out. It's not news. But what is news here is what led to that mismanagement of funds and what are the circumstances that lead to the fact that tribal leaders tend to always mismanage funds. What are the circumstances surrounding that, that's what we want to dig into.

Those are the kinds of things we want to dig into, not just that little scratching of 5% of the surface. And that kind of stuff is more relevant for us because we know the headline. We've known the headline before the headline came out and we need to know why that stuff is going on. And we want the explanation.

And I think that my readers deserve that explanation because if we don't get to the bottom of what's going on, then it's just, you end up reliving that headline over and over and over.

On the recently awarded Reynolds Journalism Institute grant  

The mission and the initial numbers helped me get into a program called Tiny News Collective, which is part of Lion Publishers and News Catalyst.

And Tiny News Collective is also funded through The Reynolds Journalism Institute. So six organizations were admitted into the tiny news collective and out of the six, three received a Reynolds journalism Institute news founders grant. And I'm proud to say that I was one of the six and was awarded a hundred thousand dollars grant as a news founder.

And so it's a two-year operating funds grant. So $50,000 a year for operating costs for two years, and that is gonna make things so much easier for me and the wraparound services. It's essentially a business incubator with Tiny News Collective and the services that they're able to give me, it's going to cut so many of the costs associated with hosting a website and, and accounting and, and marketing and all of those kinds of administrative costs so that I can put more time into producing news.

With the operating costs grant, I can put more time into finding staff and being able to pay for staff. And once you get a grant of this magnitude of this size other grant funders see that someone has taken a chance on you. And the dollar amount associated with it really shows that they're trusting you and they believe in your mission. And so other grant funders are like, “Hey, we might as well too.” So, this really puts us on the map.

It gives us a fighting chance for more funding. And I think, you know, it really has the potential to change the trajectory of where we're going. And I'm just so, so grateful and appreciative of this organization. And. And you know, that they've changed the roadway for us. They've taken a lot of the hurdles down and it's made a huge difference.

On the kinds of stories she can write for Four Points Press 

Anything. That's the thing is I've never worked professionally for a Native news organization. And that means I don't have to beat around the bush. When I want to cover a quote-unquote Native story, I don't have to try to frame it in a way that non-Natives, they might learn something if we write about this. It might be valuable to our community if we write about this. I don't have to say this might be good for diverse news coverage.

I, we can write about whatever we want. On the other side of the same coin, we don't always have to write about the “Native story.” Right? We can write about the school board. We can write about the town council. We can write about politics and how it's going to affect the community. It just so happens, it's a Native community.

I mean, it's wide open. We are free to cover anything that affects our community in any way that it affects the community. And as long as they're following journalistic ethics in the way that I was trained to do, we're fine.

And I feel like that freedom to do so is something that I haven't been given as a professional journalist because I always felt like I had to justify every Native story that I’ve ever written. Unless it was a Powwow story, everybody wants a Powwow story. And there's only so many ways you can write about dancing Indians.

It's just a different feeling. It's just, it's a hopeful feeling that I have when I'm doing work now. And it's just like, it's a whole different experience. You know, starting this organization and being able to cover the news of the community without having to answer to someone who doesn't live in the community, who doesn't understand the community, who doesn't care to learn about the community. Working for organizations like that, it doesn't feel genuine.

I'm right in the heart of the community. I live here, I checked my mail here, I buy things here. I'm born and bred right here. So I mean, if I don't spend my money here and support this community like everybody else, our community will falter. So it's not like corporate media where people are far away.