Titla's Dream: Opening the Media Doors to Indian Youth

Like most Native American journalists that have made this same transition, Mary Kim Titla soon ran into executives with little or no knowledge about Indians and with little or no desire to hear their side of the story.
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PHOENIX, AZ -- Mary Kim Titla is a slender and attractive member of the San Carlos Apache Nation and she remembers how hard it was to break into the mainstream media. When she finally made the breakthrough she soon realized how much Native American news was deliberately omitted on a daily basis as she toiled at the NBC affiliate television stations in Arizona.

Armed with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a Master of Communications Degree from Arizona State University, she set out to open doors for her people in the mainstream media, but like most Native American journalists that have made this same transition, she soon ran into executives with little or no knowledge about Indians and with little or no desire to hear their side of the story.

Early on ATitla ran into news directors who said, "We don't have the audience for a lot of Indian news and we cannot discriminate by having a reporter or news aimed at a specific minority." Her initial experiences reminded me of my own. When I first signed on as a cub reporter with a local South Dakota daily newspaper one white editor told me that I could not cover Indian news objectively because I was an Indian. My response, "You have white reporters covering white news every day. Are they not being objective?"

Throughout her 20 years in television Mary Kim Titla managed to open small doors and soon her face and name became familiar to most Arizonians. But as she gained in popularity she still felt stifled and unfulfilled by the congregation of media moguls too steeped in mediocrity and lacking in vision to further expand opportunities for Native Americans.

On July 1, 2005 Titla kicked off the venture that had become her dream goal. She resigned from her position as television news reporter and started the online Native Youth Magazine.

One year later, over a cup of coffee in Tulsa, OK this summer, she told me about the difficult times she and her family have faced since starting the magazine. "If it wasn't for the free labor of my three sons and husband and our willingness to work 24/7 to move this project forward, I think we would have had second thoughts," she said.

Titla said her online magazine was developed in order to give voice to those without the resources or opportunity to have their points of views taken seriously. She said, "Native Youth Magazine showcases the talents and lifestyles of Native youth. It's a positive place for our young people to go to, but it's not just for Native youth. It's for anyone who cares about Native youth. We want the world to know our young people are alive and well and they're having healthy fun."

Titla's early goal was to build a successful website. Now she is looking to morph into a print magazine and she is entertaining a proposal for a television show. "Wow, and to think the original vision was just a website."

Explaining how the idea of a website for Native youth began, Titla said this on her personal website, "The idea of a website for Native youth began in my home. I'm a mother of three boys, Jordan 20, Micah 15, and Bear 10. They all jump on the Internet almost on a daily basis. I noticed they weren't going to websites that catered to them as Native youth and I discovered why. There just aren't many websites for them. Those that exist are niche sites for those who have special interests like writing, sports and entertainment. There's nothing wrong with that, but I wondered about all the young people like my sons who wanted a place in cyberspace that not only catered to them but also offered one stop shopping. That's when the vision began."

When Titla read the message board during the first days of Native Youth Magazine the simple message "I love NYM" from a Native teenage girl, nearly brought her to tears. It assured her that Indian teenagers did read the online magazine and they did enjoy it.

Titla and her husband John Mosely, Assinboine Sioux/Paiute, have invested most of their savings into the project. She credits her sons and a core group of Indian youth for building the website. "They gave me their input into the layout, design, colors, content and products for an online store. A handful of youth contribute articles on a regular basis," she said.

A logo and essay contest drew many hits and generated what she called "awesome entries."

As it passes the halfway point on the way to its second year Native Youth Magazine.com is now averaging about 2 million hits per month and more than 1,000 unique visits a day. Titla expounds, "Not bad for such a young website."

President John F. Kennedy once said, "The American Indian is the least understood and most misunderstood of all Americans." Titla hopes to change that perception.

Mary Kim Titla had a dream and she is just awakening from that dream and dealing with the tough realities of keeping a website business online. I strongly encourage you to join her in that dream and visit her website at Native Youth Magazine.com. You can contact Titla directly at marykim@nativeyouthmagazine.com.

(McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago's weekly column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or at najournalists@rushmore.com. Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the class of 1990 - 1991. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM (harmon@clearlightbooks.com) published his latest book, "Children Left Behind")

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