Finance Committee eliminates a reporter to create editorial board

By Marlon WhiteEagle

The Finance Committee of the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature has been voting to approve the departments’ fiscal year budget proposals in preparation for the upcoming budget cycle.
The Administration Department presented its budget to the Finance Committee on April 19 for their approval.
The Hocak Worak, currently situated under the Administration Department, presented its annual budget at this meeting.
The Finance Committee consists of all legislators as members. Reps. Andrea Estebo, Larry Walker, and Shelby Visintin were excused from this meeting.
Rep. Matt Mullen started the discussion by posing the question of reducing the number of issues the Hocak Worak publishes per year as an effort to cost savings.
“Is it feasible to publish one issue per month?” Mullen asked.
Hocak Worak editor Marlon WhiteEagle was present to answer questions regarding the budget proposal.
“The newsletter is sometimes the only connection tribal members have, especially in District 5, to what’s going on back here in Wisconsin,” WhiteEagle said. “Why would you want less news going out?”
No response was given.
Rep. Mullen also asked about how the newsletter generates revenue.
“How many subscriptions does the paper have per year, and how much does it make from advertising?” Mullen asked.
“Subscriptions are few. Maybe about 20 to 30 per year. Mainly the casino marketing departments buy ads to promote casino events,” WhiteEagle said.
“If a department has an advertising line item in their budget, they pay for ads. Otherwise meeting notices and birthday announcements don’t have a fee. It’s free for tribal members.
“Revenue generated from ads and subscriptions all go back into the General Fund.”
Rep. Carly Lincoln raised a concern about advertising.
“One tribal member questioned how an auto sales ad was taken,” Lincoln said.
“The paper sells ad space to those who pay for it. The readers don’t have to buy cars because the ad was in the paper. We just share the information and make it available to tribal members,” WhiteEagle said.
“Similarly, when we get campaign ads during elections it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get votes. It’s just sharing information with tribal members.”
Rep. Lincoln also asked a question about our goals.
“One of our biggest goals is to work to create a free press law. I just did an annual review and the reporter mentioned that we need this to help him access information. Without it, he can’t perform his job as well as he’d like,” WhiteEagle said.
Rep. Kathy De Camp wanted clarification on opinion pieces.
“I don’t have a journalism degree, but I did go to college. Can you explain to me the different types of opinion pieces?” De Camp asked.
The Hocak Worak publishes letters to the editor, editorials, and opinion pieces.
Rep. Mullen asked if all letters to the editor are published.
“No. Not all letters are published. The letters are subject to editing. So if I make changes, I have to communicate with the writer to ensure they are in agreement with the changes I make. If I don’t hear back from them, especially when we are on deadline, we don’t publish the letter,” WhiteEagle said.
Rep. Forrest Whiterabbit asked if an editorial board would be helpful.
“An editorial board would be helpful,” WhiteEagle replied.
Rep. Hinu Smith brought up social media comments.
“I’ve seen some comments on Facebook. I hate to go there, but I’m going to go there. Do you get a lot of feedback, or conduct any polls?” Rep. Smith asked.
“We don’t get a lot of feedback. Occasionally, we get emails or random comments.  I’ve gotten good comments from elders and veterans on some of my editorials,” WhiteEagle said.
“We haven’t conducted any polls. We’d have to work with the Internal Review Board to conduct a poll. We could do one on social media, like on Twitter.”
She’d would be interested to see the results, Smith said.
WhiteEagle explained that the budget was a barebones budget.
“There is no glamor in this budget. There’s a human element involved here. You look at these job titles and there’s people involved. We have a senior reporter who will probably retire from this position, and a junior reporter who is just starting a family,” WhiteEagle said.
“We have a great team that’s doing great work. We are members of 2 journalism associations, NAJA and WNA, who have recognized our work.”
When it came time to move forward with the budget, Rep. Carly Lincoln made the motion to approve the budget eliminating a reporter position and adding an editorial board. The motion was seconded by Rep. Hinu Smith.
There was no indication of whether the elimination of the reporter position was to save money or otherwise.
There were four votes in favor of the motion from Reps. Carly Lincoln, Hinu Smith, Karena Thundercloud, and Kathy De Camp.
There were zero no votes, and five abstentions from Reps. Douglas Greengrass, Matt Mullen, Kristin White Eagle, Robert TwoBears, and Kathyleen Lonetree-Whiterabbit.
The Hocak Worak has had two reporter positions for the last 23 years, since 1995.
The Budget Bill could be approved by the full Legislature on May 8.