The mission? In Navajo Nation voices need to be heard. “Who else will tell those stories?”

Monday, June 19

12:30 p.m., The Navajo Times, Window Rock, Arizona

The Najavo Times Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Tom Arviso Jr. in his office June 19, 2017

The Najavo Times Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Tom Arviso Jr. radiates old-school journalist, but with a twist. As the person who oversees the day-to-day operations of The Navajo Times his paper, more than many, has to do double duty.

Not only does it have to cover the necessary societal watchdog issues, such as school boards, the environment and any number of other public institutions and issues, it also must cover tribal courts and tribal-specific issues.

Navajo Times Guiding Principles poster
Guiding principles are posted on many walls of The Navajo Times.

Guiding principles are posted on many walls of The Navajo Times. When I visit on a sweltering hot summer day, we stand in the middle of the pressroom, fans humming overhead. It is noisy and loud.

“I am so proud of these guys,” he said, beaming. “The quality of their work is better than anyone else’s around. They can kick everyone else’s butts. And they’re all Navajo.”

I admit my ignorance to him. As a white girl from Alabama with almost no ties to any tribe (I have Cherokee deep in the family somewhere), I stumble on how to approach a couple of questions. (When he uses the word “indian” I cringe because for so long, I have been taught not to use that word, yet I understand in this context how it’s OK.)

There are two stereotypes of Native Americans in popular culture: 1) Rich, casino-owning people and 2) People who struggle with poverty and (because I have Type 1 diabetes I am aware of this one) diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Because of the first stereotype, I expect the newsroom to be large and imposing. I have USA Today in my imagination. Yet when I drive up, the newspaper is in a small, unassuming building. I am right at home here. Arviso welcomes me in with open doors. He is a man filled with kindness who immediately ushers me around the newsroom, a welcome change from some media outlets who — though they talk a good transparency game — seem hell-bent on keeping people out.

I meet Arviso’s staff, including Terry Bowman who covers arts and entertainment, among other topics, for the paper. I interrupt him as he is working on a story, and put him on the spot.

As past president of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, I know Arviso has seen a lot while fighting for equality in newsrooms for people of color. I don’t beat around the bush, and ask him specific questions about diversity and what that means to him and to our countries newsrooms.

I wondered if there was anything specific to the Navajo reservation (about the size of West Virginia) guaranteed to sell more newspapers for his readership. (In my hometown it’s Alabama Football or Nick Saban.) I was surprised at his answer.

Back in the pressroom, the new press foreman Ron Livingston discussed the struggle of printing and distributing papers in the desert, which can reach temperature lows and highs that present problems. (The former press foreman just retired after decades of service, one of several long-time employees Arviso is losing this summer. We talk about the importance of institutional knowledge in newsrooms.) Pressroom know-how is also institutional knowledge that must be handed down from person to person. It’s an art that you can’t go to school to learn.

He shows me the consistency the ink should be, and notes that the temperature — and even water — have to be exact to make it work properly. There is lot of science that goes into making colors on newsprint vibrant and to match what a designer might see on a computer screen before it prints.

Ink and tools at The Navajo Times
Ink and tools at The Navajo Times

Next up in the #followmylede series, VidCon in Anaheim.

Reblogged with permission from a post of the same title published at medium.com on June 25, 2017.

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