Covering Coronavirus: Tips, best practices and programs

How Indian Country Today is serving Native communities with COVID-19 news

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today

As the largest news site covering tribes and Native people throughout the Americas, Indian Country Today is uniquely positioned to report on COVID-19’s impact in ways that mainstream media outlets are not. 

Editor Mark Trahant offered insights in an email Q&A about the organization’s work, how it is reaching community members in quarantine, and a “sense that Indian Country has been through this before.”

How is Indian Country Today covering the coronavirus impact on indigenous communities?

Trahant: Pretty much all hands on deck. We started early with February stories about tribal epidemiology efforts and the impact of the 1918 flu on Indian Country. We publish an extensive syllabus that’s updated twice a day that includes tracking numbers.

We also launched a new daily television show. After two weeks it’s now been picked up by several PBS affiliated networks.

What are some of the stories you are publishing that are not covered by mainstream media? Who else is doing it right?

Trahant: I have not had a lot of time to reach mainstream media. Some of the national stories, one in the NYT last week, have been quite good. Others fall into traps, such as getting overly romantic. 

We built our own tracking devices. The Indian Health Service only reports numbers reported to it or from its own facilities. We wanted better representation so have created a more comprehensive model. 

NAJA has advocated for more Native American representation in the media and highlighted the lack of diversity in newsrooms across the country. Can you talk about the importance of representation, especially in times like now?

Trahant: I have never worked in a newsroom where readers thank us so often for our work and they recognize how unique we are. The end of this interview is a great example. (Last two minutes.) 

We also write more about the innovation areas plus features about people who would never get covered.

Can you elaborate on the Indian Country pandemic recovery plan and the role of journalism to help spotlight the crisis?

Trahant: There is a sense that Indian Country has been through this before. We launched our new TV show to reach people stuck at home. We are working with others on long range stories, including rebuilding the economy. 

The Navajo Nation has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. What are some of the challenges in covering that story and how can journalism help?

Trahant: Navajo Nation is important. It should be reflected in national stories along the lines with other states and territories. It’s in the top ten for testing — and in the middle for infections. The death rate is high across Indian Country partly because of chronic diseases. But Navajo’s story is also a reflection of its numbers. It should get the most cases because of its size. Some of the smaller tribal nations, San Felipe Pueblo, for example, have a higher infection rate and death rate than communities much much larger.

How are you staying safe during the pandemic?

Trahant: We are working from home. We check in often. We try to recreate some of the business culture, ie, coffee hours on zoom (without a work agenda). We have a contest for employees today to guess the date and hour when our Phoenix headquarters reaches 100 degrees.