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‘We can win again’: Navajo Times editor reflects on spirit of the people

The Navajo Nation has one of the highest rates of confirmed coronavirus cases per capita in the U.S. And the numbers continue to rise so rapidly that the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders has dispatched a team on American soil — a rare moment in its history.

Duane Beyal is editor of the Navajo Times.

We reached out to the Navajo Times, a weekly paper based on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, for a look at how their reporting is helping the community stay safe and informed during this crisis. 

“The staff is doing an excellent job of covering our leaders and getting the views of the people,” said editor Duane Beyal.

How is the Navajo Times covering the coronavirus impact within the community? Are there larger trends you are seeing from the reporting? 

Beyal: From the beginning (approximately March 5), our reporters have covered leaders in Window Rock and traveled to communities where coronavirus fears produced plans to deal with the pandemic. Our reporters, like Krista Allen, who covers the Western Agency, interviewed families and individuals afflicted with the disease. As editor, I am proud of my staff’s coverage since then.

A larger trend is that we are used to this – victims of yet another monster, although this one is a virus and not the U.S. government. The virus simply underlines the lower level our society lives in, with lack of running water and other developments that are taken for granted by most Americans.

Another trend is the re-emergence of the spirit of the people. We have seen this type of challenge before and we are still here, existing. We can win again. 

Can you share some insight as to why the Navajo Nation has been hit so hard by COVID-19? What is the role of journalism to help spotlight this crisis?

Beyal: The overall reason is lack of development, such as running water, electricity, roads, health clinics, stores, housing and jobs. The simple fact that many families live in multi-generational homes, with many people under one roof, leads to a lot of exposure.

We (Navajo Nation) plead with the feds every year to try to close these gaps. Now a worst situation has arrived.

Our journalism brings to the forefront not only our leaders but more importantly the voices of the people.

What has been your experience reporting under quarantine? 

Beyal: As an editor, I spend most of my time sitting in front of this computer. But my staff is out there. They nearly all work from home, which is working well. They all have access to the people they need to talk to and often travel to places they need to be.

The curfews do not affect us because we are considered “essential” workers as newspaper staff. 

How has your relationship with your community changed since you started covering the pandemic? Specifically, what are you/your team doing differently to reach the community and stay connected? How is the community responding to your work, and how is that different than usual, if it is?

Beyal: The staff is doing an excellent job of covering our leaders and getting the views of the people. The leaders are right on our doorstep and the people are way out there so we use social media and phones to reach some of them. And, of course, just boots on the ground to go out and find people to talk to.

Our relationship with our readers has changed a lot. They depend on us to get them the news they should know and other stories to enlighten and educate. They are buying the paper and, despite the wide coverage of social media, many don’t have access to the web and the internet. So they look to our weekly newspaper as an important source.

Our webpage is seeing an increase in visitors due to the pandemic. Half of our population lives away from the reservation and they want to know.

How are you staying safe during the pandemic?

Beyal: Just following the general guidelines from the CDC and our health officials.