By: M.L. Stein
Conundrum of tribal publishing at work: It’s hard to cover government aggressively when you’re part of it
Navajo Times editor Tom Arviso Jr. and tribal leaders who control the Navajo Nation publication are locked in a dispute that seemingly has put Arviso’s job in jeopardy.
The Window Rock, Ariz.-based paper, which serves readers in western states, has been convulsed by bureaucratic conflict for several months.
For instance, Arviso recently ran stories about then-Navajo president Albert Hale’s alleged marital problems and alleged misuse of a tribal credit card. In response, the tribal press officer, Ted Rushton, issued news releases in which Hale accused Arviso of bad editorial judgment.
Arviso, a Navajo who also is the paper’s chief operating officer, said he has tried to be fair to Hale. He pointed out that the president had refused to answer reporters’ questions about the allegations.
Hale, a lawyer, resigned as president last month while facing several criminal and ethical charges, according to the Gallup (N.M.) Independent, which closely covers the Navajo Nation. He was replaced by Thomas Atcitty, a member of the New Mexico House of Representatives.
The Navajo Nation’s Ethics and Rules Committee had found that Hale had violated five sections of the Nation’s Ethics in Government laws, including “placing his economic gain before that of the general public” and “unauthorized personal use of tribal property or funds.”
Hale apologized for any wrongdoing and asked his supporters to pray for him and Atcitty. The new president said Hale’s alleged misdeeds have not “tarnished” the Navajo Nation’s reputation.
Editor’s job in jeopardy?
Meanwhile, Times editor Arviso said that Ferdinand Notah, director of the Nation’s Economic Development Committee, which supervises the 17,000-circulation weekly, would like to see him gone.
Notah made it clear that he was unhappy with Arviso’s performance but said he was not permitted to discuss the editor’s situation.
Seven editors sacked
Conflicts involving editors are nothing new at the Navajo Times. Seven editors have been sacked since 1961, when the Times began as a tribal newsletter. Six of the dismissals were directed by former tribal chairman Peter MacDonald, who in 1987 not only fired the editor but shut down the paper for four months and cut it back from a daily to a weekly.
Like the majority of Indian newspapers, the Times operates under the jurisdiction of a tribal council, an arrangement that has led many of its editors to complain of a control that, in many cases, amounts to censorship.
However, Notah and Rushton both say that tribal leaders’ primary concerns about Arviso involve business issues rather than editorial content. They pointed out, for instance, that Arviso has been too slow to “privatize” the paper.
Notah said he wants a stand-alone paper that can operate without tribal subsidies. The tribal council recently approved an $800,000 allocation to keep the Times going.
PR man suggests libel
Rushton charged that Arviso has been editor of the paper for 10 years but “has never had a business plan” and has “weak management skills.” The tribal PR man also criticized the paper for having “no writing standards” and suggested that some stories about Hale were libelous.
“The Times is not a profitable newspaper and it should be,” Rushton said. “Tribal leaders want to increase publication to twice a week and eventually go daily, which it once was, but not with subsidies.”
Arviso denied accusations by Notah and Rushton and called them “unfair and unfounded.” He said he agrees with Notah that the paper should be self-supporting and has been working toward that end for four years. He termed Rushton’s inference that the Times is losing money a “blatant lie,” asserting that “it’s doing quite well” and is $250,000 in the black.
Albert Hale, above, resigned as Navajo president amid feud over coverage in tribal paper
Tom Arviso Jr. remains editor of Navajo Times after pressure from tribal president over critical coverage
Threat of demotion
Meanwhile, Arviso has used the Times to keep readers informed about the bureaucratic strife. Last month, an article reported that Arviso had been told by Notah that he was being demoted and reassigned for his failure to run the newspaper properly. The article said Notah presented the editor with a list of 10 areas in which the Navajo National Council felt his performance was deficient.
Demotion or suspension?
But, the Times reported, while Notah was preparing a memo confirming Arviso’s demotion, “his office started getting phone calls from area reporters, apparently tipped off by the staff at the tribal newspaper.” The staff was later told the demotion had been changed to a suspenson. Since then, Arviso has remained editor in what he describes as a kind of limbo.
Notah insisted in an interview that Arviso “was never suspended or fired.”
“But we’re still waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Times managing editor Eugene Tapahe, “and it will drop.”
Arviso was quoted as saying he had “no idea what the future” holds for him but that he has done nothing to warrant threats to his job.
?(Albert Hale, above, resigned as Navajo president amid feud over coverage in tribal paper) [Photo & Caption]
?(Tom Arivso Jr., remains editor of Navajo Times after pressure from tribal president over critical coverage)[Photo & Caption]
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 21,1998) [Caption]
DATE: Sat 28-Mar-1998
PUBLICATION: Editor & Publisher
AUTHOR: Editorial Staff
LOCATION: Page 5
correction navajo times web site production error
DUE TO A production error in the Mar. 21 issue, the jump was deleted from a story about a controversy at the Navajo Times in Arizona. The full text of the story can be found on E&P’s Web site at www.mediainfo.com.
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher April 4, 1998) [Caption]