Former NAJA president, professor, remembers humble beginnings
It was the love of writing, and getting compensated for it, that compelled former Navajo Times reporter Jason Begay to pursue a career in journalism. The only thing holding him back was the idea of interviewing strangers.
Despite his fear, at the tender age of 18, Begay was offered an internship at the largest Native American publication, The Navajo Times.
Although Begay was nervous about the interviewing aspect of the job, due to a speech impediment, he took the opportunity and with that was laid the foundation of an outstanding career in journalism.
Today, Begay, who has a Master’s of Business Administration, is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Montana in Missoula and past president of the Native American Journalists Association.
“I love to write,” said Begay. “Journalism was not my thing growing up because I had this bad stutter and so I hated talking to people. But Tom (Arviso), publisher of the Navajo Times, hired me on a whim and I still don’t know why.”
During the Sept. 18-20 Native American Journalists Association Excellence in Journalism conference held in New Orleans, Begay spent his last few days in his president’s post discussing the coverage he and three of his students, one Native and two Caucasian, did in Cannon Ball, North Dakota on the Standing Rock Sioux protesting the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
As a learning experience for his students, as well as an example for the conference participants, Begay discussed how the event quickly became a conflict of interest when his lone Native student felt drawn to the cause and wanted to participate in the events, when ethically, she should have been reporting from a fair and objective standpoint.
“In topics like this a lot of us might feel strongly about it,” said Begay. “The one Native student, said she felt drawn, and she wanted to participate in the prayer ceremonies … She felt conflicted. So we had to have a talk and revisit our purpose and roles for our being there.”