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50 Years Ago: Readers see focus on tribal news as one change

Although he has been editor for less than a month, Chet MacRorie has made a number of changes to the paper noticed by readers.

The first is that, for the first time in its existence, the Times actually covers the news about what was actually going on in the tribal government with the front page and a page or two inside.

MacRorie couldn’t do this the first two times he was editor because in both instances, he had to deal with Raymond Nakai and the former chairman’s obsession that the Times was out to sabotage his administration. To prevent this, he would send his aides over periodically to explain to MacRorie that he should stick to covering community news and leave it to his office to tell the Navajo people what was going on in the government.

It was obvious that MacRorie understood what his role was because throughout Nakai’s administration, much of what was going on in the tribal government did not make it into the paper.

This could be seen by the fact that the paper gave no coverage at all to resolutions approved by the Navajo Tribal Council, the only exception being when the chairman’s office put out a press release on one issue or another.

The lack of coverage was also caused by another factor: Throughout Nakai’s administration, no money was provided for a full-time reporter so the staff consisted mainly of MacRorie and a secretary who spent most of her time typing up stories based on press releases.

MacRorie would tell me later that, before he agreed to come back as editor, he received a promise from the new chairman, Peter MacDonald, that he would have money to hire reporters and they would not be intimidated to write only positive stories.

This did not mean MacRorie had the power to write stories critical of the tribal government. This pertained only to his actions. He had no problem with stories critical of the Council. But MacRorie did manage to get a lot of stories critical of MacDonald through one means or another.

Roland Billie, who had been a correspondent for the paper for several years, was hired as assistant editor and another editor was hired to deal with press releases and other stories that came in the mail. This allowed MacRorie and Billie time to actually go out and get news.

Later, he would say the increased news helped to increase circulation from a little over 8,000 to about 9,700. The paper would see circulation go over 10,500 when the paper started covering high school sports.

Speaking of sports, the tribe’s scholarship office announced it was going to start giving recognition to the best Navajo athletes in the hopes of getting colleges and universities interested in giving them sports scholarships.

Scholarship officials said over the past decade there have been more than 30 high school athletes who would have been scouted by Southwestern universities looking for good basketball and baseball players but their achievements went unnoticed because they had no publicity.

Other high school athletes became known because local newspapers in their area covered them. Colleges and universities took notice of players who got a lot of press attention.

That didn’t happen to Navajo athletes because none of the papers covering the reservation paid any attention to rez sports.

The Navajo Times had an occasional sports story written by a correspondent but these consisted mainly of scores and did not dwell on the performance of any individual athlete. The daily papers in Farmington and Gallup did promote Navajo athletes who attended schools within their city limits.

What the scholarship office planned to do was periodically during the school year recognize a couple of high school athletes who led their teams to state championships. The student could use this when they sought an athletic scholarship.

Getting more Navajo students athletic scholarships would also give the scholarship office the opportunity to provide funding for more students. And each year would see more Navajos going to higher education while the amount available to help them financially remained relatively the same.

By the mid-70s, media coverage of reservation sports increased sharply as both the Gallup Independent and the Farmington Times made a big push to sell papers on the reservation.

That push is what brought me to this area. I was writing for a daily in Lexington, Kentucky, covering police and civil rights. I heard that Lincoln O’Brien, the publisher of the Farmington paper, was looking for someone to cover the reservation.

I got in touch with him and told him I was planning to move to the area because of encouragement from a county sheriff deputy by the name of Frank Tripplet, who was raised on the reservation. O’Brien said for me to come and see him so I quit my job and headed for Farmington.

When I got there, however, he said he had looked over his books and decided to delay hiring a reservation reporter for a few months. He suggested I go down to Gallup because the paper there was always looking for a reporter because it had a high turnover.

He was right because the publisher of the Gallup paper had fired the sports editor, so I was hired.

While writing sports, I also did a story or two on reservation happenings for a few months, The Independent decided to set up a bureau on the reservation and start covering the tribe on a daily basis.

As circulation on the reservation increased, the Independent decided two years later to hire another reporter to cover reservation sports.


About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.

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