Reporter’s Notebook | Filling shoes (as I trip over my own two feet)
In the coming months, the Navajo Times will continue to transition.
Into what––I’m not exactly sure.
It sounds so fashionable, a feng shui that is all positive. Perhaps to the wishful thinker or a young mind, it could be. But to the salty people, it is anything but that.
Gone are the days when I was a young sprat with something to prove. Gone are the days I lived in my car as I drove across the country with just my FM2. Gone are the days when developing 10 or more rolls of C-41 film in complete darkness, with only music to keep company – gone they are.
My sense of naiveness is also gone – when I saw the world with fresh eyes and a photographer’s perspective. What isn’t gone is the training of being a journalist.
“Just think of me as a fly on the wall. Pretend I am not here,” I would tell people who asked me what they could do to help me better photograph them.
What is fresh in my memory is meeting the legendary Paul Natonabah, Mr. Navajo Times. I had no idea the Navajo people’s newspaper existed before Paul. As a boy, I remember him standing there, the only Navajo in a sea of Bilagáana photographers (I cannot remember what was going on). I thought that was the coolest thing ever.
After being on the road capturing images for other publications, I began considering coming home. I did some research and learned the Navajo people had their own paper, and I learned that Paul was the photographer for the Navajo Times.
I got my portfolio ready, which was not much (primarily images of sunsets, trees, landscapes, lightning, and stars). I found the office, walked up to the front desk, and asked for the photographer. After a few moments, Paul walks up to me and asks how he can help me. I introduced myself and told him I am a photographer and had a portfolio I would like to show him.
So, in a nutshell, that is how I got my start here at the Diné people’s paper. Fast-forward to 2022. I have been writing for six years. My naiveness isn’t so sharp anymore, but my experience in photography is very well-aged. Paul is now retired, as well as most former staffers he worked with. Film no longer dominates since digital photography has made capturing images much quicker (and less fun too). Print journalism has been on a downtrend as well for a while. I am now also one of the editors, assistant editor, to be exact.
I’ve been in this position now for three months. It feels natural, but I think it’s because of Paul’s tutelage. He kept things simple, from editing photos to writing captions and taking photos. I take that approach now as I attempt to help steer the Navajo people’s ship into new waters and territories. While it’s exhilarating, it’s intimidating at the same time.
Why? Well, I really don’t want to let Paul down. You see, he and the awesome and talented group of Navajo journalists before me, Krista Allen and Quentin Jodie, took the helm, and they took the newspaper to new heights. How can one top go from being a tribally-owned newspaper to a for-profit newspaper? And how can one top transition from being only a black-and-white newspaper to being a color newspaper?
These days, social media reigns supreme. The days of the for-profit business model seem to have reached its limitations for print journalism.
I think to myself often: What challenges did Paul face at the height of his career? Perhaps, there are one or two things – the 1989 riots and tribal government control. I can’t imagine Joe Shirley Jr’s or Ben Shelly’s people constantly looking over my shoulders to tell me which images or stories to use or omit.
Kudos to Paul for tolerating such nonsense!
Well, here I am; 2023 is a few days away, and I have huge shoes to fill. Once I decided to help steer our beautiful, history-packed newspaper, I thought of Paul, Mr. Navajo Times, and what he’d think of me in this position. While it seems some of my former colleagues expect me, Krista, and Quentin to fail, my only worry is ensuring they aren’t correct!
If they are, my hat goes off to them. I would thank them. Then I would welcome them to come and help keep our Diné paper moving in a positive direction – at a lesser pay they might be getting now and working more hours, with no possibility of using their accumulated vacation hours.
To shi Dine’é: thank you from the bottom of my heart. It has been a pleasure serving you, and it will continue to be my pleasure to serve you. And to the up-and-coming journalist, the photographer, if you want to bring your portfolio by, don’t hesitate. We will gladly look at it.