By Patty Talahongva
Tutuveni Freelance Reporter
One day, nearly ten years ago, Stewart Nicholas came back home to Hopi and landed a job at the Tutuveni. He brought with him nearly 20 years of newspaper experience having worked at the Apache Scout on the Fort Apache Reservation. He’d gone to school and earned his degree in Graphic Arts. He’d prepared himself for his career and dedicated himself to all aspects of print journalism: writing the stories, taking the photos, selling advertisements, laying out the design of the paper and even delivering the paper. It’s like that when you work at a small paper. Even emptying the trash is part of your job description. Now he’s emptying his desk.
In this age when many papers are folding due to lack of readers and hence a lack of advertising the Hopi Tutuveni is folding due to a lack of understanding the vital importance a newspaper plays in a democracy. It didn’t boil down to a cash-strapped tribe facing budget cutbacks in a desperate economy, it boiled down to a councilman saying the paper was “in-effective.” While not every councilmember was present, those who were, voted six to five to de-fund the paper. One council member abstained.
The Tutuveni is not just another department needing a budget. It is (was) an asset that could have been sold rather than just shut down. But that’s another editorial on the lack of foresight this council has shown when it comes to economic development for the Hopi people.
When Nicholas arrived at the Tutuveni he says he thought he was back in the “Dark Ages.” His previous paper had newer computers and more advanced equipment. Printing the Tutuveni involves layout of the paper and then making the 300-mile round trip drive to Gallup where the paper is printed, including this final edition. Back then it also meant waiting around in Gallup, NM for the paper to be printed and then delivering copies on the way back. Talk about “Hot off the Press!” Many times in the snowy winter months the drive was treacherous. Later when technology developed and the Tutuveni hooked up to the internet, Nicholas was able to send the paper via the internet to an FTP site (File Transfer Protocol for you curious folks). That saved a few hours but the staff still had to drive toGallupto get the paper.
He’s been the editor now for more than nine years. He’s proud of his efforts to improve the Tutuveni, including helping set up a rate sheet to standardize advertising prices. He’s increased the use of color in the paper and he took classes on web design in preparation to put the Tutuveni on-line so that every Hopi, regardless of where they live, could read about home.
He’s cultivated his team of freelance writers myself included. And he’s guarded the standards of journalistic integrity. He’s covered a variety of stories that greatly affect the Hopi senom. In his words: “Best story? There’s a lot …the ones I remember…the pumice mine when they closed it, early part of 2002. I remember that. It was great! A real fine rain came down when they had the ceremony to close it, like the kachinum were pleased. It was kind of like a celebration to the end of a long battle,” he says in his quiet manner. Nicholas is not the boisterous, gesticulating, hard-nosed editor found at many other papers. He has his own manner of sitting back and observing the news events around him and wondering, always wondering if things are right or where things went wrong and how to write about them.
As it was for all Hopi, the story about Lori Piestewa was a difficult one. It hit close to home he says and was full of emotion. And as a Hopi journalist having to cover the story and overseeing the coverage he was deeply affected. I concur, having covered the story as well.
He says he will miss both reporting the news and reading it. After all it’s fun to be at the front of an event recording it for history. And considering the tremendous responsibility of a journalist to record the history as accurately as possible it’s not a job for just anyone. Consider this: journalism is one of the few professions protected by the United States Constitution as well the Hopi Constitution. So yes, there is grave responsibility to get the job done right.
Well, Stewart no longer has that job. He still has a living to make and now it will be at thevillageofBacavi. He was hired as the Village Community Service Administrator. “I’ll be working on village projects,” he says. “I already have ideas of what I want to do.” It’s truly home for him and will cut his commute from six-miles to about 200 yards from his front door.
His hope for any future paper at Hopi is one that is independent, not under the control of the tribe in any shape or form, truly a free press for Hopi. As a former president of the Native American Journalists Association, I again concur.
He’s stopped trying to making sense of the budget the council passed for 2010. “They passed a budget that’s larger than the previous year and still cut funding for the paper,” he says with a bit of incredulity in his voice. It’s nearly six-million dollars more than the budget for 2009, despite the tough economy, and it ignores the recommendation of the Budget Oversight Team.
So it is the end. How does one go about closing down a paper? Will the archived papers, including old tribal newsletters from the 70ties be carefully safeguarded? What about the computers and software the tribe has invested in for the paper? Sure, there are probably others who may need a newer computer but who will utilize the software? And as I keep kidding him, who do I talk to, to get my subscription refunded? Really, I’m serious.
As he says, Stewart already has plans for his new job…2010 stretches out before him like a blank computer screen ready for those first few words in a story. He’s ready to write a new story for his village. One can only wonder if this tribal council will write a story worth reading but then again…where will the Hopi people read that story?