A sense of urgency in COVID-19 coverage ... and we need your help

Indian Country Today's empty newsroom at the Walter Cronkite School for Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. (Indian Country Today photo)

Mark Trahant

A letter from the editor

There is a sense of urgency in our newsroom right now. Newsroom. That’s really not the right word, though.

I am on the couch. Other folks at Indian Country Today are in their home offices. Or even on the floor (I heard it’s comfortable) doing what they did at “work.” Making phone calls, checking facts and finding out the latest news.

Fact is basically we only have one story and one audience. The story of course is COVID-19 and how that is impacting Indian Country. Our readership is Indian Country, including those that live or care about what happens to our many communities across the country.

(And in the middle of all this we changed urls -- our home on the internet -- to indiancountrytoday.com) Please check that often.

I have a lot to report … but first I want to start by asking for your help.

We think it’s essential that we inform Indian Country about what’s happening as fast as possible. We have been doing that by our reporters looking across the country every day reading news releases from tribes or stories from other media. We have added that information into a spreadsheet, checked for accuracy, and then reported it as a daily tracker. (We added World Health Organization and CDC numbers for perspective.)

We think it’s time to do more. This gets into the weeds a bit, but the Indian Health Service only has direct access to the information from its clinics. Some tribes do report to IHS with their numbers, but it’s not comprehensive. We want the big picture.

So we need to hear from tribes that run their own clinics, as well as urban Indian organizations, and nonprofits.


Indian Country Today's COVID-19 Syllabus

The data picture

We also hope to hear from family members.

There are two important pieces to this data picture. First, the path of this disease itself. And, second, sadly, we want to record every death and tell that family’s story. A generation from now we don’t want people from Indian Country to be forgotten, or worse, be another asterisk because we are considered too hard to count. These are labeled: Portraits from the Pandemic.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has taken the lead on organizing this data. (Talk about life being odd: She was on her way studying public health and interned for the CDC when she “accidentally” took a journalism class.) She has created a Google form (we will keep this in our Syllabus so it’s easy to find) that captures the information we hope to communicate. (Or email her directly.)

The first obituary is being posted now. It’s the story of Gloria Jane Merculief, Deg Hit’an Athabaskan, “A beautiful soul, accepting, peaceful, calm.”

A few other notes about what we’re doing.

Please continue to send news releases and op eds.

Every day we are packaging our stories into a single stop, syllabus. So even if you miss a daily story, there is a place to search for the breadth of our reporting.

Next week we are launching a daily video newscast, a one-half hour news program that will include the latest numbers as well as real-time interviews with tribal leaders, public health professionals, and scientists.

Thank you for reading (and supporting our work). Our sense of mission has never been greater and the commitment from my colleagues has been remarkable. All are because they want to serve Indian Country. We are telling these stories for our families.

Mark Trahant, editor, Indian Country Today