March 2, 2021

Alaina Beautiful Bald Eagle is the former managing editor of the West River Eagle on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. She was the primary news provider for a circulation of 1,700 and a coverage area the size of Connecticut.

Still unknown if she had COVID-19 in March and April, she pushed through to keep publishing news in the early days of the pandemic. In June, Beautiful Bald Eagle said it was common to only get four to six hours of sleep a night. She was constantly prepared to work at a moment’s notice as website traffic climbed from 5,000 visitors a month to 250,000.

Her coverage area made international news when public health checkpoints were set up on the reservation, but she is the sole source of local news.

“The decisions that (tribal officials) were making that were having real-time impacts on the lives of our people here — getting that out was so important to me and, quite frankly, there’s nobody else to do it,” she said.

Listen to the oral history interview:

Read the transcript.

See a story from the West River Eagle from May 11, 2020.

See a story from the West River Eagle from May 13, 2020.

See a story from the West River Eagle from May 27, 2020.

See more from The Essential Workers, an oral history project tracking the experiences of locally owned newspapers in Mid-America during the pandemic.

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Teri Finneman is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas. She previously worked as a print journalist and multimedia correspondent covering state…
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