Before being a colleague and, fortunately, a friend of Tim Giago, I was an admirer.
I had read his columns for years before meeting him in Rapid City about 15 years ago. I was the editor of The Rapid City Weekly News, an alternative weekly specializing in feature films, investigative reporting, arts coverage, and a lively opinion section.
Tim, who was well established as a journalist, editor, publisher and columnist, allowed us to publish his column for free. He stopped by the office from time to time and we got to know each other.
In person, Tim (seen above in a photo of his Facebook page) had a quick smile and a friendly demeanor. He was polite, funny and very endearing. He often wore a cowboy hat, which suited him well.
Tim was a Navy veteran and he was proud of his service. He was also deeply interested in politics and readily provided insightful and incisive commentary on issues and the men and women who were meant to lead our state and our nation.
In early 2007, Tim wrote a column for The Weekly News, dubbing us “The new kid in town, and give us some national visibility. At its peak, Tim’s column appeared in over 300 newspapers.
“Although I am a local, Native American born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, my weekly columns are banned from the Quick Town Diary because I was one of his most vocal critics. I must add here that the new Rapid City Weekly Weekly News carries my nationally syndicated column,” he wrote.
“Tom Lawrence, a native of Brookings, SD, spent most of his journalism years working for Montana newspapers. He was offered the job of editor of the new weekly and since he really missed living in South Dakota, he jumped at the chance.
“The company had been considering Rapid City for years. He owned the Black Hills Pioneer and other publications in the area since 1947 and wanted to grow and serve the Rapid City community,” Lawrence said.
“We cover Rapid City and the people and events that make this community exist. We love profiles, feature films, cop briefs; community memoirs, art news and we offer chronicles and local editions. We try to offer a comprehensive look at our community and we encourage their contribution,” he concluded.
“Lawrence agrees the newspaper needs to do more to cover the very large Indian community,” Tim wrote.
“‘We need to do more and cover the Native American community is part of it,'” he said. Of course the Quick Town Diary must do more for the Native American community and over the years it has lost most of its Indian readership to the newspaper I owned and founded, Indian Country Today. When my newspaper reached a weekly circulation of 24,000 copies, it was just over half the size of the Quick Town Diary. In fact, the weekly ICT’s circulation was still growing when I sold it in 1998 and it had become a fierce competitor to the local daily for advertising revenue.
Tim wrote that he started a newspaper because the local media did not cover issues important to Indian people.
“I proved that a weekly could not only survive, but also thrive in an atmosphere where local coverage of Indian issues was mediocre at best and unreliable at most,” he said.
“Indian Country Today moved to New York State after selling it and that left the door wide open for other weeklies to replace it. I hope Tom Lawrence and his weekly can fill that gap, because a little honest competition usually helps improve the quality of the mainstream paper,” Tim wrote. “Understanding that Indians number over 13,000 in this community of 60,000 raises the bar in the selection of stories for any media outlet hoping to succeed in this community. Just as a newspaper in a city with a large black or Hispanic population understands that it must meet the needs of its large minority, not just as readers, but as consumers, any newspaper in Rapid City must understand that its most large minority population is Indian and behave accordingly. .”
These words were true then and now.
The Weekly News closed its doors in the spring of 2009, a victim of the Great Recession. I then edited newspapers in Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Iowa before landing in Sioux Falls to work as a freelance writer. Tim remained in Rapid City, where he and Jackie published Native Sun News.
Tim and I stayed in touch. I wrote a few articles for Native Sun News, the third newspaper he founded and edited, and he provided a column for The South Dakota Standard, the blog I co-publish with my friend John Tsitrian from Rapid City. .
It was like the good old days. Tim and I talked from time to time and he always referred to me as an “old friend” which was a lovely term and one that I easily accepted. We shared stories of running weeklies, battling politicians and meeting deadlines, even as we got older and the weeks seemed to get shorter.
I admired him very much and was happy to maintain such a strong bond. The news of his death on Sunday hit me like lightning, and I spent much of the next two days researching and writing about him.
What I learned was that Tim was more accomplished, braver and more influential than I had imagined. He was a true South Dakota icon, a champion of newspapers and journalistic integrity, and a determined advocate for Native Americans. I deeply respected all those things about him.
He was also my friend, and that’s why I will miss him.
Tom Lawrence has written for several Southern newspapers and websites
Dakota and other states and has contributed to The New York Times, NPR, The London Telegraph, The Daily Beast and other outlets.