Friday, April 19, 2024

Alaska Press Club Friday - Judy Woodruff, Climate, Saving Local News

The Alaska Press Club annual conference gives this lone blogger an opportunity to connect with other journalists and learn something.  This really should be several posts, but I'm going to cover today pretty fast, just to give you a sense of things, but not too much detail.  

First session I went to was  Covering Climate Change in Rural Alaska.  

The room was pretty full for this panel of journalists who have worked in rural Alaska.  Issues covered how to get stories, particularly as outsiders;  how to write them so the local folks feel they've been fairly represented.  

Jackie Qataliña Schaeffer

The panelist I got the most from wasn't a journalist  (well that's not completely clear, she may have once been) who is now the Director, Climate Initiatives, at the Alaska Native Tribal Consortium, Jackie Qataliña Schaeffer.  

I've spent a lot of time learning about cross-cultural translation by spending a year or more in several cultures outside of my own.  I've paid close attention to Alaska Native issues and people in the years I've lived in Alaska.  But Jackie said things that captured wisdoms I'd never heard articulated like that before.  (Yes, I know I owe you a couple of examples, but my notes aren't good enough to write them here in a way that would due justice to she said. But trust me, she's comfortable and culturally fluent in the world of Alaska Native cultures and the more recently arrived Euro-American culture.  

                          Two of the other panelists who had a lot to contribute:  Rachel Waldholz and Tom Kizzia.

Keynote:  Judy Woodruff, PBS Newshour

The room was packed when I got there and I ended up in a seat right in front of the podium and it was clear I was barely going to see more than the speaker's forehead, so I took this shot while she was being introduced.  

Her theme was the two or three year tour of the US she's making trying to learn more about the extreme political divide that now exists in the US.  She started with Pugh Research (where she visited) polling data that shows the divide far greater than ever in any of their polls over the years.  She talked about Republicans who thought Democrats were immoral and Democrats who thought the same of Republicans.  About families that don't celebrate Thanksgiving together any more.  There used to be married couples who managed to stay together even though they were of different political parties.  Today, she said, that was down to 2-3% of married couples.  
She talked about the causes of the divide and they were all the usual suspects.  When she got to the media she emphasized the importance of local news and how the loss of some 2500 local newspapers was a blow to democracy.  That those local papers were raw glue that kept communities together, where people saw themselves and their neighbors mentioned in print whether it was local sports pages or stories about community arts, non-profits, local businesses.  And that local reporters were crucial to informing local communities about the local officials and keeping them accountable.  

John Palfrey,MacArthur Foundation

This all led into the next sessions (not accidentally) which dealt with an initiative Press Forward co-founded by the MacArthur Foundation (which supports the PBS Newshour) and the Knight Foundation.  When I looked at their website just now, there are lots of other foundations listed, but from the discussion it seems the two speakers in the next sessions - John Palfrey, CEO of the MacArthur Foundation and Jim Brady, Vice President for Journalism at the Knight Foundation - went out and encouraged the others to join this initiative.  

John and then Jim talked about Press Forward as one effort to save democracy by helping make local journalism sustainable as technology and online media are eroding traditional revenue sources for local newspapers.

They've raised half a billion dollars (!) so far and now are working on the other half.  

Jim Brady and Lori Townsend

Above is Jim Brady of the Knight Foundation being interviewed by Alaska Public Media News Director Lori Townsend.  While Palfrey talked more about the creation and vision of Press Forward and raising money, Brady spoke more to the kinds of things they are funding.  Sustainability was a word that was used often.  

Press Forward Alaska came to be with the help of the Rasmuson and Atwood Foundations and the strong public broadcasting network here which has already been working on the kinds of alliances among different media outlets Press Forward is encouraging.  There were other local Press Forward projects, but Alaska is the first State Project.  

The last part of this Press Forward Initiative presentation was a panel of Alaskan journalists involved in cooperative projects.  And as I write this, I'm guessing that somehow they have been touched by Press Forward assistance, though I didn't catch that link at the time. 

Here are David Hulen (with the mic), editor of the Anchorage Daily News, Amy Bushatz, Mat-Su Sentinel, Joaqlin Estus, Indian Country Today, and moderator Wesley Early, Anchorage reporter at Alaska Public Media.

Finally, I wrapped the day up talking in the lobby with Ed Ulman, CEO of Alaska Public Media and John McKay, an Anchorage First Amendment attorney who represents most local media.  (I realize the sentence says 'an', but John probably is 'the' key attorney in this field.)

I'd never met Ed (center) before and as a blogger, I often find myself having to convince people I'm not a flake.  John showed up at the right time.  John was an early supporter of my blogging work and when he worked out a deal for media covering the political corruption trials back in 2007 and 2008, to share the audio/vidoe evidence in the trials and to take cell phones and computers past the court security, he (unbeknownst to me) included my name on the list of journalists getting these privileges.  He later helped me out when I was threatened with a law suit for questioning the legitimacy of the Alaska International Film Festival whose only presence in Alaska was a post office box and which had no actual festival.  While we were talking Lori Townsend joined us briefly as she was leaving because she had a program to host at 5pm.  

That's it.  An incomplete view of the Alaska Press Club conference today.  But despite the fact that the conference is made up of journalists, not many of us actually cover what happens.  

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