Local headlines

Local news and local newspapers matter, especially when it comes to keeping Alaskans informed on what's happening in their communities and state. 

“Alaska Camera is closing!”

My sister Julie and I were perusing “a month of Sundays,” the four Fairbanks Daily-Miner Sunday editions that we found waiting in our post office box. After a pleasant few weeks of staying near home waiting for the ice to break up we’d finally boated across the lake to the airstrip to pick up a stack of mail, magazines and our beloved newspapers.

Even though we listen to news on broadcast radio — usually the Anchorage Public Radio station because it has the best reception — without internet access, we count on the News-Miner to fill in gaps of local and state news that the Big City to the South tends to overlook. Had we not read the account in the newspaper, we wouldn’t have learned of the demise of our go-to store for advice, camera equipment, photo ink and paper, and Christmas card printing.

For some reason the Anchorage public radio station, while covering COVID-19 in painful detail, omits the critical information of how many Alaskans have tested positive in the last day or what the total number of infected is. I found it, right there in the newspaper, along with information on local hospitals being in trouble because of deferred elective care, not to mention when the next full moon is and what happened 75 years ago (the end of World War II !).

I also hadn’t heard that the Bureau of Land Management was holding hearings despite the pandemic, albeit via the internet, on important topics such as oil development. That effectively eliminates our involvement since we don’t have ready access to the internet, whether for interactive meetings, telemedicine or getting news. (Not that we would actually make a 300-mile round trip to testify, anyway.)

We have a long history with the News-Miner. They first bought a story from me so long ago I don’t even remember the date, other than it was nearly 40 years ago. Since Julie and I write for the paper every other week (more or less), they have been kind enough to mail us a complimentary weekly Sunday paper, which I enjoy reading so much I’d subscribe to the daily if our post master could fit seven papers and a week’s worth of mail in our P.O. box.

I don’t really think of myself as a journalist and don’t often write about nonBush-related themes, but I did in fact take enough journalism classes at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to qualify for a minor in the subject and hone both my writing and photography skills at the able hands of Dean Gotterer and Jimmy Bedford. Consequently, matters of the press remain of importance to me.

I feel fortunate to get my news from trained journalists writing for the News-Miner, for Time magazine, and on NPR and Alaska Public Radio. I know these stories, while occasionally slanted one way or another, have been vetted. (“Always get two sources,” we were taught, and while my stories are generally sourced from myself alone, it’s nice to realize those practicing “real” journalism have been similarly instructed.)

Not so the internet. I am convinced that one major reason America and even Alaska has become increasingly divided with such inflexible opinions is because instead of balancing the NPR with the News-Miner, people tend to consume only stories that back up their beliefs, reinforcing those beliefs until any other conclusion or idea is dismissed, often with derision. I might be opposed to the Pebble Mine, but I want to read the writing (however outrageous in my view) of those who favor it.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner publishes opinions from all sides, both in letters to the editor and in opinion pieces, and it is these local ideas I most value in the paper. Even if I don’t read every story, each headline is right there letting me know other ways of looking at something.

Of course I also feel a bond with writers I have never met except for sharing the pages of the paper with them. Being a home-grown naturalist in addition to having a degree in biology I enjoy Ned Rozell’s science articles and Mark Ross’s sketches from Creamer’s Field. As a gardener I value local stories by Heidi Rader and other writers on growing better and more variable produce. (The gooseberries I invested in last year are blooming!)

We kept up with Linden Staciokas both for her knowledgeable gardening advice and mishaps, as well as her heartfelt and very personal health experiences. Without the obituaries, we wouldn’t have learned of the passing of so many old-timers including Agnes Moore, whom we befriended as a kindred spirit when she overlapped with our parents at the Pioneer’s Home.

In 1986 before hazarding the overland trip home with our new horse Lilja, I rode her from our parents’ house near the Steese Highway along the ridgeline to Red Fox Drive to have dinner with Mary Beth Smetzer, our Sundays editor at the time. Having lost contact, we recently read in the paper that she had moved stateside.

None of this is available to us by any other means. On the rare occasions that I get online at our local library, I wouldn’t think to Google science articles or Ray Bonnell, and would never look up the comics that I enjoy in the paper.

I realize that some people believe the newspaper has passed its time. They wonder, why pay for something available for free online? But good journalism costs money, and if everyone gets it for free, it will devolve into uninformed tweets and opinions instead of news. Unless you have a paper in hand, you’re not likely to see the wide scope or the quirky details that make life more rewarding — only the narrow picture expressed by the one article you bothered to click on.

Without good journalism, we wouldn’t know what those who represent us in government are doing for us (or for themselves or those who donate the most to their campaigns). We wouldn’t find out about what’s going on with Denali’s wolves, or oil exploration, or the fisheries industry. (I am still waiting for a monthly blurb on fur prices).

Without the support of the wider community from Tok to Nome, Cantwell to Utquiagvik, money for these wide-ranging endeavors goes away. We lose not just a valuable source of vetted information, but a part of the community web that ties us all together. (And no, I am not writing this to keep a paycheck, which is actually a pretty paltry sum.)

Some may think a weeks-old newspaper in the Bush only has value as fire-starter. Of course that’s how our papers end up but only after being read with applicable amounts of righteous indignation, appreciation, amazement and laughter.

What good does it do to “fight to the death” for freedom of the press if the newspaper has preceded you to the grave?

Trappers and lifelong Bush residents Miki and Julie Collins live in Lake Minchumina.