For a moment in May, listeners may have caught a different voice reading Sitka’s news over the airwaves. KSTK reporter June Leffler traveled to Sitka from Wrangell last month, and spent a week shadowing the KCAW news department. The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University awarded Leffler a grant to learn how to run a small newsroom.
KCAW’s Katherine Rose had a few questions for the fellow reporter:
KCAW: Tell me a little more about yourself. Where did you grow up, go to school, etc.? Did you ever see yourself working as a reporter in rural Alaska?
I’m from Louisville, KY. I got my master’s in journalism from Northwestern University near Chicago. I took radio courses and radio internships. I’ve always had an interest in that medium. But I never expected to come to Alaska until it actually happened. My step-dad was watching a lot of Alaska reality TV, and that was all I needed to start looking for jobs in Alaska.
KCAW: When did you decide to pursue a career in journalism?
I’ve been making zines since I was 14. Zines are punk, do-it-yourself publications. I wrote about my 8th grade class when I first started making these. I never stopped making zines, and joined my high school and college papers along the way. Eventually I decided to be an adult, go back to school and start a career.
KCAW: Our newsrooms often cover similar stories in our respective communities. How would you compare Sitka and Wrangell? What sets Wrangell apart?
Wrangell is a much smaller community. There’s less money to go around at the public and private level. That’s one reason why the SEARHC take over in Wrangell and Sitka are so different. Our one hospital wasn’t going to make it much longer, structurally or financially. So that transition was a saving-grace in most people’s eyes. It’s interesting that in Sitka there is some push back, and some folks do want to maintained independent healthcare.
KCAW: What’s the most interesting story you’ve worked on in the last year? What makes that piece memorable or significant to you?
I just wrapped up a piece on the end of Wrangell’s King Salmon Derby. I don’t see a lot of worth in covering large topics, such as fishing, if we’re not adding any personal stories to them. So this piece gave me a way to relate how low salmon runs are impacting people. In that story, I have a character that can’t enjoy his summer because state restrictions got rid of this free for all competition.
KCAW: What did you enjoy most about your time in Sitka?
Can I say Rob Woolsey? I’m a fan, I’ve been one for a while. Rob’s a funny, light-hearted guy. He took me around town and introduced me to his lovely girlfriend. And I’ll keep some of the things he said in my back pocket. I can see now how the stress of reporting hasn’t scared him away from the profession. I’m going to channel my inner Rob. Pay no attention to the haters and just enjoy living in Alaska a little bit more.