Sandy Poulson sits at the hub of the Sentinel’s busy newsroom. An award-winning journalist since her collegiate years, Poulson has never sought the limelight, and her induction into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame came as something of a shock. “I just have to remind myself to smile modestly,” she says. (Daily Sitka Sentinel photo/James Poulson)

Daily Sitka Sentinel co-publisher Sandy Poulson has been inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame — only the third Sitkan to be so honored.

The official ceremony was held online on October 20.

Poulson is one of 12 distinguished women inducted into the Hall’s 2020 class.

Learn more about the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, and the other 11 women inducted this year along with Sandy Poulson, here.

Sandy Poulson and her husband, Thad Poulson, have been publishing The Daily Sitka Sentinel five days a week for just over fifty years.

They met when she was a reporter for The Oklahoma City Times, and he was an editor for The Daily Oklahoman — both papers published out of the same office.

So that Okie twang you hear in Sandy’s voice is the real thing.

“I grew up over the Southwest, and I loved moving — something like 51 times — and I really liked it,” she told her fellow inductees. “And we wound up here in Sitka fifty years ago, and don’t want to go nowhere else.”

Poulson makes it sound inevitable that she would publish one of the nation’s last independent daily newspapers in a small town in Alaska, but there were many stops along the way — and, in her words, a lot of good luck. Poulson was the middle child in a family of seven children, who earned a scholarship to the University of Tulsa by winning the school’s “Going to College Quiz.” She majored in journalism, and would serve as editor of the campus newspaper — The Collegian — her junior and senior years. Under her leadership, The Collegian was honored as “Oklahoma’s Outstanding Newspaper” by the Collegiate Press Association. 

After her marriage to Thad Poulson, the couple moved first to Salt Lake City, and then to New York City to work for the Associated Press. Eventually, they were offered positions in the AP’s fledgling bureau in Juneau, Alaska, not far from where one of Sandy’s older sisters — Dee Longenbaugh — coincidentally was living in Sitka.

The publisher of Sitka’s newspaper at the time, Lew Williams Jr., also owned the Ketchikan Daily News. In 1969 he lured the young AP reporters over from Juneau to run his Sitka paper, and eventually persuaded them to buy it.

Many people are surprised to learn that Sitka has an independent daily newspaper, and most are downright startled to discover that it is so good.

Sandy Poulson’s listing in the Hall of Fame articulates what most Sitkans have known all along:

While it is one of the smallest circulation dailies in the nation, the Sentinel maintains the very highest standards for journalism with comprehensive, even-handed, accurate coverage of local government, issues and events by two full-time reporters plus coverage by other staff. This comes from Poulson’s and Thad’s commitment to the ideal of journalism as essential to an informed public, fundamental to a functioning democracy. As a journalism professional who came of age before the Watergate scandal, Poulson’s idea of the press is not a glamorous or dramatic profession, but a vital service that depends on diligent effort.  

Lisa Busch, nominator

Poulson had five children of her own, all while working full-time at the Sentinel. The kids played in the reams of wire copy coming out of the teletype, or bounced on Sandy’s knee while she laid out pages and crafted headlines. As soon as the kids were old enough, they’d hit the streets every afternoon after school to sell newspapers.

Despite all this, Poulson says she was shocked when the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame called to tell her she had been selected to join the ranks of its honorees, who include notables such as Iditarod champ Susan Butcher, former Supreme Court Justice Dana Fabe, and Indigenous Rights Activist Katie John. “I thought they had the wrong Sandy Poulson,” she says, “but then I realized I was probably the only one!”

Poulson has never sought the limelight at the paper. Although she’s a fierce editor, she doesn’t editorialize. Her humility and decades-long dedication to a profession that is under political assault at the highest levels is remarkable — and rare. She feels very thankful and privileged to join the Hall.

“I have the good luck of having women include me in this really amazing group of women,” she said. “I just have to remind myself to smile modestly.”

Sandy Poulson is the third Sitkan to be inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, which was established in 2008. Alice Johnstone and Teri Rofkar were inducted in the class of 2018.