Story last updated at 1/23/2013 - 2:07 pm
On Monday of last week, the conference room on the second floor of the KTOO public radio building in downtown Juneau looked a bit like scene from the movie "The Social Network." The table was covered with paper bags of take-out meals and empty drink bottles, (though, instead of energy drinks they had contained liquids like cucumber soda). The available table real estate was covered with cell phones and three computers where three Alaska Public Radio Network reporters and staff sat, rather frantically, exchanging questions and compiling that evening's Alaska News Nightly broadcast. They had 17 minutes to finalize the show before broadcasting live from Juneau, a relatively new move for the crew.
Lori Townsend, the radio news show's host, read over lines from a script, and laughed with the show's producer and editor, Annie Feidt, about how bits of an Ellen DeGeneres show had been feeding into her head phones while she had been at the Capital building that day conducting interviews.
The show's home is in Anchorage, but they wanted to mix things up, and broadcast live from the state capital.
Feidt, 37 years old, was giving advice to 54-year old Townsend, who was working from a printed script, something she hasn't done for years (usually broadcast scripts for the news show are on a screen; paper is old school). Townsend accidentally slashed her pen through more verbage than intended. And laughed, mentioning how maintaining a sense of humor is part of the coping mechanisms required for her job. She would know; she's been reporting with APRN for almost a decade.
Besides that there's an enhanced hard link signal between the radio stations in Juneau and Anchorage, allowing the sound quality from the capital to be close in quality to that from Anchorage's studio, there's more to the idea behind moving the news show's broadcast location.
"We are also Alaska News Nightly, not Anchorage News Nightly," Feidt said. "So we (have) always wanted to do the show from other (locations)."
Several years ago the ANN team broadcasted from Barrow, and last week's presence in Juneau was an attempt to relaunch that effort Feidt said.
The initial idea was to broadcast live from the actual state capitol building, but with some issues, like Ellen DeGeneres, the team will try again in the spring.
"The key to make this really work is doing it live from the state capital," Rosemarie Alexander, the news director at KTOO said. "But there's too much going on this first week of the session."
"Part of the idea is to get to communities so they know us and see us when we're there," Townsend said. "This trip is pretty intense. Session is starting, but it would be great to go to some of the other member station communities and meet community members. We should be telling the stories of the people of the state, not sitting in a newsroom in Anchorage."
Townsend said that she'd like to see the ANN show broadcasting from locations farther north in the future.
"There's so much focus - nationally and internationally - on the Arctic," Townsend said.
She said that from her viewpoint, public broadcasting should be as closely connected to the public as possible. She said that public radio's image is often thought to be left-leaning, but said this is something she strives to dismantle.
"We don't have an agenda," Townsend said. "We have a mix of people that are of all different political stripes in our newsrooms across the state. Everyone works hard at keeping their political (viewpoints) outside of their news reporting. It's not up to us to tell (the public) what to think and feel. It's our job to distill down the big issues into factually accurate (information) and in a context that helps them understand."
With 15 minutes before the ANN live broadcast, (several communities, such as Fairbanks, air ANN live at 5 p.m., others, like Juneau, broadcast ANN at 6 p.m.), Feidt was collected, given that she was about to head to a studio foreign to her. Andy Kline, the program director of KXLL, (broadcasted from the same building as KTOO news), was on sight to assist with technical aspects and made suggestions like adding a line to the opening section of the script about the switch up of broadcast locations. The advice was taken.
"Where are we at?" Feidt asked Alexandra Gutierrez, the new capital correspondent, who was working on sending the story she had recorded that day to Feidt, who now had less than 15 minutes to organize things before broadcast. Feidt has been with APRN for eight years, and says she spends half her time reporting, and half her time editing and producing stories.
"Eighty-eight percent, 89...we're in the safe zone!" Gutierrez breathed a much deserved sigh of relief.
Gutierrez, 27 and a native of Texas, recently moved to Juneau from Dutch Harbor, where she spent the last two years working as a public radio reporter. Before Dutch Harbor she worked in Washington D.C., and when the position in the Aleutians opened, she wanted it.
"I had never been to Alaska before," Gutierrez said. "I applied for the job and wanted to take it sight unseen, but people in the past have freaked out, so my soon-to-be boss was like, 'You need to see this place,' and I did."
Gutierrez said she arrived for her scouting visit during the best weather she saw in her two years there.
"We went sailing and drank blueberry wine," she said.
When she returned to D.C. she gave her two week notice, packed up, and, "never got on another sail boat."
Dave Donaldson, who was, until this past fall, the capital correspondent, invited reporters from around the state last year to introduce them, over the course of a week, to life in the capital during the legislative session. Three reporters bit, including Gutierrez.
"I felt it was important to come down here, get to know my legislator's staff," Gutierrez said. "I was also really intrigued by Juneau."
"I was impressed with her work style, ethics and performance," Donaldson said.
This is good for state political news coverage since Donaldson had been anticipating his retirement, and his shoes are large. He's been covering state political news longer than any current legislator, with the exception of one, (Johnny Ellis of Anchorage), has been a representative.
"He's very smart," Alexander said.
"He's never one to toot his own horn." Gutierrez agreed.
Donaldson covered 22 legislative sessions, to be exact. Though he admitted to being "perfectly content" to back away, he also said he loved his position, and will continue to post news on a private website he's working on, as well as compose newsletters. He reported during sessions under half of the state's governors and covered political news when at least three fathers of current legislative members were themselves representatives.
"Dave is an institution," Gutierrez said. "He has so much knowledge of the people who passed through that building, how many different (versions) of various bills that have never seen the light of day. I have a lot to learn. He was here for over 20 years."
Gutierrez won Donaldson's former post.
"She's going to do a great job," Donaldson said. "It's easy for me to leave it. She really cares enough to do the job right and she's interested in it."
Townsend shared his feelings.
"She's already plugged into what's going on," she said. "She seemed to really understand how the over arching political process works. She's good at finding prospective on stories that others wouldn't think of. Which to me is both a sign of someone that's young and fresh, but also amazing in someone that's young because (that) takes a long time to culture."
On Gutierrez's first day in Juneau, fresh from a remote rural Alaska town with under 4,500 residents, she went to Fred Meyer.
"My mouth was agape," she said. "I needed to buy a mattress pad, produce, a shower curtain and other stuff for my house, and I could do this all in the same place? It was a religious experience."
With the intensity of Gutierrez's first season on the job just heating up, she seemed optimistic.
"My hope is basically that I'll learn, and hopefully fast," she said. "It's been exhausting. I knew it was going to be interesting, but nothing prepared me for how interesting it's been. I knew I was going to like this job, (but) I've enjoyed it even more than I anticipated."
Her job is year-round. When the legislature is not in session she said she's interested in following up on various bills.
"I'd like to see what the actual affect is of the legislation," she said.
Her one priority?
"Report the hell out of state government," she said.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.