Commentary: Alaska political news coverage stands to improve, thanks to new nonprofit enterprise

By Dermot Cole For The Cordova Times

Political news coverage in Alaska stands to improve with the opening of an Alaska branch of States Newsroom this month.

I say this with confidence because of the skills, integrity and experience of the four editors and reporters who will be running the independent Alaska operation—Andrew Kitchenman, Yereth Rosen, James Brooks and Lisa Phu.

All four have long track records in Alaska at various institutions. By covering thousands of stories over the years for radio, newspapers and websites, they have established themselves with Alaskans and with sources across the state. That’s how you create instant credibility for a new source of Alaska news.

Kitchenman, a former New Jersey and Pennsylvania reporter, will be based in Anchorage and serve as the Alaska editor.

Kitchenman has become a familiar voice statewide in the six years he has been covering politics and state government for KTOO and Alaska Public Media. He moved to Anchorage last week and the news operation is expected to begin in a week or so.

As Kitchenman wrote when he announced his departure from his former position, he will “work with a team of three reporters to provide the scrutiny of state government that Alaskans deserve. We plan to have a presence in both Juneau and Anchorage. It’s an incredible opportunity that I’m thrilled to pursue.”

Rosen, who came to Alaska in 1987, was for many years the Alaska reporter for Reuters, while she also worked at the Alaska Dispatch News, the Arctic Today website and other organizations. She has extensive experience covering energy, the environment and climate change.

Brooks has worked for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the Kodiak Daily Mirror, the Capital City Weekly, the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Daily News since coming to Alaska in 2006. He covers the Legislature and state government.

Phu, most recently the public information officer for local government in Juneau, worked before that for print and broadcast outlets in Alaska for eight years. She will be the deputy editor.

States Newsroom, funded by donations and grants, aims to fill some of the gaps in news coverage caused by the technological revolution that has eroded the economic foundation of traditional news outlets.

Its news reports will be available for other news organizations to use, which will mean more state coverage for Alaskans.

State government has dozens of public relations people on the payroll, far outnumbering the handful of reporters who keep watch on what’s going on. This new outlet will not change the balance of power, which remains with the state, but it is a step in the right direction.

States Newsroom is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that pledges a commitment to “supporting fact-based, non-partisan news to the public at no cost and ad-free.” Donations to States Newsroom are tax deductible.

News coverage in Alaska has been shrinking, a pattern that has been replayed across the nation, so the additional work of these reporters will be a welcome addition.

States Newsroom and its affiliates now employ more than 132 editors and reporters in 26 states. The nonprofit announced the Alaska expansion plans last last year.

“States Newsroom has established a new, philanthropic business model that focuses on state politics and policy. Our model is different: it is entirely made possible by donors of all sizes and unlike virtually every other for-profit and nonprofit media outlet, we don’t run ads of any kind or accept corporate donations or underwriting,” the nonprofit says.

Even before the Alaska operation started, it was attacked by the hyperpartisan Alaska Republican Party blog, which masquerades as a news site. The Republican blog misquoted a Nieman Journalism Lab analysis in 2020 and claimed experts had written off States Newsroom as a collection of “hyperpartisan sites . . . masquerading as local news.”

But to demonstrate that efforts like those of States Newsroom are needed to counter misinformation, I will point out that the Nieman Lab article actually reached the opposite conclusion.

The Nieman Lab, which assists with research on journalism issues and is related to the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, had first published a map that included States Newsroom as a hyperpartisan outfit, but then corrected the record.

“Its sites cannot be accurately described as ‘hyperpartisan sites . . . masquerading as local news,’ and many of its staff are longtime journalists,” the Nieman Lab wrote.

The Alaska Republican blog has yet to acknowledge or correct its false claim.

Reporting for Alaska is independent analysis and political commentary by Alaska reporter and author Dermot Cole. Cole wrote a daily column for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner for 21 years and worked for the Alaska Dispatch News from 2013-2017. Support Cole’s independent column via PayPal or send checks to Dermot Cole, Box 10673, Fairbanks, AK 99710-0673.