Academic journal article The Journalism Educator

The Value of Cultural Journalism to Diversity in the Mainline Press: The Case of Alaska's Chukchi News Service

Academic journal article The Journalism Educator

The Value of Cultural Journalism to Diversity in the Mainline Press: The Case of Alaska's Chukchi News Service

Article excerpt

After tucking our infant son in bed one Sunday evening a couple winters ago, my wife and I joined millions of Americans in a weekly ritual: watching "60 Minutes." We would soon be cut off abruptly, however, as severe coastal winds battered our house in Kotzebue, an Inupiaq Eskimo community that lies 30 miles above the Arctic Circle in northwest Alaska.

Winds gusted to 60 miles per hour, wind chills plunged to 80 below zero, and snow blew horizontally across this treeless coastal settlement. Our house shook on its stilts atop the permafrost. Then, just as Mike Wallace was bearing down on society's latest villain, the electricity went out.

Power failures in Kotzebue are usually a minor, short-lived annoyance, but after two hours and still no electricity, we grew concerned. As the increasingly high winds sucked away heat from our home, the inside thermometer dropped below 50 degrees. The local radio station reported that a third of Kotzebue had lost power, and officials planned to evacuate homes even as electrical workers labored against the elements to reconnect power lines severed by the storm.

Then, just as we thought we could no longer endure sitting in a dark, cold, vibrating house, the lights flicked on and the oil burner fired back to life.

Once again, Mother Nature's arctic ferocity had humbled us. But two news junkies had missed "60 Minutes"!

In Kotzebue, I always marvel at the reliability of the numerous services hooked up to our arctic home. Not only water, sewer, telephone, and electricity, but also an amazing array of information sources are pumped daily into a place I where, if you stand on a chair, you can see "the edge of the earth."

Now juxtapose modern-day Kotzebue with life here 50 years ago--or even less--when many Eskimos of this region still lived in sod huts lighted and warmed with seal oil lamps and still traveled by dog team. In the past quarter-century or so, arctic Alaska has marked a myriad of technological changes, including a massive, around-the-clock information explosion coming from the outside world.

The information age

With my index finger at my television's remote control in Kotzebue, like so many Americans I can pick up a live report from inside Russia about the latest political upheaval. Yet, within the lifetime of today's Native elders of arctic Alaska, the peoples on both sides of the Bering Strait used to learn each others' news when it came by skin boat, not by satellite transmission 22,000 miles above the planet. Communications certainly have revolutionized life all around the globe, but the impact seems particularly pronounced here in the land of the Inupiaq Eskimos, where not long ago, news came only as quickly as a dog team could travel.

Today, regular jet service brings Alaska's largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, to Kotzebue the same morning the paper is published. Kotzebue's weekly paper, The Arctic Sounder, covers the region's news along with KOTZ-AM, a publicly funded radio station that is heard in virtually every workplace and home in the Northwest Arctic. The region's lone radio station offers local but primarily network news, and programming that includes a mixture of top-40 and country, much of it piped in from elsewhere. Even some traditional subsistence camps outside the established villages in the arctic today enjoy radio phones and satellite television powered by small electric generators.

In addition, Kotzebue residents either can pay for cable television or settle for the state-funded Rural Alaska Television Network (RATNET), a single channel that broadcasts a variety of ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS programming in most rural Alaska communities. Basic cable costs upwards of $40 a month. Some residents spend $100 or more for scores of television channels.

Most of us might assume it's good that these isolated arctic villages have joined the global village, based on the premise that more information fosters a stronger democracy. …

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