Sabine Poux anchors KDLL’s evening news show on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. KDLL will add a reporter to its staff through the Report for America program. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Sabine Poux anchors KDLL’s evening news show on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. KDLL will add a reporter to its staff through the Report for America program. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A new voice for the peninsula

New radio reporter to bring expanded community news coverage.

KDLL, the central Kenai Peninsula’s public radio station, will add a new reporter to its news team through the highly competitive Report For America program, the organization announced last week. The new staff member will double the radio station’s reporting workforce and will cover the Kenai Peninsula’s unincorporated communities beginning in June of 2022.

Report For America, launched in 2017 by the GroundTruth Project, has a stated mission of strengthening communities and democracy through local journalism that is “truthful, fearless, fair and smart.” Including the newsrooms announced this month, the organization will place 325 reporters in 270 newsrooms in 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2022.

KDLL is one of 70 new newsrooms added to the program in 2022 from a total applicant pool of more than 600, and joins an existing network of 200 newsrooms who renewed their participation.

KDLL General Manager Jenny Neyman said Monday that she’s excited to bring on new staff through a program committed to preserving lcoal reporting.

“I just really love the philosophy of that program,” Neyman said.

She’s no stranger to community journalism. Prior to serving as KDLL’s general manager, Neyman worked as a reporter and Morning Edition host at the station, as a reporter and editor at The Peninsula Clarion and as the publisher and editor of the Redoubt Reporter community newspaper.

KDLL’s programming, Neyman said, is guided by the station’s community advisory board. That board is made up of volunteers who meet on a quarterly basis to evaluate how programming is meeting the needs of the community. It’s a group unique to the public radio arena and is required by federal law. It was also the first group to receive a pitch on the Report For America position.

Neyman said early conversations envisioned the position being targeted on environmental issues, but they felt the category was broad and already received coverage. Then they landed on the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s unincorporated communities, which Neyman said are underrepresented in peninsula journalism.

“Pretty much nobody is offering reporting unless there’s a wildfire or there’s an oil spill … They don’t get any day-to-day, slice of life (reporting),” Neyman said.

That’s not for a lack of interest though, Neyman said, but rather logistical challenges.

Sabine Poux is KDLL’s only news reporter and also hosts the evening news program. She has to be back in KDLL’s recording studio in north Kenai every week night to host the evening show, which can be challenging if she’s trying to cover a story in Moose Pass or Hope. The hourslong commute is in addition to whatever work needs to be done when she actually gets to the location, Neyman said.

Poux said Monday that she’s excited that the station is bringing on a new reporter who can give much-needed attention to the peninsula’s rural communities, which she called “ground zero” for resource production.

“(The position will be) fulfilling a news niche that currently doesn’t really exist,” Poux said. “We do the best we can to cover these communities but we don’t have the time or energy to go out and forge relationships.”

One of the biggest community benefits, Poux said, will be in the relationships the new reporter will be able to build with the residents of those rural communities. Constantly making phone calls to places like Cooper Landing or Hope from KDLL’s central peninsula home base is not the same as being able to work on the ground with someone collecting things like ambient sound and more community voices, she said.

“That lends itself to a more compelling story,” Poux said.

Keeping the position going, Neyman said, will be the focus of KDLL’s fundraising efforts in the coming years. Report for America is a two-year program, with an optional third year, but RFA’s annual contribution to the reporter’s salary shrinks each year: from 50% the first year, to 33% the second year, to 20% the third year.

While keeping the position funded on KDLL’s end will be challenging, Neyman said, it also speaks to the quality of the Report For America. A wage that provides for quality housing and a reliable vehicle, she said, is not something to be taken for granted. The position will add just over $60,000 to KDLL’s annual budget, which Neyman said comes as the station is still reeling from a $74,000 budget cut from the state that resulted in a reduction in news staff from two to one.

As a nonprofit newsroom, Neyman said KDLL doesn’t necessarily tie programming to revenue, but she hopes that the attention paid to some of the peninsula’s rural communities will bolster interest in KDLL’s programming and broaden the scope of reporting for KDLL’s central peninsula audience.

RFA is accepting applications from reporters until Jan. 31, with early consideration given to those submitted before Dec. 31. Reporters will begin on June 1, 2022. According to RFA, more than 1,800 applications were received last year. Corps members are selected from a “highly competitive” national competition.

More information about KDLL can be found at kdll.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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