Peninsula Clarion Government and Education Reporter Ashlyn O’Hara stands in the hallways of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 19. 2024. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Peninsula Clarion Government and Education Reporter Ashlyn O’Hara stands in the hallways of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 19. 2024. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Clarion reporter working in Juneau for legislative exchange

Reporter Ashlyn O’Hara will be covering statewide issues with a local lens

Peninsula Clarion government and education reporter Ashlyn O’Hara is reporting from Juneau for the next few weeks as part of the Legislative Reporter Exchange put on by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism.

Though O’Hara will be living and working in Juneau, she said Monday that she will be covering statewide issues with a local lens.

“The focus is still on the Kenai Peninsula,” she said.

That means she’ll be focusing on the three members of the Legislature who represent the central Kenai Peninsula: Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna; Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski; and Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski.

Having covered state lawmaking before in Missouri, O’Hara says she knows it’s easy to get overwhelmed following “so many lawmakers doing so many things, all of the time.” She said the exchange program uniquely affords an opportunity for a narrower focus on local issues and actions.

As the title suggests, the exchange is meant to go two ways — as a local news reporter travels to Juneau, a journalism and public communications student from the University of Alaska Anchorage fills their spot. The news reporter gets experience covering the State Legislature, and the student gets the chance to experience covering a community in a real newsroom.

Unfortunately, a UAA student wasn’t found to work in Kenai, but O’Hara will still be keeping up her existing coverage of the local city governments while in Juneau during the exchange.

On Monday, her first day working from the State Capitol, O’Hara attended a House floor debate on an education bill and a Senate hearing on a bill that would create a buyback lottery for commercial fishing permits in the east side setnet fishery.

She said both afforded opportunities to see Kenai Peninsula voices impacting statewide conversations, like when “a ton” of local folks called in to testify about the ESSN buyback bill.

These topics, she said, are things that she would have tried to cover from Kenai. Being in the building means getting a more complete picture. When the House went into recess on Monday, a livestream feed would “just stop.” Instead, O’Hara saw people negotiating, running between offices, and receiving deliveries of notes.

The experience, she said, “gives you a better understanding of the forces at play and what’s actually going on.”

In addition to her work as a reporter, O’Hara will enjoy the sights and experiences of Juneau. She said she plans to visit Mendenhall Glacier, try tasty restaurants and spend time in cute bookstores.

For more information on the legislative reporter exchange, visit akjournalism.org.

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