Celebrating 20 Years Of Local News: Alexandra Gutierrez
Unalaska Community Broadcasting has covered local news for the past 20 years.
To mark the newsroom's anniversary, KUCB is spending every Thursday of 2019 looking back at our former reporters and sharing some of their stories.
In April, we focused on Alexandra Gutierrez, who led the newsroom between 2010 and 2012.
KUCB’s Zoë Sobel spoke with Gutierrez about her experience moving from the East Coast to Unalaska with no expectations.
ALEXANDRA GUTIERREZ: I really tried hard not to have any preconceived notions of what I thought life in the community would be. When I started [at KUCB], “Deadliest Catch” was such a big thing, and part of me thought about binging the whole series. But then I decided that that probably wouldn’t necessarily give me a good window into what it would be like to raise a kid in the school system or be involved in city politics and the like. And if I just took this one view of the community, it might end up shaping what I thought was important there. I did end up watching “Deadliest Catch” eventually, and there are a lot of interesting things that can be gleaned there. But I think I probably would have just been a pure, pure fisheries reporter if that was how I’d seen the place.
KUCB: What were some of your favorite things to cover?
GUTIERREZ: I really loved covering the pollock industry. When I was there, it was actually a pretty rough couple of years for pollock. I found it to be a completely fascinating fishery to cover because it’s so big and so vast. It’s everything from the surimi in your California rolls to what’s in fish sticks, so there were a lot of interesting business stories. But there were also a lot of interesting science stories having to do with ocean acidification and the Steller sea lions. It felt like it was this big, complicated and massive and important thing that no one was really covering in-depth. There were a few really meaningful stories that I remember covering on the Lost Villages project -- going out with some elders to see one of these lost villages. It was a really emotional experience, and same with going up to the Pribilof [Islands] for their fur seal centennial. There are a lot of people really fighting to maintain their culture and strengthen their culture, and being allowed to be part of that was really meaningful for me.
KUCB: It’s interesting to look back and see that you were at the beginning part of the Lost Villages project because now we’re wrapping it up with a documentary and an exhibition at the Museum of the Aleutians. I was actually on the final trip back to Attu in 2017. Did you feel like there were really high stakes to document the trips for the people who couldn’t go with?
GUTIERREZ: Yeah, completely. It’s incredibly intimate in a way that I can’t adequately convey. You are being invited to witness someone's personal history and also cultural history. You’re never going to have the full context for that. I will never know what it means to go out to one of those places and understand that my great grandparents -- even my grandparents -- lived there and had a radically different life than I did. A life that can’t be had again. That’s the very nature of it being a lost village. To be given the privilege of trying to grasp that -- and help others witness it too -- was really moving.
KUCB: I know there was at least one major station milestone during your time at KUCB because you went from being the sole newsperson to actually having a newsroom. How did that happen?
GUTIERREZ: Between all of these big stories that attracted state and national interest and the incredibly important daily local reporting, there was more than enough for one person to handle, particularly if you wanted to handle it well. Recognizing that one person couldn't be at every City Council meeting, every school board meeting, every North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting, et cetera, without missing something, we realized it was a good idea to bring another person on. Also, there’s such a learning curve when someone first moves out there because it’s such a rich community and it’s got a number of complicated industries. We thought there would be value in having two people at once. The person who started earlier could show the new person the ropes and hopefully have a cycle of that occurring. But once we were able to expand the size of our newsroom, I truly felt like I earned the title of news director. Because when I started, I was the news director of myself -- of a department of one. Suddenly, I had another person I could team up with on stories. We could edit each other’s work. We could bounce ideas off each other. I feel like that also really improved the quality of the reporting that we were doing. It was a lot of fun. I really liked working with Stephanie [Joyce], and then we had Lauren Rosenthal, who came on as an intern. Man, those days of having three people were totally wild. We felt like we could report on anything. I’m glad to hear the news department has not shrunk since I started.
KUCB: When you left KUCB, you stayed in the state and continued to report. Can you tell me about where you went after you left Unalaska?
GUTIERREZ: I remember moving from Unalaska to Juneau and having people who’ve never been to Unalaska tell me, ‘Oh, what are you going to do about all the rain in Juneau? How are you going to handle it?’ And I just laughed and told them, ‘At least the rain falls vertically there.’ I was at Alaska Public Media for three years. I did a lot of investigative reporting, and I covered the state Legislature, the governor's office, and the state court system some. Basically, I was [Alaska Public Media’s] all-purpose state correspondent. I did a lot of investigative reporting and went to court over public records [that Gov. Sean Parnell] had not handed over. I found the whole process to be really invigorating, and it inspired me to apply to law school. Next year, I will be working for a firm that does a substantial amount of media litigation representing the Washington Post, HBO, and a number of other news outlets and television stations. So I’m no longer in journalism, but still fighting for journalism.
Listen to some of Alexandra Gutierrez's reporting: