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Just a ‘See ya later’: KUCB says goodbye to News Director Hope McKenney

Hope 1.jpg
Chrissy Roes
/
KUCB
McKenney's reporting spanned the red king crab closure, the Makushin Geothermal Project, and many local interviews, like Mayor Vince Tutiakoff, Sr., above.

If you live in Unalaska, you surely know Hope. How could you miss all that sheep skin and linen flowing across the tundra?

Well, here we are — nearly three years after arriving in Unalaska, News Director Hope McKenney has said goodbye. Or, as she’ll tell you, “It’s just a ‘see ya later.’”

McKenney started at KUCB in July 2019 as a reporter, and was later promoted to News Director. She has done some very difficult reporting, like her story on the sinking of the Scandies Rose, which won first place at the Alaska Press Club awards. She also ushered KUCB through the COVID-19 pandemic. But she’s reported many uplifting stories, as well, like this profile of Yup’ik ivory carver Twilly Gosuk, which also won an award from the Alaska Press Club.

KUCB’s Theo Greenly sat down with McKenney to talk about her time here on the island, and what’s next for her.

TRANSCRIPTION

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity

Theo Greenly: The one, the only, Hope McKenney! Legend.

Hope McKenney: Hello!

Greenly: So, today is…

McKenney: …my last day at KUCB.

Greenly: How are you feeling?

McKenney: Um, really sad. Yeah, I just sent out my KUCB farewell email to the Alaska Public Radio Network. But it's also a new beginning because I'm moving to Homer, and staying in the Alaska Public Media Network. But yeah, I'm really sad to leave Unalaska.

Greenly: Yeah. You moved here in…

McKenney: July of 2019. It's been almost three years here. Which is kind of the longest I've really ever stayed anywhere in my adult life. Yeah, this is…this is a special place. And I would have stayed here longer if it wasn't for this particular job in this particular place that came up.

Greenly: So when you moved here, how long did you guess you might stay?

McKenney: I aimed on two years when I accepted the position and thought that if I really hated it here, I would leave sooner. If I loved it, I would stay longer. But I aimed on, kind of, two years. I've never really been in a job for longer than that. And particularly in radio, this was my first full-time radio gig. And then, even a month ago, when I was making the decision to take this new position in Homer, I was struggling with it. I thought I'd be here for at least another year. And then start thinking about moving on.

Greenly: So what is next for you?

McKenney: I'm moving to Homer, Alaska. So that's at the very start of the Tustumena route, on the Kenai Peninsula. And we are at the end of the Tustumena route here in Unalaska. And I'll be taking the News Director position there at that public radio station. So still part of the Alaska Public Media Network. You might still hear me on the airwaves here, in Unalaska, if I have stories that I work on that are relevant to this region, as well. Particularly fisheries things, I'm thinking.

Greenly: Yeah, we talked about maybe doing some collaborating.

McKenney: I would love to collaborate, I have the best team here. And that was part of why this decision to leave Unalaska and go to Homer was so hard — because you and Maggie and Kanesia. And then the extended team of Lauren and Vic and Carlos and everyone here at KUCB. It's just incredible, the best working environment I've ever had, and some of the best friends I've ever had. And I think that that is really special what we have in this place. And at this station right now, this has been such a special work environment. But it's really not just here at KUCB. It's really this entire community. I moved here to this small place because I wanted to be part of a small community that was tight knit. And I believe that what we do here at KUCB, in serving the community, is incredibly important. And local community journalism is so important. But I didn't know if I would stay or not. And then this community just welcomed me with open arms. And I don't know that I've ever felt that before. This is really the first place in 10 years that I've felt really at home. And I've moved all over. I lived in Bolivia, Peru, Cuba, New York City, the woods for a while in Northern California, like I've been all over. And this has been the first place that I've really felt at home. And it's the first time I'm leaving a place without feeling like I really want to, or really need to leave yet. And that is hard. I'm not used to feeling that. And that makes me really sad. And I know that this is probably the right move for me, just in terms of my future plans. And moving to Homer will be the right move. But right now, while I'm in the transition, it's just really, really hard.

Greenly: Well, it's hard for us too. But not too hard for you to still walk away, huh?

McKenney: Harsh.

Greenly: Sorry, just kidding. So before moving here, you were working at KQED in San Francisco. What was the learning curve like here?

McKenney: I think the biggest learning curve for me here was just getting to know the region. It was my first time in Alaska, there are so many giant issues going on here in realms that I don't know anything about. And from fisheries, to geothermal energy, to just climate change. Even city council, there are just so many things happening here that are so unique, and so different from the place I come from. And all the places I've been since then. And that was, I mean, I'm still learning so much here.

Greenly: Also, like people all around the world, what you were focusing on kind of changed because of COVID, the pandemic. You had been here for almost a year when COVID struck.

McKenney: Yeah. And I'm fortunate that I was here before the pandemic, because I got to meet people, and especially face to face, and get to have friends here and do some reporting before the pandemic hit. And then suddenly I was writing five stories a week on COVID-related issues.

Greenly: Everybody kind of became a public health reporter.

McKenney: Yeah, and I know it's been draining for everyone. But it really is draining just reporting on COVID, constantly.

Greenly: Still, though, you did a wide variety of stories. Do you have any that stick out? Any that you really are proud of, or favorite stories or anything?

McKenney: I think my favorite stories that I've gotten to report on are climate and ocean and fisheries. I would love to just report on those things. But yeah, so I'm proud of the story I did just last fall about the red king crab closure. I think I talked to a lot of different entities and fishermen and people who would be affected by the closure, and just kind of what is happening in fisheries, and fisheries declines right now in general, and how that's going to impact people. And then, I think one of the stories that I was most excited about reporting was about the endangered right whales, which were spotted in the Bering Sea in the winter for probably the first time. And that was just getting to learn about this population of endangered whales that was spotted by fishermen in the Bering Sea. And how incredible these creatures are and how little we know about them was really exciting and kind of rejuvenated my love for reporting after two years of pandemic-related issues.

Greenly: So are you going to take the Tustumena from Homer out here to visit us, one day?

McKenney: I would like to! It's been a dream of mine to take the Tusty since I moved here, but it hasn’t worked out. Particularly with so few sailings. My hope was to actually take the ferry out this month on my way to Homer with all of my things, but it's not coming this month. So I'm hoping in the future. I'll definitely be back here. There are so many people I love in this community and it's the most beautiful place I've ever seen in my life. And this is not the end for me and Unalaska and this community. And I'm so, so grateful. I’d just like to tell people I'm so grateful for my time here, and getting to know you all, and you all talking to me, whether it was just as a friend or for stories. I'm grateful to all of you. This is a really, really special place and a really, really special time in my life.

Theo Greenly reports from the Aleutians as a Report for America corps member. He got his start in public radio at KCRW in Santa Monica, California, and has produced radio stories and podcasts for stations around the country.
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