Unalaska Community Broadcasting has covered local news for the past 20 years.
To mark that anniversary, KUCB spent every Thursday of 2019 looking back at all of our reporters and sharing some of their stories.
For the series' final installment in December, we focused on Laura Kraegel, who's been with the newsroom since 2016.
She spoke with former KUCB reporter Zoë Sobel about coming to Unalaska after working at the radio station in Nome.
LAURA KRAEGEL: I wrapped up work at KNOM on a Thursday. I filed my last story on caribou hunting and these new regulations that were causing some controversy up in the Northwest Arctic. Then I got on a plane, and by Monday, I was KUCB and starting the new job, learning less about caribou and more about pollock and the types of work and reporting I was going to be doing here. So it happened pretty quick, and it was about three and a half years ago.
ZOË SOBEL: From working with you, Laura, I know you have a really big focus on local news. Over the past six months, one year, Unalaska seen a lot of really big stories — from the crash on Mount Ballyhoo to the plane crash. There's just been a lot of hard, breaking news in a very small community. How do you handle having to work on that?
KRAEGEL: Talking to people in the community, I think everybody's been feeling like it's been kind of a rough go lately. People, I think, are looking forward to the holidays a little bit and maybe having a break. Because it's been a lot of hard stories, one right after the other. Not that they're hard stories — they're hard experiences that the community is going through and that everybody's feeling on some level or another. So from the radio station's perspective and from the news perspective, it's been really busy. It's been pretty exhausting at times. But as tricky as it sometimes is to keep tackling stories that we would rather not ever have to do, it's a time when I feel really happy to have my job, in sort of a strange way. I feel really happy and really proud when KUCB can help answer questions that people have — when we can provide some of the latest information on a terrible crash or a strange court or crime situation that's important but maybe a little labyrinthine. Or, on the other hand, in the case of this plane crash, people have a lot of questions and, unfortunately, I can't answer them. But we can keep calling Ravn [Air Group]. We can keep calling Alaska Airlines. I've been communicating with their PR people quite a bit, trying to emphasize how important the situation is to the community, how many people it's affecting, and trying to get them to agree to an interview. It hasn't happened yet. But I'm glad that we're just one more entity who's trying to get [community members] the information they need as they're making decisions about their medical issues or traveling to see family or when they're going to be able to go on "X" work trip. There are times when I'm updating stories to KUCB's website, and there will be hundreds of people on it. It's kind of scary, almost, but it's also something where I'm like, "OK." It's a motivation to tackle the things that are hard because they matter. Those are situations where we're really happy to be the community radio station and to do as much as we can.
SOBEL: Outside of those stories that you really have no choice but to cover, what types of stories were your favorite?
KRAEGEL: The first things that come to mind are less individual stories, but more the beats that I get to cover: City Council, the school board, covering elections, covering what is pretty frequent turnover at the city and in community leadership roles. I definitely have standalone stories that I've really enjoyed reporting. I got to cover the 20th anniversary of Camp Qungaayux, which was so much fun — getting to do fish-cutting sounds and the significance of the seal harvest. But the big things that stick out in my head are definitely covering the semi-odyssey of what the city wants to do with the Department of Public Safety and the Fire Department — or, when we've had city managers come and go, trying to get answers as to why this person is leaving or why the exit is contentious. Covering [former city managers] Dave Martinson to Thomas E. Thomas — I really enjoy sticking with those things and just tracking them bit by bit over time. Those stories aren't necessarily ever going to be gorgeous sound pieces. But I take a lot of pride and satisfaction out of going to the City Council meetings and seeing how the council's going to vote on this issue today, how it's going to track in six months, and then, when the budget comes out, how it's going to be funded. Just following these issues through as many as a couple of years.
SOBEL: What are your hopes for the future of the station now? And beyond your time there?
KRAEGEL: The dream would be that KUCB has more reporters. With the amount of news that happens here and the amount of news that people want, I think this community could easily have enough work for a third reporter. For a fourth reporter, even. I don't know what the outlook on that is. We talk about budget constraints and we talk about limited resources, and those things are all very real. We're already dealing with them now. But there is so much more that we want to be doing all the time — stories that we're not getting to, stories that we are getting to, but that we know could have more depth to them. We want to do it. We really, really do. So my long-term hope for KUCB would definitely be to sustain the good work that I think is happening, but also to look for opportunities to improve our coverage, increase its scope, and get at things with more depth.
SOBEL: Do you have anything else to say? Or was I such a good interviewer that we covered everything?
KRAEGEL: You are a very good interviewer. But I would like to remind the listeners that they should tip us. They should send us news ideas. I was thinking about this recently because someone came up to me and was like, "Hey, I've heard about something I think is newsworthy. Why I haven't seen anything from KUCB? What's the deal?" Which is a very fair question. The answer, I think, a lot of the time, is that we don't necessarily know this newsworthy thing is happening or has happened. People have a lot of kind confidence that we're very aware of a lot of things that, oftentimes, we're not. This community — as anybody knows, if they live here for five minutes — is so busy. People are doing all sorts of things. There are a million projects, there a million organizations, and there's always a ton of things going on. We, at KUCB, will never know it all. So if you're wondering why you haven't heard something on this topic that you think matters, please don't assume it's because we don't think it's important. Please reach out and let us know about it. We've talked about all the things that we want to do to improve our coverage. But another big part is not just us getting better or us having more time or us having more people, but it's having engagement from the community to point us in the directions that we're not seeing. So, final plug: Keep in mind that KUCB is your community radio station, and the way that we'll continue to grow it and make it better is through your participation.
Contact KUCB's newsroom with story ideas and tips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 581-6700.
Listen to some of Laura Kraegel's reporting: