KUCB's partnership with ProPublica began Sept. 1. The investigative journalism nonprofit selected KUCB's former reporter, Zoë Sobel, to join its Local Reporting Network, along with five other public radio station reporters across the country.
"We were hoping to get reporter Zoë Sobel back in Unalaska following her time in Asia with the Luce Scholars Program," said KUCB General Manager Lauren Adams. "And then Zoë took it upon herself to put in this application to ProPublica. So she wrote the grant and she worked closely with me to get it turned in. I was very excited when we became finalists, and was surprised and delighted because it's a really prestigious program to be a part of."
The program will cover Sobel's salary and benefits for the year, according to Adams. She said it's exciting because there will be another reporter in the building. But, she said, it won't look like other times when the station had multiple reporters in the news department.
Rather than producing daily coverage, Sobel will be working on a long-term investigative project with editorial support from ProPublica, based out of New York City, and CoastAlaska, out of Juneau, that will result in around 15-20 stories over the course of the year-long partnership.
"The goal here is to get high caliber investigative reporting in our community for one year," Adams said. "It's going to add more editorial capacity in our organization and bring back another reporter who already knows the community to pick up some stories about Unalaska and our region."
Adams said the partnership will help elevate the quality of the KUCB newsroom, and teach the organization's reporters more investigative reporting techniques.
"We don't do much with investigative reporting," she said. "Mostly what we're doing is quick turnaround stories on the things that Unalaskans need to know right now, on the breaking news. And for Unalaska, there's a huge amount of breaking news. We have a huge backlog of stories all the time that people want to hear. And so we very rarely have time to take a step back and look at a single issue and investigate and do deep dives into that topic."
According to Adams, the ProPublica partnership offers an opportunity for everyone involved to gain some unique experience.
"With ProPublica, we are taking one person and putting that person on a different beat and giving Zoë Sobel, in this case, a chance to really focus and learn. And I think she's going to really grow a lot as a reporter. And I think all of us, as a station, will learn a lot this year," she said.
The ProPublica Local Reporting Network was introduced in 2018 to help create vital investigative journalism in communities where these stories would otherwise not be done. Since inception, the program has worked with more than 40 newsrooms.