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“The Stuff that Really Counts”

Francesca Fenzi and Jenn Ruckel in KNOM's newsroom
News volunteers Francesca Fenzi and Jenn Ruckel in KNOM's newsroom, June 2015. Photo: David Dodman, KNOM.

With their terms of service nearly at an end, we’re preparing to say goodbye, this month and next, to our 2014-2015 class of KNOM volunteers. This month, we say goodbye to news volunteers Francesca Fenzi and Jenn Ruckel.

The two recently looked back on their year at our radio mission — service made possible through your generosity. We believe their insights into their 2014-2015 year speak not only to the strengths of KNOM’s volunteer program but also to the myriad ways our region, Western Alaska, is so special and so worthy of your support.

Working at KNOM as a journalist, Jenn says, the volunteer program challenges you, “makes you think hard about what journalism really is… what responsible journalism looks like.” The small size of rural Alaska’s communities, she says, makes the job both more challenging but also more meaningful: “You could work for a large media outlet (elsewhere) and report on people that you never have to see… But here, you know and meet those people, you see them in the post office… You don’t only report on the news stories; they impact you as a member of the community.”

What’s more, Jenn says, a KNOM reporter’s service takes many forms: she works on “not just the fun stuff, but the difficult and unique stuff, too.” Her stories, like Francesca’s, have delved into the Iditarod, Alaska Native culture, and regional traditions, but also our region’s painful legacies of racism, historical trauma, and suicide. “It’s not always the most glamorous,” she says, “but it’s the stuff that really counts.”

The goal of connecting to what makes Alaska so unique — and of reporting on our region honestly and authentically — has inspired Francesca, too. She says she’s been so touched by those who, throughout our region, have welcomed her into their homes, especially those in the rural villages she was fortunate enough to visit more than once, like Wales, Alaska.

Among her favorite reporting stories are the few days she spent on the Kobuk 440 trail (about which we wrote in the May 2015 issue of the Static), as well as stories on the Alaska Native subsistence culture, a perennially-important topic in our corner of the world. Looking to the strong cultural importance placed upon food gathering and hunting in rural Alaska, Francesca says, “I feel like I will never think about food in the same way. The interaction with the land is so natural and so strong. That’s part of what makes Alaska unique, and our part of Alaska in particular.”

Both Jenn and Francesca say they’ve learned more — and, in turn, have been more deeply immersed in the community — than they ever could have expected. In rural Alaska, Jenn says, “you’re a tiny part of something so much bigger, but, at the same time, you can do and contribute so much more than you think.” She elaborates: “Every day is a surprise.”

Francesca agrees: “I didn’t come up here expecting to grow as a person. I’ve learned really valuable things on so many different fronts.” Like Jenn, she admits she has grown — and our region has been the better for it — but even more so, she says, “I hope that we’ve been able to give something back.”

Thanks so much for helping our longstanding and truly life-changing volunteer program to endure. As we hope you’ll agree, our volunteers are continuing to make an enormous difference in a very special corner of the world. We hope you’ll join us, too, in wishing a fond farewell to Jenn and Francesca, who depart Nome this month. And stay tuned for more on our departing volunteer class in our August Static.

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Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that KNOM Radio Mission is located on the customary lands of Indigenous peoples. 

Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.