Alaska Beacon Launches News Website
A new news outlet is on the politics and state government beat. The Alaska Beacon is a website offering content free to readers and other media, thanks to nonprofit backing.
“We’re going to publish stuff that’s relevant for existing news organizations, and we will help them do a better job of covering the state government, giving it all away for free,” says Andrew Kitchenman, editor-in-chief of the Alaska Beacon and a veteran capitol correspondent for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau.
As an affiliate of the States Newsroom network, the Alaska Beacon is funded by donations, with no need for advertising or subscribers. The States Newsroom began in 2019 as an outgrowth of a progressive policy think tank in North Carolina founded by Chris Fitzsimon, who remains the network’s director and publisher.
Upon launch May 11, the Alaska Beacon becomes the twenty-seventh outlet in the States Newsroom network.
Kitchenman has spent the last two months recruiting a core staff. His deputy editor is Lisa Phu of Wrangell, who had stepped away from journalism to produce a six-part audio memoir. Kitchenman calls Phu a “tenacious journalist” and “great storyteller” who will also produce a podcast for the Beacon. The staff also includes Yereth Rosen, a former Reuters reporter and prolific freelancer specializing in reporting on energy and the environment.
The third staff writer is James Brooks, until recently the capitol reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. Kitchenman says, “The fact that I was able to hire him, hopefully both based on my credibility, my relationship with James, the possibility to help shape and contribute to a new outlet, and also the fact that we had enough financial support… People knew we meant business.”
The scope of reporting for the staff and freelancers is state government and politics. “Really, it’s anything that relates back to policy,” Kitchenman says. “A lot of things that have a municipal policy angle or federal policy angle relate to the state, so we’re not exclusively state focused, but really primarily with a sharp focus on the state.”
This kind of reporting has dwindled as newsroom budgets tighten. “The funders basically believe that the quality of state political coverage had gone down over time as the number of journalists covering state governments had declined, and this had been bad for our country as more and more of the media that people do consume is partisan or highly ideological national media that tends to divide people,” Kitchenman says.
He explains that States Newsroom is meant to be an asset for other news outlets and their audiences.
“Traditionally, a new media outlet coming on the scene might be interpreted as a new competitor,” he says. “While we’re going to have our own website and daily email, and we’d love for people to visit our site and subscribe to our email, we really expect and hope that… subscribers to any media outlets will be able to read Alaska Beacon news stories and articles in their sites.”
Alaska Beacon content is licensed through Creative Commons, an alternative to copyright that allows anyone to reproduce works, provided the creators are given proper credit. States Newsroom can afford to give away product thanks to donors. Individuals can pledge their support via a button on the website, and Kitchenman says money is earmarked for the state where the donation came from.
The organization’s estimated $27 million in revenue at the end of 2021 also came from major donors. The largest so far, kicking in $1 million, is the Wyss Foundation, which mainly supports wildlife conservation and Democratic political causes. The States Newsroom website lists donors who’ve contributed more than $500 apiece and also says more than 25,000 donations less than $500 have come in.
A Beacon Bright
Alaska Beacon’s reporting is available every day at alaskabeacon.com and in its daily newsletter for subscribers, The Morning Light.
Kitchenman says today’s news audience, particularly the younger demographic segment, consumes content digitally rather than in print. However, because any media can publish Alaska Beacon material at no charge, he expects some stories might wind up on a printed page. In this way, the new outlet can prop up established sources.
“They’re gonna be able to benefit from all the work that we’re going to be doing without having to pay for it, so I think that is a compelling case that we are not weakening them as an institution,” Kitchenman says. “I also think they’re going to be able to hire new people.”
Although the States Newsroom is the engine that makes Alaska Beacon go, the backers gave Kitchenman some latitude when it came to picking a name. “Beacon,” of course, is a well-established name for newspapers around the country, and he feels it has special resonance for Alaska. “As a coastal state, for a long time the lighthouses were pretty central to navigation along the coast,” Kitchenman says. “And obviously there’s the journalistic implication of something that people can turn to, that they can rely on.”
Kitchenman adds that it didn’t escape his attention that the word “beacon” is in the lyrics of the state song, “Alaska’s Flag,” referring to “the Great North Star.”