As a fan of NCPR journalist Emily Russell, I wanted to learn how she’s able to accomplish so much with her radio news reports. Although usually under 4 minutes, her stories effectively bring attention to people and issues in a creative and entertaining manner. Whether it’s about race or gender issues, abortion, or the issues facing the Adirondack Park, Emily’s stories are always slightly different than mainstream media.
A native of Glens Falls, NY, Emily attended Bates College, Maine, spending a semester abroad in Denmark. A class, The Literature of Ice and Snow, inspired her to plan a career teaching at the university level. She obtained a Master’s of Arts, with a Major in Northern Studies and a concentration in Arctic Environmental Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She certainly wasn’t thinking journalism. But after traveling and hiking throughout Alaska, fishing for salmon and picking berries, and more, she realized that academia might not be for her. She discovered how much she enjoyed meeting people and telling their stories. Once the light bulb went off, Emily was on the move and taking the plunge. She applied for and was accepted into a year-long radio fellowship in Nome and then after that in Sitka, Alaska.
These two years were exciting, flying to remote villages on small planes, and talking to a range of people throughout the region. She loved her time during the fellowships and particularly while in Nome, she was able to share the experience with colleagues who were also in the program. It was a wonderful way to become a part of the journalism profession.
She then went to work for Alaska Public Radio, hosting the morning news as well as producing stories. Her father died suddenly in 2017, and then after having been in Alaska for six memorable years, in 2018 she moved back to the Adirondacks. She wanted to be closer to her family and the people who knew her Dad. She also loved the Adirondacks where she had grown up, and soon found a dream job with NCPR in January 2019.
In the process of interviewing Emily and listening to some of her earlier radio stories from her time in Nome and then Sitka, Alaska, I found the same style as today of weaving history and culture into news about current events. One of my favorites is Savoonga Harvests its Second Whale of the Season, produced April 8, 2016 during Emily’s first year on the air. Savoonga, Alaska, a Native village, is located on St Lawrence Island, a 45 minute plane ride from Nome. On a map it looks closer to mainland Russia than to Alaska. Emily was able to fly to Savoonga, but she was not able to visit the area where the whales are hauled out of the water and the whale meat cut up for distribution. She was, however, able to capture the fascinating interviews of Elvin Noongwook, Brianne Gologergen, and George Noongwook of Savoonga, who each explained how much work is involved in subsistence whale hunting and harvesting, and how complicated the process is. Besides the fact that it takes days of labor, the community has to make sure that its needs are considered by the International Whaling Commission, which divvies up permission to whale internationally.
Asking about Emily’s professional goals she explained that she tries to share perspectives on radio that you might not otherwise hear, and to bring these stories to the broad region of the Adirondacks. A story that might exemplify this is Wild Side: How a trans forest ranger found herself in the Adirondacks. She writes about Robbi Mecus, an Adirondack forest ranger. Robbi shared with Emily how some twenty years ago, she had come to visit the Adirondacks, and decided to become a forest ranger and eventually make them her home. Just a few years ago, while still living in a man’s body, Robbi decided that it was time for her to come out as a trans woman, not only to her family but also to her colleagues.
In general, Emily doesn’t seem intimidated from taking on any story or issue. She is also given a fair amount of freedom to suggest stories that are then approved by her news director. She researches, interviews, and then spends hours editing the audio files and preparing a transcript so that the story can be posted online along with the audio news report.
Emily takes pride in presenting a story that is balanced, and also in treating interviewees with respect and compassion. She’s still not immune from criticism, sometimes from both sides of a story. I was interested to know if she had experienced any issues because of her presence on social media? Emily explained that she tries to weigh how she can connect with the community, while taking into account her personal safety needs.
I’m not surprised that Emily has already won a number of prestigious awards. Her work day ranges from 6 to 12 hours, although I can tell that Emily lives and breathes news reporting and takes her responsibility and the mission of journalism seriously. While I was the interviewer, I could almost see the wheels turning in Emily’s head while we sat at Nori’s in Saranac Lake, and I wondered, roles reversed, what would Emily be asking?
To learn more about Emily and her news reporting at: NCPR.org.
Photos provided by Emily Russell