If you watched the season premiere of “Deadliest Catch” last week, you might have noticed a line in the credits acknowledging the Alaska Film Office’s contribution to the show.
It wasn’t just a reference to the fact that the show is filmed in Alaska — the note was included because the state actually subsidizes the popular reality television series through its film tax credit program. But if some state legislators have their way, that won’t be the case for much longer.
The Alaska Film Production Incentive was created by the state legislature in 2008 to do exactly what its name suggests — encourage film production in Alaska. Dave Worrell runs the program for the state.
“Really, British Columbia was one of the first to effectively utilize an incentive program, and that’s one of the reasons they’ve essentially become ‘Hollywood North,’” Worrell says. “So many productions took advantage of their incentive that they were really able to build that industry from basically nothing. So, a lot of other jurisdictions, US states looked and that and thought ‘boy, we want our part too.’”
The way Alaska’s program works, production companies keep track of how much they spend on payroll, food, lodging and transportation while in the state, and then submit the totals to the Film Office. Worrell then uses those figures to calculate and issue tax credits, which the production companies can convert into cash by selling them to Alaskan companies with corporate tax liability.
“And typically they will sell that tax credit at some sort of a discount,” Worrell says. “That can range between 70 and 90 cents on the dollar.”
Original Productions declined to comment on the tax credits, and the figures for this season of “Deadliest Catch” aren’t publicly available, but for Season 8, the company received $700,000 from the state, or 96 percent of their production costs, excluding non-resident wages. Of that, $7,000, or roughly 1 percent, went to wages for Alaskan residents.
Critics point to those kind of numbers as cause for concern. Representative Bill Stoltze, a Republican from Chugiak introduced a bill in the state legislature this year asking for an end to the program. In testimony to the House Commerce and Labor Committee he said it simply doesn’t pencil out.
“If we’re paying for something, I like to make sure it’s working, functioning, and really does have the benefits at a good cost-benefit ratio.”
Before renewing the program’s funding last year, the state legislature requested an audit to answer the cost-benefit question.The audit found that for every dollar spent on the subsidy, it generated two dollars in economic benefits. But Stoltze said in his testimony that the state is in worse financial shape than it was last year, and suggested the money would be better spent elsewhere — or not at all.
“I would be happy with stopping the bleeding while we still have a good blood flow,” Stoltze said.
Stoltze’s bill to repeal the tax credit was still in committee when the legislature gaveled out on Sunday, but it will be back on the agenda during next year’s session.
Whatever the outcome of House Bill 112, “Deadliest Catch” fans shouldn’t worry. While Original Productions has accepted the proffered subsidy, the show was filming in Alaska long before the tax credit program came into existence, and if the 3.4 million people who tuned in to the season premiere this week are any indication, that isn’t about to change.
Two bodies were found on separate fishing vessels in two Kodiak harbors on Friday. Police Chief T.C. Kamai says there were no signs of trauma on either body, leading some to speculate they may be drug related, but Kamai said that can’t be confirmed until a toxicology screening is complete.
The men who died are 44-year-old David Babarovich, and Thaddeus Zdobylak, Jr., 41.
Kamai says both bodies have been sent to the state medical examiner’s office for a full autopsy. He says preliminary causes of death could be released within a few days.
Kamai says nothing leads him to believe the deaths were related, and at this time the police department is approaching them as two separate investigations.
Alaska State Troopers report a Pitkas Point man died over the weekend in a snowmachine accident.
Darrell Hunt was travelling along the Adreafsky River on a 2013 Ski Doo snowmachine when he was fatally injured.
“They came to a right hand curve on the river and instead of going on the trail and turning on the curve, he went straight off the trail. He went for about 200 yards and then he hit about a four-foot-tall cut bank,” Trooper Spokesperson Beth Ipsen said.
Hunt was leading two others on a single snowmachine on a caribou-hunting trip. The accident happened about 52 miles up the north fork of the Andreafsky.
“When the two others on the other snowmachine came upon him he wasn’t talking, wasn’t breathing. So they performed CPR on him for about 15 to 20 minutes. When that wasn’t successful, they wrapped him in a tarp and put him on a sled that (Hunt) had been towing and then rode back to Saint Mary’s.”
Saint Mary’s is approximately five miles Northeast of Pitka’s Point. Hunt was pronounced dead upon arrival.
He was reportedly traveling upwards of 45 miles-per-hour at the time of the crash.
Ipsen said Hunt’s snowmachine was not badly damaged.
“There was a bent bar in the back. And just some general scrapes on the snowmachine. The brakes worked the steering was fine. The lack of damage is just puzzling, too, because he hit the bank and that was it.”
Troopers are still unclear as to why Hunt drove straight into the cut-bank.
The two men with Hunt did say that they had previously stopped and consumed alcohol.
Troopers will not know if hunt was intoxicated at the time of his death until a toxicology report is filed.
His body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy.
A group of about 40 people held a rally in Bethel this morning for subsistence rights. They gathered in the parking lot of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office. Most of them were Yup’ik, from Bethel and nearby villages.
Listen to the full story
According to the Pilot Station Traditional Council, in 2011, community members spent more than $764,000 on Bingo, pull-tabs and raffle tickets. After paying out prizes and buy supplies, the tribe has $57,000 left for the community support fund.
They use that money to help families pay for medical bills, unexpected expenses and funeral costs. Mayor and tribal council member Abraham Kelly says that death brings the community together.
“We comfort a family for 40 days as a community. We bring food to the family. The whole community brings food and support and we help each other out with food, a lot of food,” Kelly said.
But they also support each other’s decisions, even if they are unconventional.
“Did you say hi?,” Palassa Beans says, sitting with her granddaughter at the kitchen table.
“She’s really quiet.” “She doesn’t talk much?” “She talks a lot. She’s just trying to be shy.”
Beans was shy too, when she first saw her future husband at a dance 30 years ago.
“Well I couldn’t believe he existed because I dreamt about him when I was ten. When I lived in Aniak,” Beans said.
She was 14 when she met him in Pilot Station.
“When did you finally get the courage to talk to him?”
“When I was 16.”
“What did you say?”
“I think I’ll keep that private.” (laughter)
They were married for nearly 25 years when he died in 2010.
“He was going up to his fish camp to light the smoke house, probably something under the water, he got thrown out of the boat and drowned,” Beans said.
Her husband was alone the day he died and no one saw exactly what happened. When he didn’t return home after about 36 hours, his son and nephew went out to look for him. They found his empty boat. Searchers dragged the river the next day and pulled up his body.
Typically, if a person dies unexpectedly and without witnesses, the body must be sent to the medical examiner’s office in Anchorage. State Medical Examiner Katherine Raven explains that her role is to make sure the family and the state know the exact cause of death.
“You have to have someone with medical background who’s qualified to determine does this look like a poising, is this a gunshot wound? We’ve had several cases come in that looked like drownings that were homicides. Several cases that looked naturals that were homicides. Several cases looked like homicides that were naturals,” Raven said.
She says that families are more likely to request an examination than to refuse it. Having bodies examined can also reduce public health risks. If a person dies of a contagious disease, the examiner will catch it and make sure everyone in contact with that person is treated.
“There is a reason there’s a corner-medical examiner system in place. It’s a huge reason. And without that and not having cases come in and be looked at and have the cause of death proven, we’d really be going back to medieval times,” Raven said.
Raven says it’s just not possible to have medical examiners at all of the regional hubs. When the examiner’s office requests a body be sent to Anchorage, they will pay for the transportation costs to and from the place of death.
That didn’t matter to Polassa Beans: she refused to let her husband be removed from the village.
“Just think of the pain of how you have lost your loved one and to put on top of that, if they had to take them away. That’s another extra burden of pain,” Beans said.
Though community members were told not to wash his body or move it back to Beans’ home, they decided to support her decision. And when the medical examiner could not issue a death certificate without seeing the body, the tribal council decided to design and issue its own.
“We agreed that it didn’t have to look exactly like a state death certificate but we would have witnesses sign that saw his body and say he was gone,” Beans said.
Pilot Station is the first tribe to create its own death certificate. It is not recognized as a legal document by any state or federal agencies.
A statement issued by Alaska’s legal department says that they cannot recognize tribally issued death certificates because a body needs to be examined by a medical professional.
Officials in the Sitka School District decide tonight what stays and what goes in the year ahead. The school board is trying to close a nearly $400,000 deficit, and it could make big cuts to get there.
Atop the list of potential cuts is the activities director at Sitka High School. That job is responsible for scheduling sports and student activities, coordinating travel, finding housing for visiting teams, and more.
“The assistant principal, the principal and the activities director at Sitka High work in very close concert in order to pull off all the activities that we have going on,” Sitka High principal PJ Ford Slack said. “It’s nonstop. It’s not just a position that gets to go away because it’s just a clerical position. It isn’t that anymore. It’s literally the glue that keeps all of this running for the kids at Sitka High.”
Ford Slack says she’s worried about where the job’s duties will fall if the position is eliminated. She says the plan right now is for the director of Community Schools to assume the responsibilities.
“My concern is, I just explained a very tight team — we communicate all the time. If that person already has a full-time job with Community Schools, I can see them being pulled in two different directions,” Ford Slack said. “That’s a very hard thing to do to someone.”
State lawmakers did not raise the per-student allocation for school districts, though they did include extra money for schools to address security concerns. The other possible source of additional money is the federal government.
The district gets money under a bill called the “Secure Rural Schools and Communities Act.” But school board President Lon Garrison said the law’s future — and the money that comes with it — is far from certain.
“That’s the big one that we just don’t know,” he said. “And given how flaky Congress seems to be these days, who knows what’s going to happen with that.”
Still, the measure does have some hope of passage. Its elimination would have a severe effect on communities much larger than Sitka throughout the western United States.
“The idea that nothing will comes through for Secure Rural Schools, given the impact it will have on Washington, Oregon and California, that will decimate entire counties,” Garrison said. “So the likelihood we might get something there might be better.”
The school board meets at 7 p.m. today inside the District Office, which is attached to the back of Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School. It is expected to take public testimony before making decisions.
The Higman-McKittrick family from Seldovia is making progress on its 800-mile journey around Cook Inlet. The family stopped by KBBI’s studios in Homer last week and visited with Aaron Selbig.
The Higman-McKittrick family from Seldovia is making progress on its 800-mile journey around Cook Inlet. Bretwood Higman and his wife, Erin McKittrick, looked a little worn when they arrived in Homer earlier this week, fresh off a hiking trip around Kachemak Bay from Seldovia. After a short layover, however, they were ready to pack up and continue onward.
Although the family has taken on long adventures before, including a two-month trek across Malaspina Glacier last year, Higman says he wasn’t sure how the children – four-year-old Katmai and one-year-old Lituya – would fare on this trip.
“We were a little surprised by the winter blizzard we had about a week ago but … it’s been going really, really good,” said Higman.
The family is making its way by both walking and packrafting – on a pair of small, inflatable rafts that they carry in their pack. Higman says that sometimes, the weather makes it difficult to do either.
McKittrick talks about moving at “Katmai pace,” meaning the family walks only as fast as Katmai’s legs can carry him. But Katmai pace, she says, has so far turned out to be a good pace for all of them.
“If you have your schedule set up that way and you’re not expecting to be fast, there are actually a lot of things you notice,” she said.
For Katmai, the most exciting aspects of the trek are occasionally finding fossils and, more often – seeing wildlife.
Even little Lituya is having fun on the trip, although she spends much of the time riding with mom in a sling. Lituya says her favorite part so far is chasing bubbles on the beach.
The family spent a couple of days in Homer before departing from Bishops Beach Tuesday afternoon. In town, they were able to take care of some logistical issues, including arranging supply drops on the remote western side of Cook Inlet.
Travelling at their current pace, they should be in the Kenai area in a week or two. You can follow the family’s progress at their website, groundtruthtrekking.org.
The so-called Coastal Caucus has given some Alaska senators a louder voice in the lopsided Republican majority that favors the state’s urban centers.
Sen. Dennis Egan is part of the group that’s worked together in the past, but formalized its existence during the legislative session.
Now that the dust has settled on adjournment, “it could been worse,” Egan says.
Egan took a big gamble this year. He’s a lifelong Democrat who joined the Republican Majority, top heavy with senators from Anchorage, the Mat-Su, and the urban Interior. It was not an easy decision, but he still thinks it was the right one.
“You have to represent your community,” he says. “Most of this stuff as far as I’m concerned is not an R and D (Republican and Democrat) thing, it’s not politics, you know, it’s the people that you represent.”
Egan’s Southeast Alaska district is no longer just Juneau, but Skagway, Tenakee Springs, Gustavus and Petersburg. And Southeast lost representation in the redistricting process.
“Believe me, because of redistricting, I consider ourselves rural Alaska,” he says.
Egan says rural and coastal Alaska do not get enough attention in the legislature; hence the Coastal Caucus. It’s chaired by Sitka Republican Bert Stedman. Kodiak Republican Gary Stevens, Western Alaska Democrat Donny Olson, and Egan were leaders in the bi-partisan coalition that ran the Senate in the 27th Legislature, but lost power in the new Republican-led majority. Freshman Senator, Kenai Republican Peter Micciche, has also joined the Coastal Caucus.
With five of the fifteen majority members, Egan says Coastal Caucus senators have gained some clout.
“They now know we’re a force.”
They also take care of their own. Early in the session, a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to allow state funding for religious and private schools was referred to the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Gary Stevens. On a day with Stevens was gone, Senate Republican leaders yanked the resolution from the committee.
“I thought they rolled the chair,” Egan says.
He phoned Stevens, who had no idea the bill had been pulled from his committee.
“He was elected by the caucus to be the chair of Education. You don’t pull an education bill out of his committee without the chair’s consent,” he says.
Egan also voted against the move, which brought the threat of sanctions from Republican leaders. In the end, there were none, and it wasn’t the last time he bucked the majority, which would prefer members vote as a block.
Four of the five Coastal Caucus legislators* voted against the bill to reduce oil industry taxes. Egan says too much was left on the table.
“Tit for tat. You give us something, we give you something. As far as I’m concerned, we’re giving a lot but we’re not getting much. I mean there’s no guarantee they’re going to drill or explore,” he says.
He’s also upset that school districts did not get an increase in the Base Student Allocation, and is sorry his communities did not get more money for construction projects, though there are funds for a number of projects in each of his communities.
On the whole, he says, his newly expanded district did OK. The House – and the bi-partisan Coastal Caucus – helped that.
“Coastal Alaska senators felt we were being left out and if we weren’t part of that caucus we wouldn’t have had any voice,” he says. “I think that would have been a true disaster.”
Egan plans to visit his constituents in Petersburg and Skagway next month, and is still working on arrangements for spring trips to Tenakee and Gustavus.
*When SB 21 was before the Senate, Olson, Egan, Stedman and Stevens voted against it. Micciche voted for it. After it passed the House with some changes, it came back to the Senate for concurrence. Olson changed his vote and agreed with the changes. Egan, Stedman and Stevens voted against the bill a second time.
After several years of steady declines, illegal crab fishing in Russia spiked in 2012. The resulting glut of crab hurt Alaskan prices, and reignited concerns about how to combat the illegal harvest.
Andy Wink tracks the Russian fisheries for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. He says Russia’s illegal harvest is staggering.
“Alaska caught a lot of crab. Alaska caught more crab in 2012 than they have for a long time. Despite that, Russia still caught more illegal crab [than Alaskan fishermen caught total].”
According to export statistics, for every pound of legal crab, Russia also sold a pound of illegal crab in 2012. Wink says that’s actually an improvement over several years ago, when the figures were one to four. Nevertheless it’s a step away from the recent trend.
“There’s still a lot of volume being caught illegally, and the question is ‘why hasn’t it dropped even more?’”
Wink has a few theories about why last year was particularly bad. When the illegal harvest dropped, prices went up. Alaska hit record-high dockside values for both king and snow crab in 2011. Wink says those high prices probably incentivized more illegal fishing. He also thinks companies might offloaded illegal inventory in anticipation of stricter export regulations that went into effect earlier this year.
Regardless, more crab on the market resulted in a dramatic price drop. Alaskan red king crab prices plummeted twenty percent in 2012, and snow crab saw significant losses as well. Wink says while there’s no catch-all solution for the problem, better communication between Russian and American authorities would help.
“When we’re talking about crab, there’s probably not a lot of boats that cross the line and take Alaskan crab back to Russia. I think it’s more of a supply chain, chain of custody problem. It’s more of a customs problem.”
Nevertheless, the poaching problem got some attention Wednesday during a Congressional committee hearing about the maritime boundary. Senator Lisa Murkowski said she had convened the hearing in part to address the concerns of the Bering Sea crabbers.
“I’ve had an opportunity to talk to folks back home about what’s going on within the crabbing industry, the impact of prices when the Russians are engaged in a probably stepped up level of fishing activity. It piqued my interest some time ago, to try to better understand where we are with our maritime boundary lines.”
The issue of illegal crabbing was also discussed during meeting between the Coast Guard and the Russian Border patrol Thursday. The border patrol’s press office wrote in a release that a main goal of the visit was to combat illegal fishing. The two agencies signed a cooperation agreement at the meeting.
Last year, Russia is estimated to have exported 123 million pounds of illegal crab. Alaska’s total harvest was 113 million pounds.
Sponsors of a petition to repeal the changes the Anchorage Assembly made to labor laws say they have repaired technical flaws in their ballot measure and resubmitted it. The previous version was rejected by the Municipal Clerk because of those technical flaws, but also because of an opinion by the Municipal Attorney that it was, “administrative,” and would encroach on the authority of the mayor.
Listen to the full story
Sunday, furloughs of Federal Aviation Administration employees due to the Congress’s sequestration process began to hit. All air traffic controllers are required to take one unpaid day off per pay period. If you are an air traveler be prepared for delays, because the furloughs will reduce the number of landings per hour at hub airports. It’s not known yet exactly how this will affect the airports in Alaska.
Listen to the full story
A liberal group is running ads against Senator Mark Begich for his votes against expanded background checks for gun sales.
Adam Green is the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Green says his group, and its 2,800 members in Alaska, normally support Senator Begich and his work on entitlements like Social Security.
But his gun votes this week drew the ire of liberals
Green’s Political Action Committee raises money for candidates and mobilizes the liberal base. He says that running ads shaming Begich will not make him more vulnerable in his reelection bid.
Begich may face Joe Miller in the 2014 Senate race. And if Miller does decide to run, voters can expect the same brand of fiery rhetoric he used to try to unseat Senator Murkowski in 2010.
Listen to the full story
With many early mornings in the below zero temperatures this spring, you would think it would be impossible to grow crops at this time in Western Alaska, but at Meyers Farm in Bethel they are doing just that. In fact they have 10 rows of spinach that have just started to sprout.
Listen to the full story
A large seafood processing plant will be constructed this summer in Naknek and it’s expected to be processing herring and salmon by next year.
Listen to the full story
The state Fish and Game department slapped restrictions on sports-fishing for King Salmon on many rivers that pour into Cook Inlet on Thursday. Their press releases say the fisheries will be, “conservatively managed” this year.
Affected are all the rivers in the Susitna River basin and some on the Kenai Peninsula. In the Mat-Su valley, there will be a total two-fish limit for the Susitna and Little Su drainage. A number of days will be catch and release only, though some retention will still be allowed on the Deshka, Talkeetna, Upper Susitna and Chulitna.
Also affected by the order as of May first are Kenai Peninsula rivers, though not the Kenai itself, including the Anchor, Ninilchik, Kasilof and Deep Creek. They are aimed at the early Chinook run. The Upper Inlet restrictions start on May 15 and are aimed at spreading effort over the entire season to avoid mid-season closures such as were imposed last year, says the Fish and Game department.
The Southeast Alaska sea otter population well-more than doubled over the past decade. That’s according to an estimate from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which released a draft of its revised stock assessment this week(4/18). As Matt Lichtenstein reports, the numbers have been out for a while but the public now has a formal chance to comment on them.
The draft estimates a total of 25, 712 otters in the region. The number is based on aerial surveys done by researchers in 2010 and 2011. That compares with 10,563 otters in 2003. The latest numbers won’t come as a surprise to many who have been following this issue. Federal scientists had already presented results from their population studies in public presentations and news reports over the past couple years. The revised stock assessment formalizes the numbers and provides a 90 day opportunity for public comment.
According to Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Bruce Woods, the agency will consider and incorporate public input before the draft is finalized,“Any input on habitat degradation or improvement of habitat, any additional information be it traditional ecological knowledge or personal observation that might help us refine our numbers. Any additional information on human caused mortality or injury that we may not be taking into account.”
The Russian fur trade wiped out the southeast sea otter population by the early 20th century. The state of Alaska re-introduced about four hundred of the animals to Southeast in the 1960’s and they have thrived. According to the draft assessment, the regions otter population appears to be growing at a rate of 12 to 14 percent per year.
The assessment allows for a Potential biological removal of nearly 2200 animals. Basically, that means the number of animals that can be killed, intentionally or unintentionally, before the Fish and Wildlife Service has to impose regulations to limit the take. According to the draft document, it’s never gotten close to that point.
From 2006 to 2010 around 450 otters were taken each year for subsistence by coastal Alaska natives, who are the only people allowed to hunt the animals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The report says sea otters have –quote- “occupied appreciable new habitat in southern southeast since 2003”. That’s something fishermen and others out on the water have witnessed for years. In particular, the report goes on, -quote- “otters have moved in large numbers along the northwest coast of Kuiu Island up into Keku Strait and then animals from this area have crossed Frederick Sound to the southern tip of Admiralty Island, and finally otters have expanded northward from the Barrier Islands (off southwest Prince of Wales)through Tlevak Strait”.
“What we’re seeing is an indication of a population that is recovering and that is continuing to move into habitat that it formerly occupied and has probably not finished the process of recolonizing habitat that it once occurred in,” says Woods.
The otter’s rapid population growth and voracious appetite for shellfish has been a major concern for commercial crabbers, dive fishermen and subsistence harvesters. They’ve seen once-productive fishing grounds for dungeness crab, sea cucumbers and other species depleted after the otters move in.
Petersburg assembly member and commercial fisherman Kurt Wohlheuter chairs a local committee that’s drafted a resolution on the issue for the rest of the assembly to consider. It takes the federal government to task for not developing a current plan to manage the otter population.
“There is no management plan for the sea otters and, you know, they’re out of control at this point because they’re eating some of the crab fishermen out of house and home, as evident by fewer and fewer participants every year and, you know, without that management tool for the sea otters I’m afraid that at some point, that there will be no dungeness fisheries and that’s the thing that concerns everybody here,” says Wohlheuter.
Fishing industry advocates have called for more aggressive efforts to reduce otter numbers. Opponents of that approach emphasize that otters benefit other fisheries by eating sea urchins. Urchins destroy kelp forests that serve as shelter for juvenile salmon, herring and other fish.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s last conservation plan for Alaska Sea Otters dates back to 1994. At the time, the federal agency set the goal of determining an optimal sustainable population for the animals. That has not happened yet. Woods says they are working on developing a formula to estimate that number by March of 2015.
Meanwhile, the draft population assessment is available through a link on the US Fish and Wildlife Service Website.
The Senior Executive Producer of a long-running and popular science documentary series on public television was in Fairbanks this week. Paula Apsell is in the Golden Heart City as part of a weekly research showcase hosted by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Every Wednesday night at 9p.m. eastern time, science lovers tune their televisions to PBS for an hour-long television show called NOVA. It’s a science documentary program that recently took viewers on a journey to explore the natural history of Australia. The show has also taken its audience on a quest to locate the mines of the bible’s famous King Solomon. Viewers have learned about medieval cathedral construction and they’ve cracked the genetic code.
“We saw the Quatum world, a world of things that are teeny, and it operates by different rules from our everyday world,” explains Paula Apsell, the senior executive producer of NOVA. “And by using computer graphics, we’re able to bring the Quantum world up to our size and you can see how weird it really is.”
She has a wealth of subject matter to choose from for every episode she produces.
“NOVA is an anthology series and that means we have the world of science, technology, engineering, medicine, natural history, the environment,” says Apsell. “We have a lot of different aspects of science to choose from and our programs can be different form week to week.”
At any given time, Apsell is working on 20 different episodes all in different stages of production. She says one of the challenges is finding a unifying quality in all of them.
“We want them to have a level of quality and distinction that says ‘this is a NOVA,’ and not some other show,” Apsell said.
Science can be intimidating to the general public. That’s why Apsell says it’s important to find a unique way to tell a science story.
“I think the key thing is to tell the story and have it unfold like a detective story,” she says. “So you ask a big question at the beginning, a mystery. And you follow the clues just as you would follow the clues in a forensic case.”
Apsell admits her audience can be fickle.
“The audience is not patient enough to wait for the end, so you have to keep revealing little bits of tantalizing bits of information along the away,” she says. “People want to know now at the beginning of the show what it’s about. They want to know if they should spend their time.”
Public Broadcasting competes with hundreds of cable television channels, and fast-moving superficial content on commercial networks. Even Apsell herself indulges in a little trashy TV once in a while.
“You know we all have our guilty pleasures,” she laughs. “I would be lying to you if I said I never watched Here Comes Honey Boo Boo or Hoarders. I mean people who hoard things including dead animals.”
“You’re sort of sitting there with your mouth hanging open. But after you watch three or four of the shows, you never have to watch it again. It sort of satisfies, but that’s just for me. These shows have an appropriate amount of viewers to suite the advertisers.”
But NOVA doesn’t have any advertisers. Funding for the program comes from the National Science Foundation and a wide-ranging list of underwriters from Exxon Mobil Corporation to Corporation for Public Broadcasting. However Apsell says that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had to find ways to innovate.
“The pace of information has increased enormously,” she says. “I mean if you look at programs from 30 years ago, they’re so slow, you just think you’re gonna fall asleep. So, NOVA’s not just television anymore. We’re online, we have to stream our stuff, we have to make short form videos of it, we do stories on radio. One of things I’ve learned over the past decade or so, it’s just become extremely important to extend to other platforms. ”
Apsell says she’ll continue to find ways to change how NOVA delivers rich and complex science stories to the public. The program has won every major broadcasting award, some more than once. NOVA’s website is the most visited among those hosted by PBS.
Dozens of kids in Anchorage got the chance to fly off the ski jumps at Hilltop ski area this winter. The ski jumping program has expanded rapidly in the last three years. And the U.S. Ski team is now eyeing Anchorage as a spot to develop young athletes for their successful Nordic combined program, a sport that mixes ski jumping and cross country skiing. A U.S. ski team coach was in the city last week to offer his guidance and encourage young kids to give the sport a try.
Listen to the full story
This week, we’re heading to the community of Diomede, in the middle of the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia. Michele Kulukhon is from Diomede.
Listen to the full story