News from, and about, Northern Journal

News from, and about, Northern Journal
Walking the docks in the Kodiak village of Old Harbor last week. (Brian Venua/KMXT for Northern Journal)

Greetings from Northern Journal headquarters — also known as my couch, here at home in Airport Heights.

I'm just back from an amazing reporting trip to Kodiak. I'd been there twice before, each time briefly to cover the biennial Fish Debate, but this trip was longer. In addition to my time in Kodiak city, I spent a few days in the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq villages of Ouzinkie and Old Harbor, talking to residents about their access to the island's commercial fisheries. Fourth of July in Old Harbor is not an event to be missed; while you'll have to wait a few months for the full story, I can share that I was victorious in the hill race and the sack race (my closest rival face planted about 10 yards from the finish), while I got smoked in the hula hoop-off.

The village of Old Harbor sits on the southeast corner of Kodiak Island. Sitkalidak Island, home to a bison herd managed by Old Harbor's tribal government — and also the site of an infamous grounding of a Shell offshore oil drilling rig in 2013 — is at right. (Nathaniel Herz/Northern Journal)

This email is meant to provide some updates on Northern Journal itself, and to ask for your help.

The updates are first. Some exciting news: a few weeks ago, the Pulitzer Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that funds reporting and journalism education, announced the recipients of a new, year-long fellowship program focused on local news engagement. I was one of them.

The fellowship functions, effectively, as a grant with additional support and training opportunities. In my case, it will largely fund travel and other elements of a project looking at access to commercial fisheries across coastal Alaska. The focus is on two key decisions decades ago by the state's voters and policymakers to privatize some of Alaska's most lucrative fisheries — for salmon, halibut and black cod. Over the next few months, I'll visit a few other Gulf of Alaska communities to hear from residents about the effects of those programs. If this is an issue you've worked on or care about, I'd love to hear from you.

In addition to this not-insubstantial project, I'm still publishing ongoing stories on Alaska's government and natural resources; recent pieces included a feature on the state of the commercial fishing industry, and a story that I commissioned from freelancer Max Graham on a North Slope carbon capture project. I also took a significant step intended to make Northern Journal's business model more sustainable: I switched the platform that hosts my newsletter and website. 

Substack, the tech startup that I launched with in 2022, took 10% of all my revenue in exchange for a not-especially-functional interface; their chief executive has also defended hosting Nazis on the platform. Ghost, the open source system I recently switched to, charges a much more affordable flat annual fee — and its founder has committed to removing pro-Nazi content.

You shouldn't notice any changes to your newsletter subscription from the switch. If you have a paid yearly or monthly membership, you should still get a notification from Stripe — my payment platform, which has stayed the same between Substack and Ghost — before your card is charged. But please drop me a note if you have questions about your membership.

Now, on to my request(s) for help.

First and foremost, to be blunt: I need your money.

The Pulitzer Center fellowship is contributing $10,000 toward my salary over the next year. But other than that, effectively all of Northern Journal's revenue comes from reader memberships, almost entirely in $100 and $10 increments. News organizations pay me nothing to republish my work. I will repeat that, just because I think it's a point that has escaped folks so far: News organizations pay me nothing to republish my work. I don't ask them to, because I think that the stories I'm sharing should reach as wide an audience as possible.

So far, readers have been extraordinarily generous. More than 600 of you have signed up for paid memberships, which currently translates into yearly revenue of roughly $70,000. Which sounds pretty good, until I remember that that money has to pay for all my business expenses, my health insurance and retirement plans and my modest freelance budget, among other things. I'm in the process of acquiring libel and defamation insurance, which I expect to cost upwards of $2,000 a year.

When I consider all of that stuff, I confess to feeling a little anxiety about the future of my business. So, this is my cue: If you like the kind of journalism that Northern Journal has published in its 18-month existence, please sign up for a paid membership. If you already have one, you can buy another one for a friend, or upgrade to a founding membership.

Also: Many existing paid members have had their credit cards expire, and their payments have failed. If you think you're a paid member already, I'd be grateful if you could double check your membership and re-subscribe if it's expired.

I continue to actively seek advertisers for my newsletter, website and podcast; my ad policy is here. Email me if you're interested.

If I can raise the money, I have some modest ambitions about scaling Northern Journal up. I've spoken with a couple of reporters about trying to raise money to fund more regular freelance contributions, or even full-time beat reporters, on Alaska's mining, oil and fishing industries. If you have ideas about grants or other potential sources of funding for this kind of expansion, please drop a line.

Finally: I'm still searching for an Alaska-based attorney who can do some periodic pro bono work around access to public records. The lawyers I worked with previously were extraordinarily generous to help me at a reduced hourly rate, but those fees are still too steep for my budget. If you're an attorney who's reading this, or if you know someone who might be interested: I'm not looking for an expert in media law so much as I'm looking for someone who's willing to get their hands dirty in creatively and efficiently bringing recalcitrant agencies to heel, in cases where they're dragging their feet.

With that, I am over and out into what remains of this summer day. Thanks so much for your continuing support for this project, and for reading.

A seine boat drives between the village of Ouzinkie and the city of Kodiak last week. (Nathaniel Herz/Northern Journal)