2017 Excellence in Audio Digital Storytelling, Small Newsroom winner

Frontier of Change

Joaqlin Estus, Isaac Kestenbaum, Josephine Holtzman, Frank Chythlook

AIR: Finding America

Excellence in Audio Digital Storytelling, Small Newsroom


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About the Project

In rural Alaska, climate and culture are inextricably linked, and the gulf between urban and rural residents is perhaps the most pronounced in the country.

Frontier of Change was a nine-month project that examined climate change in rural Alaska and Alaska Native communities, and built a bridge between urban and rural Alaska using radio broadcasts, podcasts, video and unique immersive events. It was created by independent producers Isaac Kestenbaum and Josephine Holtzman, in partnership with Joaqlin Estus and Frank Chythlook at KNBA, Alaska’s largest native-owned station and the only native-owned station in the nation to broadcast in an urban market. The executive producer was the Association of Independents in Radio as part of their Localore: Finding America initiative. The Anchorage Museum served as the presenting partner in Anchorage.

The radio broadcasts featured voices rarely heard in public media, reflecting openly and honestly on changes to their environment. In some cases, recorders were mailed out to young aspiring reporters so they could conduct interviews with family members. A short series of informal conversational podcasts provided a candid window into Alaska native life as it’s really lived and experienced. And a short video documented the changes to Qagruq, a whaling festival in Alaska’s far northern arctic.

The centerpiece of the project was a series of immersive events at the Anchorage Museum. The first, Shaktoolik Soundwalk, was a 30-minute audio tour, where participants walked a mile in downtown Anchorage, while their ears were transported to the small village of Shaktoolik, which will soon be underwater due to erosion and sea level rise.

The tour was self-guided for the duration of the project, but a special guided tour was offered for the museum’s monthly “first Friday” programming. Other events included an audio scavenger hunt that took participants on a journey through the past and future of Anchorage, collecting custom prints from local artists along the way. The final event was a red carpet movie premiere and community discussion, centered around a video from Joel de Jesus, who returned to his village of Point Hope for the first time in 15 years to document the whaling feast.

Overall, we feel the project is a unique portrait of a land and a people in the midst of profound change.