Storytellers Seek to ‘Amplify Voices’ of Alaskans Enduring Impacts of Climate Change

Jan 8, 2016

A new way to tell the story of climate change …


The steep drop in oil prices over the last year has forced layoffs of thousands of oil-industry workers in Alaska and elsewhere around the oil patch. Three of those workers talked about the boom-and-bust of North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields lives in a recent documentary series.

“I turned my life completely upside down and around. Hadn’t seen my wife for six months. Moved 1,100 miles, …” says Don Williams, who moved to the Bakken from Missouri, only to become disillusioned by the boom-town greed he encountered.

“I used to live in northwest Washington. There was no money. We made barely minimum wage,” says Kendra Hill, who along with her husband moved to the Bakken in search of a good-paying job.

“Well, we just hope for the best and that these prices will finally come back. And that they’ll go back to drilling again," says Steve Brown, who struggles to maintain his water-hauling business in the Bakken as the economy staggers due to the bust brought on by plummeting oil prices.

From left, Brooklyn-based independent producers Isaac Kestenbaum and Josephine Holtzmann will work with KNBA News Director Joaqlin Estus for the "Frontier of Change" series.
Credit Association of Independents in Radio

An independent producer says he wants to use the same rich storytelling style used in the “Black Gold Boom” documentaries for a new series of reports about the impact of a warming climate in Alaska.

“We are getting stories about climate change, with a real focus on rural Alaska, as well as voices from Alaska Natives,” says Isaac Kestenbaum, an independent producer from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Kestenbaum is part of a team working with Anchorage public-radio station KNBA on a series titled “Frontier of Change.” The series will feature interviews with Alaskans talking about how they’ve been affected by climate change and how they’re adapting to it.

Anchorage public-radio station KNBA will begin broadcasting "Frontier of Change" reports later this month.
Credit KNBA

“Certainly,” he said, “in addition to kind of capturing how things were and celebrating how things are, I think we do also want to be looking at the future.”

Kestenbaum says he and his team will produce a half-dozen reports that’ll be broadcast on KNBA beginning later this month, then posted to the station’s website. He says he’ll combine that material with recordings of everyday life in the communities to sort of paint a picture in sound that’ll help listeners understand more about the people and their lives.

"Frontier of Change" is one of 15 projects that the Association of Independents in Radio, or AIR, is producing this year as part of its "Localore: Finding America" series. This is the fifth year that AIR has produced a series that pairs independent producers with a local broadcast news outlet to "invent new storytelling models with and for communities that public media doesn’t typically reach."
Credit Association of Independents in Radio

“What they really hope to do is find new ways to tell stories, help public radio stations engage news audiences and also help amplify voices of communities and people who aren’t always that well-represented.”

Kesternbaum says the storytelling will be further enhanced by listeners using the reports for an audio tour called a “soundwalk” that’ll be set up in Anchorage later this spring.

Editor's note: Find out more about AIR and its "Localore: Finding America" series here.