For Sitka Sentinel reporter, journalism is genetic

Ariadne Will stands in front of the Daily Sitka Sentinel (KCAW/Rose)

19 -year-old Ariadne Will stands next to the Sitka Sentinel’s heavy duty printing press. It’s around 3 p.m. and the paper is about to be hot off it, handed off to carriers in stacks, and circulated throughout the city. 

Will weaves past the machinery as it starts to fire up. She knows the floor plan pretty well and she warns me to watch my clothes…

“You can’t lean against anything in here,” she says. “I got this yellow dress for my birthday when I was six, and I wanted to wear it here I remember bring really careful not to get any ink on it.”

She did get ink on it, and it stuck, along with an interest in a profession that’s spanned generations of her family. Her grandparents Thad and Sandy Poulson bought the Sitka Sentinel in 1969. So she grew up in Sitka, surrounded by reporters and paper, and the big pieces of machinery that synthesized it all. 

“This big orange thing used to be where they’d paste up before they had In-Design,” she says, gesturing to a big work area in the news room that isn’t used anymore. “You’d have these little pieces of wax paper on the ground and it was always my job as a little kid to pick up the pieces of paper.” 

And now Will is interning at the Sentinel, the summer between her freshman and sophomore year at Middlebury College in Vermont. A lot of the big machines are still there, unused. The printing process is slightly less analog now, even while the work is much the same. 

“I’d like to be a journalist someday. I guess I’m doing that right now,” she laughs. “Yeah, in the long run, I really like writing, I really like interviewing people. I love when you can talk to someone and they get really excited about what they’re talking about. They tell you all of these things that you never knew.” 

And it isn’t just her grandparents, her father was a reporter, and her mother is an English teacher, so writing just runs in the family. But journalism? 

“Reporting never really even stuck out to me until I was like 16,” she says. “It took a really long time.”

What changed? The 2016 election cycle and increasing use of the term “fake news” as a tool to discredit reporting. 

“Being raised at a newspaper, I know how important journalism is, even if that wasn’t something that was at the forefront of my mind,” Will says. “Watching a bunch of newspapers be kind of attacked and called fake, that stung a little bit. It started off as me wanting to know the truth and wanting to be able to communicate the truth to other people.” 

And she’s doing that this summer, learning from Sentinel reporter Shannon Haugland, how to hold politicians accountable at the local level.

“If you don’t have someone telling you what the assembly is doing, then people don’t notice and people don’t care,” she says. “Even if people aren’t noticing anyway, the assembly notices.” 

But local journalism isn’t just covering assembly meetings. A local reporter doesn’t really get a beat – they cover everything. A couple of weeks ago, Will was sitting in a friend’s backyard, watching a new local beekeeper buzz around – hives are few and far between in Sitka. She mentioned it to Haugland later. 

“Shannon was like, ‘You should write a story about the bees,’” Will recalls. “And I was like, ‘That’s a really good idea. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?’ Thinking of things, not just as funky things that are happening, but as ‘Oh, that would make a good story’ is definitely a different frame of mind.” 

But as the news landscape is radically changing, how does a young reporter consume the news? Will gravitates toward the “Gray Lady” but she likes to listen to “all the news that’s fit to print.” 

“I kind of have a crush on the New York Times. I love them,” she says, and laughs. “One of the reporters that they have on the New York Times podcast The Daily, I follow him on Instagram. It’s like his personal Instagram. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, because I’m not learning anything, but when I hear his voice, I’m like “Oh, it’s Michael Schmidt, my favorite!” 

But even as the oldest papers evolve, good reporting at its root won’t change, something she’s learned growing up at the heart of the Sentinel. It’s all about paying careful attention to the facts and details…and getting a good edit. 

“I remember walking down the halls of Keet [Gooshi Heen Elementary] with my grandmother, and we walked past this one sign that said something about the fire marshal. We’re just walking down the hall, and she stops and says, “Marshal only has one l.”

And so does “journalist.”