Almost everything we reported on this year falls into the categories of pandemic, election, racial justice or weather. We relentlessly covered the big events that defined the year. We started reporting on potential impacts of COVID-19 before it reached Alaska and eventually we reported on the pandemic daily, including the arrival of the first vaccine in Juneau.
We were at the protest in Juneau after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis — quite possibly the city’s largest demonstration ever. And we were at the virtual rally hosted by Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska with hundreds of others.
We were there when the beautiful new CCFR ambulance was unveiled with its new formline paint job.
We were out before the sun rose in early December when record-breaking rain caused flooding and landslides all over town and then we shifted our focus to Haines when it was clear that things were much worse there.
But first, some stories that are not about those things. These are the five most popular stories on our website this year and they are all the result of original reporting by KTOO reporters. And in my honest opinion they are very deserving of the attention they got.
Top Five KTOO stories of 2020
1. Neiman Marcus is getting sued for selling a ‘Ravenstail Knitted Coat’ for $2,500 (by Elizabeth Jenkins)
Sealaska Heritage Institute filed a lawsuit in April against Neiman Marcus, alleging the company copied a traditional Ravenstail pattern when it produced a coat that retails for more than $2,500. SHI president Rosita Worl called it “one of the most blatant examples of cultural appropriation and copyright infringement” she’d ever seen. It is thought to be the first time a business has been sued in the U.S. for copying a traditional Indigenous pattern.
2. Cruise ships dumped more than 3 million pounds of trash in Juneau last year (by Adelyn Baxter)
At a public hearing back in January, a Juneau resident listed a few of the items taken from cruise ships to the landfill last year, including bedding, furniture and even slot machines. It turns out more than 3 million pounds of garbage came off of the ships during the cruise season in 2019 and ended up at the dump. That’s concerning, especially since the local landfill is expected to be full in 20 years.
3. Mother of all jökulhlaups reported in Southeast Alaska (by Matt Miller)
Jim Moore was fishing for Chinooks in Lituya Bay in August. The water was muddy, full of trees and icebergs, which he says he hadn’t seen since the 70s. He said it was “spooky.” A National Park Service geologist solved the mystery by looking at satellite imagery and said that it was caused by water breaching a giant ice dam and flowing under a glacier and into the river — the equivalent flow of the Amazon River each hour. No one might have known it happened if it weren’t for Jim Moore’s observations.
4. The runway lights broke, but Igiugig guided in a child’s medevac plane with headlights (by Rashah McChesney)
In August, a child in Igiugig in Southwest Alaska needed to be medevaced, but the village’s runway lights wouldn’t turn on. People could hear the plane circling overhead, but it couldn’t land because it couldn’t find the runway. A local woman, Ida Nelson, got up out of bed and jumped on her four-wheeler to see if she could help. She called more than 30 people and they all lit up the runway with their headlights. The plane was able to land, get the patient and take off again for Anchorage.
5. What does this sign even mean? (by Jeremy Hsieh)
In July, a guy in Juneau was hiking on the Windfall Lake trail and there was a sign that said “Poop pumping. Hike at your own risk.” It had the U.S. Forest Service logo on it, but that was it. That was the whole sign. Jeremy Hsieh looked into it and learned about how the Forest Service hires helicopters to take human waste out from the outhouses at Juneau’s most popular cabins. Program manager Ed Grossman said that they don’t mention helicopters on the sign because “people are attracted to the show,” and if they know “it’s a pumping-human-waste event,” there probably won’t be a crowd.
We have four priority areas for our news coverage. Here is the most popular, impactful and important reporting for each of them.
Best reporting on tourism and Juneau’s economy
- Cruise ship will arrive early in Juneau after canceled Asia sailings (by Adelyn Baxter)
- Everyone got tested, but Alaska’s only cruise this year still came back with COVID-19 on board (by Jennifer Pemberton)
- Seasonal workers laid off by pandemic get to work improving local trails in Juneau (by Adelyn Baxter)
Best reporting on the pandemic and its impacts on health, schools and society
- How the ‘infodemic’ is playing out in Juneau (by Jeremy Hsieh)
- Juneau’s hospital sees surge in kids experiencing mental health crises (by Adelyn Baxter)
- They sanitized, screened, quarantined and they still got COVID-19 (by Adelyn Baxter)
Best reporting on social justice
- A former student speaks out about racism in Juneau schools; administration says it’ll do better (by Pablo Arauz Peña):
- Another staffer at Lemon Creek Correctional Center tests positive, as inmates ask for more cleaning supplies (by Adelyn Baxter)
- Neighbors push back on plans for cold weather shelter for Juneau’s unhoused (by Rashah McChesney)
Best reporting on state government, politics, economy
- More than a quarter of Alaska communities haven’t claimed state CARES Act grants. Why not? (by Andrew Kitchenman)
- In close races, results in Alaska not expected for at least a week after Election Day (by Andrew Kitchenman)
- Gov. Dunleavy believes President-elect Biden has ‘outside chance’ of becoming next president (by Andrew Kitchenman)