Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Schoenfeld’s journalism career started in 1979. His journalism career in Alaska started in 1979. An earlier version of this article also incorrectly stated that a reporting trip to British Columbia took place in 2004. That trip took place in 2014.
Long-serving print and radio journalist Ed Schoenfeld, who’s soon to retire, says he’s “just not that important.” But when you have a hand in stewarding Alaska’s news media for 37 years, that claim doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny.
The Douglas resident will retire at the end of May from his position as Regional News Director for Southeast radio consortium CoastAlaska.
His colleagues called him the “Dean of the Douglas Press Corps.” It’s only half a joke. Douglas, an island-bound town of about 3,000, doesn’t have a press corps, but Schoenfeld did earn a professorial status at the end of his career. Statewide public radio media frequented Schoenfeld as a bit of an editorial sounding board, said Lori Townsend, News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network.
“It’s going to be hard for all of us in the statewide network to adjust to the idea of not having Ed to turn to for advice, edit help and talking through all the other snarls that come with running a newsroom,” Townsend said.
In his Douglas home office Thursday, sitting in front of his microphone and stand-up desk, Schoenfeld, 63, reflected on his long career. His work in Juneau includes almost 18 years in the Empire newsroom and 15 years at CoastAlaska. He’ll miss most the people, both those behind the news and those who make it.
“There are folks I have been talking to for decades,” Schoenfeld said.
Originally from Cleveland, Schoenfeld’s Alaska career started in 1979 when he moved to Juneau to take a position at KTOO public radio as program director. The station broadcasted out of a studio at Juneau-Douglas High School then, and producers cut reel-to-reel tap with razor blades.
“I’m surprised I don’t have scars from that,” Schoenfeld said.
After moving to news reporting and editing in his first radio stint, Schoenfeld interviewed for a position in the Empire newsroom, then located in downtown Juneau. He worked for the Empire for 18 years before heading back to radio, this time with CoastAlaska, a consortium of what’s soon-to-be six stations in Sitka, Wrangell, Petersburg, Ketchikan and Juneau. A station in Unalaska will join CoastAlaska soon.
Reporter Robert Woolsey took a position at at Sitka station KCAW around the time Schoenfeld joined CoastAlaska. Schoenfeld’s years at the Empire city desk gave him a “remarkable tenacity,” Woolsey said.
“I’m usually satisfied when I get good tape; Ed’s not satisfied until he gets the answer,” Woolsey said.
Transboundary mines, the Alaska Marine Highway System and regional Native corporations were Schoenfeld’s areas of expertise at CoastAlaska. But as the regional news director, he’s been a utility player, serving relief stints at all five CoastAlaska stations.
“He’s the closest thing we have to a managing editor and roving reporter,” said Joe Viechnicki, a reporter with Petersburg station KFSK.
Schoenfeld also serves on the board of the Alaska Press Club. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia.
Schoenfeld’s work covering transboundary mining issues cut through divisive rhetoric on both sides of the environmental squabble. He began covering the issue, a dispute between the Canadian mining industry and Alaskans concerned for environmental quality, about 30 years ago, he said, but he knew he had get to the bottom of the issue when he heard Native groups speak out more recently.
“Part of it was, on this side of the border, we were only hearing people saying, ‘This is horrible. It’s going to be a disaster. We’re going to lose all our salmon.’ Which is a bit simplistic. Or the government officials saying, ‘Eh, you don’t need to worry about it.’ So I just thought, ‘I need to dig into this,’” Schoenfeld said.
So he wrangled funds for a 2014 reporting trip to British Columbia. He spoke with mining associations, tribes and officials at the Kerr-Sulphurets Mitchell mine, a developing project which is one of the biggest of its kind in the world. The trip helped Schoenfeld explain the nuance of the issue, something Schoenfeld is proud of.
“It gave me the knowledge and it gave me the context that just nobody else has,” Schoenfeld said. “I got past the he-said, she-said. I got to see it. That will stick with me as long as I can remember.”
Another, less ambitious project also sticks with Schoenfeld. Last year, he profiled Yukon Tlingit and Tagish musician Art Johns, an 84-year-old country singer with long ties to the Alaska Folk Festival.
“He knows every country song ever written. I’d always wanted to do a story on him, but he didn’t want to,” Schoenfeld said.
But last year, with some persistence, he convinced Johns to participate. It wasn’t a hard story to do, Schoenfeld said, but it was important for Schoenfeld, himself a musician, to preserve institutional memory.
Schoenfeld will continue to live in Juneau with his retired wife Betsy Longenbaugh, who herself was once a journalist (the pair met while working) and dog Ella. He’ll have more time to spend with his daughters Elizabeth, 30, and Maggie, 28 and a grandson.
Schoenfeld’s successor hasn’t yet been named. He hopes to stay involved with media in some capacity and to take freelancing work.
“I probably won’t be able to turn my news brain off,” Schoenfeld said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.