Free condom on TNL cover

For the Feb. 10, 2009 issue The Northern Light attached a donated condom to each paper. The condoms were provided by the Alliance for Reproductive Justice ( as well as Planned Parenthood of Alaska (

The condoms are part of UAA Healthy Sexuality Week and advertise a Dan Savage who will be talking at the Windy Williamson Auditorium Feb. 12 at 7:30 pm. Student Activities, Student Life and Leadership, Student Health and Counseling Center, KRUA 88.1 FM, The Anchorage Press, Alliance for Reproductive Justice, and The Northern Light have all worked together to bring Dan Savage to UAA.

A letter was sent to TNL and USUAA (student government) shortly after the Feb 10, 2009 issue was placed in stands. I have posted the letter here, precluded by my response.

Dear Mr Keller,
Thank you for taking the time to correspond with your student newspaper.

In your letter, dated February 10, 2009 you stated:
“Since when should my media fees go to buy condomns that will be provided for
free to the rest of the student population here at the university?”

I would like to inform you that the condoms were donated by Alliance for Reproductive Justice and Planned Parenthood. — As stated on the front cover of the February 10, 2009 issue.

Student funds were not used by The Northern Light to purchase condoms.

If you would like to discuss this issue further feel free to contact me.

If you would like write a letter to the editor TNL would be happy to publish it. Letters to the editor should be 400 words or less and please included your phone number (for verification purposes).

Thank you,

Gretchen Weiss
Executive Editor
The Northern Light


To whom it may concern:

I am a long-time UAA student, and I have been watching developments in
this university’s political, bureaucratic, and financial
infrastructure over the last eight years. In that time, I have seen
changes, both good and bad, come to this school, and I have also
watched the journalistic aspects of this university’s student-
sponsored network with much interest as well. The Northern Light
Newspaper is a key part of our student body’s journalism institutions,
and as such, it is important for the journalists, writers, columnists,
and editors at the paper to promote ethical behavior amongst their
members and in the content that is published in the student newspaper.
While I have disagreed with a few articles in the past that have been
printed in the paper, I have, for the most part, been glad to have a
student newspaper that reports on events and facts that impact our
university. However, upon reviewing the latest issue of the
newspaper, I must say that this is the first time that I have been
compelled to write a letter of protest to the staff of the paper.

My student media fee is currently $11 to help promote journalism and
media on our UAA campuses. This is an $11 fee that I must pay every
semester, and my payments, along with thousands of other fees
collected from other students, fund the cost of running The Northern
Light newspaper. Upon seeing the front page of your most recent issue,
I am content to say that I would like my student media fee reimbursed
to me in cash, or at least the portion used to fund the paper. The
reason I am making this request is due not to the content of the
articles, but due to the product affixed to the front page. Since
when should my media fees go to buy condomns that will be provided for
free to the rest of the student population here at the university? I
have nothing against the newspaper and its staff wanting to promote
good sexual health here at UAA, and publishing an article or two in
the paper is an acceptable practice to help promote the facts and
uncover the fallacies surrounding contr
aceptives and sexual intercourse. However, I must unfortunately
condemn the practice of providing condomns to anyone and everyone who
picks up a copy of the paper. If people want to have sex, be it
protected or unprotected, that is their own choice and responsibility.
If they want protection, it costs very little in time or money to walk
or drive to the nearest store and buy a pack of condomns for personal
use. To have my own media fees, in addition to the fees of other
students, be spent on free contraceptives for the entire student body
(as well as any other person who happens to get ahold of a copy of the
most recent issue) is an extremely poor demonstration of financial
efficiency and responsibility. Do we, as a whole, here at the
university, both students and faculty alike, possess so little self-
control or so little personal finances that we must have our student
newspaper provide sexual contraceptives on the front page of our
paper? Are we content with giving the publ
ic the image that this campus is nothing more than a collection of
hormone-crazed animals running around and copulating with anything
that moves on two legs? I, for one, will not condone such actions on
the part of my student newspaper, and I will be contacting both the
staff of The Northern Light and the rest of my student government
representatives and university faculty to express my utmost
displeasure over this practice.

Courtesy copies of this message have been sent to the included e-mail
addresses for review by the appropiate parties. I will make further
contact as needed. Thank you for your time and attention to this
matter. Please feel free to respond with any feedback or replies that
you may have.


Paul Keller


February 10, 2009 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

Palin coverage necessary, not overkill

Last week when Gov. Sarah Palin was tagged as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, Alaskans went nuts — and so did the local media. The Anchorage Daily News has had her picture on the front page almost without fail for the last week, and the Anchorage Press recently dedicated their front page and a large section to her as well. Reporters from papers across the nation have swarmed Alaska, digging up dirt and trying to gauge the reactions of locals from across the state.
Then there’s UAA. As a proud hub for students from all parts of Alaska, everyone has reacted in different ways to her nomination. It’s been over a week, and it’s still a popular topic of conversation. Despite initial shock, people are mostly enthusiastic. Some staunch Alaska Obama supporters are still proud to see a local representing Alaska.
Personally, I’m a homegrown Wasilla girl. I was raised and have always defended the community that has now been thrown into the national spotlight. I’ve always argued that the valley is classier than the redneck haven they make it our to be. I felt that the years of defending I have done finally paid off when I heard Matt Lauer say “Wasilla” on the Today show. For me, and other Wasilla natives, hearing that is one of the proudest and most surreal moments in its history.
As the media has descended on my little hometown, it’s only been weirder. My neighbor was interviewed for the New York Times. So was the pastor at a church dozens of my friends attend. Palin’s old church is less than a block from my house. I used to have psychology class with her son, Track. Before Palin was elected governor, she worked the coatroom at my high school prom.
I’ve heard rumblings that the press is going overkill with the coverage, but is it really? When was the last time Alaska was mentioned on a national scale farther than Sen. Ted Stevens “the internet is a series of tubes” on The Daily Show? People across the country are learning about issues I always thought only Alaskans would ever care about. Americans are learning what acronyms like ANWR and PFD stand for. They know what the “Bridge to Nowhere” is (or to be more correct, isn’t) and that moose can be put into sausage/burger/jerky form.
At a recent editorial board meeting, we discussed whether we were writing too much on Palin. We came to the conclusion that there can be no such thing as excess on a topic like Palin’s nomination. Not in Alaska, and not at UAA where students from all over the state –not just the Matanuska-Susitna valley – have deep rooted interests in what happens. We have never had a local come so far on the national stage, and I believe that every Alaskan wants to follow her progress as much as is possible.
At The Northern Light, we’ll do our best. We know you want to know, and were going to give it to you. This week, our opinion section is dedicated almost entirely to articles on Palin’s nomination. We’ve asked you questions for our Seawolf Snapshot, and we’re hearing what you have to say.
But this is not our way of saying that we endorse Palin in this election. The Northern Light editorial staff does not and has never endorsed any political candidate. We will continue to cover both sides of the political spectrum as days to election countdown and we will strive to give you the most well rounded coverage we can produce.
But still, like many other Alaskans, I cannot help but feel personally connected to events surrounding Palin. While I currently remain an undecided voter, I still cannot feel extreme joy in seeing what was once a little girl from Wasilla making such incredible progress. For me, it gives me hope that anything is possible – especially as another little girl from Wasilla.

Suzanna Caldwell
Managing Editor

September 7, 2008 at 9:42 pm Leave a comment

Departing words

For the last two days, I was trying to think of something — some piece of advice or ultimate parting thought to leave as my final words here, as my two-year editorship and time at UAA finally ends.

I got nothing.

Sure, I learned a lot of valuable lessons on managing people, balancing work and school, and various other office-specific tidbits. I picked up some insight into every job position at this paper, but I can’t really pass any of it on. The air around here has already changed, and my “wisdom” won’t likely have any place in the new era of The Northern Light. It saddens me a bit, but at the same time gives me hope, knowing that the new staff have the confidence and drive to be more than just an extension of my legacy. They’ll be their own entity, and any “what I would do” advice I have is worthless to them. Such is the way it goes at a college newspaper, which is what keeps things moving forward in a way that corporate-owned papers could never do.

That’s all for me. Thanks to all who’ve worked here and supported us for the past three and a half years for making my time as editor a great experience.

-Aaron Burkhart, ex-editor

June 24, 2008 at 4:24 pm 1 comment

Journalistic standards not always grasped by student editors

If there is one caution to leave to the next group of students who will produce The Northern Light, it would be to never forget that we are journalists first and opinionated people second. What does that mean? Simply put, that as newspaper writers our opinions aren’t more important than anyone else’s, so we must leave our opinions out of our writing and let the facts inform readers’ opinions however they will.

It’s the most basic tenant of public journalism: Report the facts, stay neutral, let the audience decide for themselves, don’t decide for others how they should feel about a story. Unfortunately, student writers and editors sometimes need to be reminded of that principle.

Not that anyone would try to slant a story using falsehood or even take quotes out of context, but just subconscious adjective choices or who they didn’t talk to can show some bias. One editor was heard saying “I don’t want to give (a group on campus) any more press.” Another time, an editor dropped a story after being asked to round out a story by presenting more than one side of the issue. I’ve tried over the years to catch the obvious instances of bias or unfair reporting, but I’m sure some got through, as they do in all media.

With blatantly opinionated “news” shows like “The Daily Show” providing much of the news viewing for college-age audiences, it’s not surprising many think of journalistic standards as old fashion. But we’re not just targeting a certain audience; we’re targeting all of UAA and parts of the greater community, which has a wide variety of opinions on every topic. To think that each of our readers will see things the same way as us is very narrow-minded. To let any of our opinions influence the coverage we provide is to put ourselves above our readers, which is not acceptable — ever. Even in the opinion section, we have to make sure not to give our individual writers special space just to voice their thoughts; if it’s not a regular column, they should have to write a letter to the editor like everyone else.

Not too long ago, The Northern Light was more akin to a high school paper — no professionalism, “news” stories based solely on first-person experience, and the opinions of this handful of students were plastered on every page; there was no reason anyone would want to read that besides a few friends or like-minded individuals. It was less of a campus paper and more of a club newsletter. I don’t ever want to see The Northern Light devolve back to that format, and I sincerely hope the next editor, and our readers, won’t let it.

-Aaron Burkhart, Editor

May 8, 2008 at 10:07 am Leave a comment

Awards aren’t everything, but they’re nice

At the Alaska Press Club’s annual awards banquet, this year The Northern Light won eight awards, including first place for best section, a great honor for our not-even-one-year-old Motion, our B section for sports and A&E. We didn’t get as many story awards this time, but made up for it with photo, graphics and layout awards (including three for myself; I entered two extra entries with my own money in addition to those paid by the paper).
It was somewhat surprising that the UAF Sun Star got second in best weekly newspaper, a category we’ve placed in the last two years but were shut out this time. They didn’t used to be much to look at, but I suppose we weren’t either at one point.
Awards like these can draw attention to quality where we might not expect it. Far from just the self-congratulatory posturing of an industry (at least in newspapers), awards are recognition from your peers of a job well done. It gives us all a means to measure our growth as organizations and as an industry.
Well, if nothing else, awards can spur healthy competition and the impetus to improve — no way can we let Fairbanks beat us again.

-Aaron Burkhart, editor

April 20, 2008 at 4:27 pm Leave a comment

An inside look at our office

By special request, here’s a look at our paper’s newsroom; excuse our mess, as it is a working office and these photos were not planned on by the staff.

    This is our office from the front.

    This is our business department, where our advertising staff and the Executive Operations Assistant are stationed.   

    Our four section editors (news, features, sports, A&E) are located in this part of the office.     

    A full-size fridge, microwave, toaster, and cabinet space give our break nook a homey feel, with a little bar for those who don’t want to eat at their desk.   

    Our graphics dept. is where layout, photography and graphics are produced, so scanner, printer, server and drawing tablet are all here.   

    One of the best parts of our new office is the conference room, which we use for interviews, meetings and sensitive issues.

    The Managing, Copy and Executive editors are toward the back of the office, where The Northern Light’s award wall shows off our most recent overall awards (individual writer awards don’t go there).  

    Finally, we have our filing cabinets leading to the back door, where we have additional storage space and a loading area for our newspaper bundles.  That’s our office; it’s not much, but much larger than our old office, which was, in turn, much larger than the office before it.

    -Aaron Burkhart, Editor 

    February 10, 2008 at 6:46 pm 4 comments

    The worst part of the job

    While Donald Trump made firing people with a dismissive wave fashionable, the editor with a conscience will find that choosing whom to hire or not (and, worse case, who to let go) is the most difficult part of the job.

    When two or more people apply for a position, almost the worst thing that can happen is for them both to be excellent candidates. With no clear better choice for the job, there’s no easy way to decide. The only way it could be worse is when a newcomer is clearly better than a friend, colleague or classmate who applied, especially when you’re the reason he or she applied in the first place.

    While I run The Northern Light more or less as a business other editors might find themselves hiring less-qualified acquaintances. At a college newspaper conference last year, I heard from several other editors who eventually had to fire friends who weren’t doing what they were hired to do, causing strain in their personal relationships.  

    The best course is to keep the hiring process completely professional. Don’t promise jobs to people ahead of time, don’t give friends a pass on sloppy cover letters or interview performances, and don’t hire the first person who happens to apply, no matter how desperate you are. Once the wrong person is in a position, it’s difficult for everyone affected by that person’s work, and not not easy to just fire someone, especially if effort is being made to improve.

    And when several good candidates are interviewed and only one can be chosen, it often comes down to factors outside the resume, like a recommendation from previous employers, enthusiasm, or professionalism. At a college paper, there is a high turnaround on positions, so I’ve made a lot of decisions on who gets hired and who doesn’t, and it hasn’t always been easy. And even when the decision is easy, it’s not always so easy to tell the one who wasn’t chosen. Well, maybe it’s easy for some editors, but I find it’s the worst part of the job.

    -Aaron Burkhart, Editor

    February 2, 2008 at 1:17 pm Leave a comment

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