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Good Night, And Good Luck

Francesca Fenzi and Jenn Ruckel in KNOM's newsroom

One of the hardest things about being a KNOM volunteer is recognizing that you are, by nature, replaceable.

Even as you invest in your work, your life, and your relationships within the community, you know that, at some point, you’ll have to let them go. You’ll have to hand over things that are deeply important to you, entrusting them to the care of complete strangers.

Which is terrifying. And makes for a complicated relationship between incoming and outgoing volunteers. As one KNOM alumnus joked when I first arrived: “We hate you until you get here.”

For those of us finishing our year, the new volunteers are a symbol of the end. They’re a reminder of our limited time. And, embarrassingly, of just how unsteady, unprepared, and ridiculous we felt when we first arrived. In other words, they’re easy to pick on.

Then they arrive. And they’re not awful. And that’s weird.

In fact, they’re actually kind of great. You start wanting them to succeed… even to exceed your example. Which means that you have to eat a big ol’ slice of humble pie. Because while everybody wants to feel valuable — necessary, even — training a replacement is the exact opposite of that; it’s an exercise in becoming obsolete. And, ultimately, that’s a good thing.

This year, I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating the challenges associated with frequent turnover in “gate keeper” roles within our community — including my own role as a reporter. Now, I find myself examining the other side of that coin, appreciating the perks of fresh blood within an organization like KNOM.

For example, there is a loss of cultural understanding and experience that comes with every changing of the guard. Newcomers to Nome have everything to learn about the culture, politics, and complexities of this region. (Which, considering my own slow progress, is likely to be time-consuming and tedious for volunteers and listeners alike.) But there’s also fresh enthusiasm, energy, and innovation that accompany each restart. And that isn’t a weakness; it’s a strength.

As I observe the curiosity, enthusiasm, and genuine concern expressed by incoming volunteers when it comes to their jobs and this community, I find myself getting caught off-guard by the investment they’re already making to understand and become a part of this place that means so much to me.

I’m impressed by their creativity and find myself getting revved up about projects and ideas that fell by the wayside during my own year of service. I realize that I have endless suggestions for how the next generation of volunteers can “do it better.” How they can avoid my mistakes. Learn faster. Work smarter. Be kinder — both to themselves and to others.

For every success I’ve enjoyed in my role with KNOM, I can think of two improvements I’d still like to implement. And I’m certain, moving forward, that the volunteers I welcome today will have their own improvements to propose in the future. Which is, ultimately, the best kind of person to have working in and for your community: the kind of person who cares.

So, in closing, I’d like to thank the community that’s been so very generous to me — and to ask one last favor on behalf of the folks taking my place. They may not have the hang of pronouncing your name just yet, but they’ll get there. And when they do, I know that Nome (and all of Western Alaska) will be one step closer to the kind of media service that it truly deserves.