Alumni Spotlight: Dan Carpenter

October 2, 2013
IAM-UAA-Dan-Carpenter

I AM UAA: Dan Carpenter

B.A. Journalism ’05
Hometown: Anchorage, AK (but grew up in Bethel)
Fun Fact: On free weekends Dan escapes to the cabin he built, completely unplugging, reading from his stacks of book, no Kindle, no tablet, just a good old fashioned paperback.

Journalism 2.0

KTUU Channel 2 News Multi-Media Journalist Dan Carpenter is redefining what it means to be a journalist—and at times, he’s not even sure what that means. Since he graduated from UAA’s Journalism and Public Communications program in 2005 the industry has vastly changed. Gone are the days of the traditional reporter with pad and paper, now a relic of an era that was swallowed up by the 24-hour news cycle, the “blogosphere” and the “Twitterverse.”

“Journalism has changed so much lately, it’s very web-based,” says Dan. “My current position—multi-media journalist—there weren’t any classes for that when I was in college.”

Newsrooms used to have much more defined categories Dan explains. Everyone had their distinct roles to play in contributing, producing and airing the news each night.

“That’s all one person now,” says Dan laughing. “There are many titles for the position that I have. Backpack journalist, one-man-band, multi-media journalist.”

He says it can be stressful at times trying to “turn a story” all by oneself, but he’s embraced this fluid role where he’s the reporter, photographer, writer, editor and producer of a story. He likes the ownership of telling a story from beginning to end, but admits that it makes for long days and weeks on the road.

“It’s a high paced profession, it’s not just a job—it’s a lifestyle,” he says. “Your day does not begin at nine and end at six, it’s all hours of the day—or night. But there’s that gratification of doing a story well and hopefully having some positive impact, because that’s why I’m here, to tell a story, provide information and serve the public.”

You can take the boy out of the tundra but…

Dan wasn’t always so keen to step in front of the camera. He prefers to be behind the lens, using a video or still camera to capture moments in time to tell his stories. His affinity for photography started when he was a young boy in Bethel where he quickly fell under the spell of his grandparents’ extensive library collection.

“They had a fantastic library in their house and I would find books that I found fascinating,” Dan recalls. “My grandfather had books on film theory, so at a very young age I was reading about how to make movies—technical stuff like sequencing video and matching action—all these things they teach you at college, but as a 10-year-old I was really interested in.”

Dan spent his childhood until middle school growing up in Bethel, strongly influenced by his grandparents’ adventurous Alaska spirits. They were homesteaders out of Stony River, about 140 miles north of Bethel, along the Kuskokwim River. It was out on the tundra of southwest Alaska where Dan cut his teeth as an enterprising photographer, not realizing his childhood romps on the frozen tussocks were foreshadowing his career path later in life.

“My grandfather had a VHS video camera and I would run around the tundra on my little adventures and make my own documentaries,” says Dan smiling. “Every spring the river breaks up and I would say ‘Mom, get in the car, we gotta drive to the river! I need to get video of this,’ and I would bring my camera along and document the flooding.”

Coming of age

After elementary school Dan said goodbye to the hub town he’d grown to love when his mom packed their family up, moving them to the big city where Dan finished his schooling and graduated high school from Polaris K-12.

“It was an enormous adjustment,” he says. “I can sympathize with kids who come in from the Bush to go to college because so much is different.”

It took some time for him to assimilate to life in Anchorage, but after a while found activities and things he loved about the big city, like cross-country ski racing, the art culture and opportunities for pursuing photography.

“I began taking photography classes at the King Career Center and that was kind of the foundation of my career in photography,” he says. “In high school I wanted to make movies. I basically said to myself, ‘What can I do to get behind a camera?’ I started interning at the local CBS station. I’ve worked at a TV station since I was 17.”

He started at the very bottom of the ladder as the errand boy, making copies and handing out scripts, but was eventually hired to run one of the cameras in the studio. From there he never looked back.

“When I first started (at UAA), I didn’t know I wanted to graduate with a journalism degree. I thought I was just going to do photography—just fine arts—but as I continued with my work at the TV station, I realized a degree in journalism would serve me well,” he said.

Dan took his education seriously, taking a wide range of classes from web design and writing to photography. Weekends were spent at the TV station, where he’d run the football games and try to cram in studying during the 45-minute breaks between games. Despite the seven-days-a-week of school and work, he felt it was important to be as well rounded and prepared as possible before he graduated, so he took a little bit of everything.

“UAA gave me a solid base that I could learn from, it was like a jumping-off point,” says Dan. “As soon as I graduated, the industry began changing very quickly, so basically I was able to keep my head above water and learn those skills needed to be effective at my job. And that rounded base—taking photography, writing for print, web design—I do all of that today.”

Multi-media journalist

Since graduating Dan’s career has taken him all over the state and to Mexico. He’s worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, racking up some impressive awards along the way. From 2007-2011, he worked as a photojournalist for KTUU Channel 2, covering news stories from Anchorage to Barrow and in 2011 left to pursue freelance work. He worked on two documentaries for the news stations National Broadcast Corporation (NBC) and Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) Frontline series. Dan’s a winner of both regional and national Edward R. Murrow award, has received two Emmy Award nominations for news photography and as a part of KTUU Channel 2’s photography staff, recognized with two National Press Photographer, “Station of the Year” awards.

In 2012 KTUU Channel 2 asked him to return to their news team, but had one stipulation, that he report a story every once in a while.

“That was something that was uncomfortable for me because nowhere did I want to be in front of camera,” Dan says. “That was never my desire, never part of the plan. I didn’t want to be hearing my voice on television and so to be asked to report—that was something out of my comfort zone. But sticking with my commitment to not turning down a challenge, I said yes, just to see what happens.”

Dan’s enterprising, can-do attitude approach to his work in an industry still settling from the storm of the digital age, where breaking news is sent out in tweets or Facebook status updates, has served him well. He doesn’t back down from a challenge, even if it means stepping out of his comfort zone or learning a new skill.

“If you continue to challenge yourself you may discover a skill you didn’t know you had,” says Dan. “If I just wanted to be comfortable and remain in my cozy comfort area, I wouldn’t have gotten into reporting. It’s a different ballgame but a challenge that I was willing to accept.”

Dan says he’s not sure what the fate of the news industry is, but knows he loves his job, telling Alaska’s stories of the land, people and culture here. Whatever happens, he’ll continue to capture it all from behind the lens of his camera.

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