Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media’s (APM) web editor and producer, has always been a journalist—he just didn’t know it. Wesley was born in Harrogate, England, and grew up globe-trotting with his family. His father worked for the Department of Defense as a linguist, which meant that by the time he’d graduated from high school, he’d called four countries and three U.S. states home—with Alaska being the place he’d stayed put the longest.
He said he’s always had an interest in people and a fascination with the mundane—the ordinary events that stack up to build people’s lives. He had a bit of an epiphany while riding the school bus one day, realizing, as each one of his friends and classmates got off the bus, that they were going home to a completely separate family than his. They were going to eat something completely different for dinner and going to have a totally different evening routine than he was. It blew his mind.
You might say this was the beginning of Wesley’s interest in people and learning more about them, their work and what makes them tick.
“I’ll sit and chat with people about what they ate for breakfast that day, and I think that some people think that small talk is minutia, but I find it thoroughly fascinating,” Wesley said. Which, in a roundabout way, led him to the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Journalism and Communication program. He’d received a few out-of-state scholarships, but nothing enticing enough to persuade him to leave Alaska.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but knew I wanted it to be interviewing people and making some type of sound piece out of it,” said Wesley. It would take a few more years, a few more classes and two journalism professors for Wesley to find his niche.
Finding his voice
When Wesley joined the Journalism and Communication program at UAA, he wasn’t entirely sure which path he would take—newspaper, radio, television, magazine, podcasts—there were a lot of options. But a few key professors provided the passion and inspiration he needed to find his way in a crowded news space.
Former UAA Atwood Chair of Journalism Mark Trahant’s storytelling class was the catalyst that provided Wesley with the energy and inspiration to tell other people’s stories.
“He really got me into storytelling,” Wesley said. “How journalism is not just going out to the event, yelling questions at people and having them yell answers back and then writing. It was about big storytelling.” He said that Mark’s love of data and focusing on trends to tell a story helped Wesley see the big picture, take those two items, synthesize it down and tell people’s stories.
Former National Public Radio reporter Elizabeth Arnold balanced out Mark’s teaching, in providing Wesley with the tough love that’s needed when out in the field and dealing with no-nonsense editors.
“She was really good at telling me what I was doing well and even better at telling me what I needed to improve upon,” Wesley said, laughing. “She got me excited about what is to be a reporter and what is to tell stories—and how to do it. I think the biggest thing she told me was to make sure that I’m not in there at all.”
It’s advice he’s carried with him over to APM and something he notices in other people’s reporting.
“Every time I hear a reporter say, ‘I did this, or I walked in,’ I always cringe a little and I hear her voice kicking me in the head saying, ‘Take yourself out of the story, you’re not important, you’re telling their story!’” said Wesley.
Wesley’s big break came when he applied for an internship at APM his last semester of senior year at UAA. It’s when he discovered the power of voice—the subtle inflections and emotions people insert into interviews and conversations—something unique only to radio. He was hooked and wanted to be a part of that.
Falling in love…with radio, that is
“I kind of fell in love with radio reporting because I thought of it as more personal,” said Wesley. “I’m just talking to someone and all you hear is their voice, there’s no distraction.”
He says that he’s never been a visual person, so the digital, video and print side of the industry hasn’t really called out to him the same way that radio has. He likes the intimacy of just listening to the words that people are saying and the challenge of having to create the picture for the listener just through sound.
“I think I’m my biggest critic and my biggest cheerleader, ‘I’ll think, yeah, I did a great job and then I’ll listen back and think, ahh, I should have done this.’” It’s a sentiment shared by most reporters and journalists critiquing their own work. But he’s learned that you just have to let that go.
Since joining APM, Wesley’s covered a lot, from Alaska getting a new supreme court justice, and being in the field while paratroopers dropped in around him, to the president of China visiting, and new pizza shops opening in town.
He’s not doing as much reporting as he hoped, but what makes up for that is his absolute love of his job, the group of people he works with at APM and the community he covers.
“When I got the job, I was about to graduate from college and ready to move to D.C., New York or some big city where I could really get my hands dirty.” He had aspirations of becoming the next big news anchor, but when the previous web editor moved on to a new job opportunity and his bosses asked him if he wanted the job, he hesitated at first. He really wanted his first job out of college to be a reporter, but he learned that sometimes you take what life hands you.
“It would be nice to be closer to family, closer to the rest of civilization, so to speak, but I honestly love reporting here,” Wesley said. “I like what I do—reporting on a whole bunch of things and talking to strangers—all good things.”
So Wesley’s content to be here for now, in the 49th state, capturing Alaskans’ voices and stories through the radio each week, editing stories and honing his journalism skills.
“I think I’m just fascinated with the everyday and the everyday life of people,” Wesley said. And whether he is here or some big metropolis—the end goal will be the same, to learn about people and the pieces that make up their everyday lives to create a whole picture.
Written by Catalina Myers, UAA Office of University of Advancement