Haines’ only radio station has upped its pay and cut back on deadlines in an effort to fill a reporter position that’s been vacant since May.

For more than three months the station has gone without a full-time news gatherer. In Skagway, Mike Swasey is working part-time this summer, filing about one newscast per week. Morning host Brandon Wilks also recently began reporting part-time from Haines. But the full-time reporter vacancy has persisted since Corinne Smith left the station in late spring.

“This is definitely unprecedented. We’ve pretty much always been able to hire a new reporter within a couple months in the past,” said KHNS board president Russ Lyman.

To attract applicants, the station raised its starting yearly salary by $5,000 – to $45,000 – and reduced the reporter’s responsibilities from a daily newscast to three per week.

“We have had a spotty response, and mostly not from people who have a tremendous amount of experience,” KHNS general manager Kay Clements said. “It seems that one of the pressures is the daily deadline. We’re trying to mitigate that somewhat by making it every other day.”

The station’s hiring difficulty aligns with a broader labor shortage across the state and country. Local restaurants have had to change hours and limit operations in recent months. And Haines Assisted Living recently raised pay by $3 an hour in an effort to recruit at least two new employees.

Journalismjobs.com currently lists four reporter openings at Alaskan newsrooms — at papers in Kodiak, Fairbanks and Homer and at Alaska Public Media in Anchorage. The Ketchikan Daily News is also hiring a reporter.

“It’s harder to find applicants, and it’s taking longer. People are going several months with empty slots,” said Larry Persily, a longtime Alaskan journalist and owner of the Wrangell Sentinel.

Persily, who taught journalism in 2019 and 2020 at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, said the pandemic has made hiring more difficult. He also has observed that younger people are more inclined to go into corporate communications or social media than to work in a newsroom.

“There just aren’t enough new young players homegrown in Alaska,” he said, comparing entry-level Alaska journalism jobs to a baseball farm league. Persily noted that recently “there have been openings in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau, Petersburg, Skagway, Nome, Homer, Anchorage, Fairbanks.”

Clements said it’s hard to say exactly what’s causing KHNS’ hiring difficulty. “There are so many theories swirling around. I don’t have enough knowledge of the bigger economy to guess. It sure is disheartening because I think we have a good situation here, a good team; it’s a good job for the right person,” she said.

The number of employees in the news industry, including print and broadcast, declined by more than 40% between 2010 and 2020, according to average monthly employment data from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The department projects that the number of print and broadcast reporters statewide will fall from an estimated 210 in 2019 to 122 in 2030.

That decline tracks with a national trend. The Pew Research Center reported last year that employment in U.S. newsrooms declined by 26% between 2008 and 2020, dropping from about 114,000 to 85,000 employees.

But there might be reason to suspect the national media ecosystem is merely transforming, not dying. The national decline occurred mainly among newspapers; employees at digital publications grew in the same time period, according to Pew.