Pioneer of Western Alaska journalism Rosemary ‘Rosie’ Porter dies at 85

Rosie Porter is seen in the offices of The Tundra Drums weekly newspaper with reporters Peter Friend (left) and Richie Goldstein in Bethel sometime in the early 1980s. (James H. Barker/”Bethel: The First 100 Years, 1885-1985″)

Rosemary “Rosie” Porter, remembered as a fierce advocate for the people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta as owner and editor of The Tundra Drums newspaper, died in Anchorage on March 1, 2024 at 85 years old.

Porter moved to Bethel in 1974, where she quickly found work at KYUK developing educational and news programming, as well as editing a weekly KYUK newspaper and program guide called The Tundra Drums.

When KYUK came under fire for violating federal public media guidelines with The Tundra Drums, Porter saw an opportunity. She bought the paper and set up shop in a small space at Leen’s Lodge, a two-story, flood-prone roadhouse on the Bethel riverfront that has since been demolished.

One of Porter’s friends from the time, Robin Barker, recalls the importance of the newspaper in its early days.

“She really started that newspaper from nothing, you know, from a little mimeographed sheet,” Barker said. “And it was a really critical time for news for people in Bethel and in the villages because things were happening fast.”

With Porter at the helm, The Tundra Drums thrived. Porter told the Alaska Dispatch in 2011 that at one point, the paper had as many as 20 employees and put out the largest weekly newspaper in the state: 48 pages or more.

The Dec. 8, 1975 edition of The Tundra Drums newspaper shows coverage of a fire that destroyed Bethel’s power plant and left the city in the dark for three days.

Friends say that Porter had an eye for cultivating talented reporters. Richie Goldstein, who wrote for The Tundra Drums from 1979 to 1984, originally came to Bethel to work as a teacher but was soon working for Porter.

“Rosie said, ‘Well just come to work for me.’ So Friday was my last day at school, and Monday I was the editor of The Tundra Drums,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein said that Porter was generous to a fault.

“In 1980, she took the entire staff and a bunch of other people, maybe 10 or 11 of us, on a two-week trip to England,” Goldstein said.

Porter also spent the money she made flying reporters to villages to cover critical issues across the region. In 1984, she even sent Goldstein to file stories and photos for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

“I covered Greco-Roman, and Judo, and fencing, and weightlifting,” Goldstein said.

Another reporter who Porter sought out was Bethel resident Beverly Hoffman, who worked part-time for both KYUK and The Tundra Drums in the mid 1970s. Hoffman credits Rosie with showing her the ropes and inspiring her.

“She just covered so much and she wasn’t afraid. My gosh, she would print the salaries of every state employee person and write in those honest stories about what was going on,” Hoffman said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is one powerful woman dealing with, you know, powerful men and issues way back then.’”

Mary Lenz, who came to Bethel to cover the first running of the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race in 1980 for the Associated Press, ended up working for Porter on and off for a decade.

“Rosie combined the best of concern for community, a dedicated journalistic experience, and a lot of fun. She made things fun,” Lenz said.

According to her friends, Porter’s editorial style was also fun, if not outright edgy at times. One memorable headline using the Yup’ik word for defecation: “Governor Anaqs on Bethel,” is said to have gotten the attention of then-Gov. Jay Hammond and reversed a decision to veto funding for the Yukon-Kuskokwim (Y-K) region.

Porter did not have a conventional childhood, according to her son, Gregory Porter. She was born Rosemary Brugman in Union City, New Jersey in 1939, the second-oldest of four children. Due to difficult family circumstances, in 1957 she and her three siblings set off across the country by train to San Francisco to find work. Porter was able to land a job at the San Francisco Chronicle, laying a foundation in print media and sparking a long and storied career in journalism.

In San Francisco, Porter and her siblings raised the funds to purchase ship passage to Alaska, arriving in Fairbanks in the summer of 1958. There, alongside opening a modeling and finishing school, Porter worked in a variety of media roles, including as a weather anchor for television stations in both Fairbanks and Anchorage. She married Don Porter in Anchorage in 1962.

In 1990, Porter sold The Tundra Drums to the Calista Corporation, calling it quits after 15 years at the helm to pursue other ventures, including indulging her lifelong love of travel.

Porter is survived by her children, Kendall Larson and Gregory Porter.

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