The Alaska Press Club held its annual awards ceremony this weekend, handing out awards for radio, television and print coverage to reporters throughout the state. Included in its awards is a man who likely doesn’t have a whole lot of bylines in Alaska media: Anchorage Fire Department employee John Crabb.
Crabb oversees the audio and video equipment for the Anchorage Assembly meetings. It’s typically a low-key position except for the night of Oct. 7, 2021, during some of the most contentious hearings over the city’s masking mandate. City Manager Amy Demboski ordered the stream shutdown as the angry and vitriolic meetings riled up by Mayor Dave Bronson and his allies turned ugly, but Crabb refused.
He didn’t work for her, he told her, and the livestream stayed up for all to see.
“I was called to the Chambers by Ms (Demboski) where she directed me to cut the video feed to GCI and YouTube while continuing to record the meeting in the background,” Crabb wrote in an email sent during the events to Fire Chief Doug Schrage and Assistant Chief Alex Boyd. “I refused her request and when asked why, I replied that I did not work for her, rather I take my orders from my Chief, Alex Boyd.”
The exchange and the subsequent email were first published by the Alaska Landmine.
The attempt to shut down the hearing feed came as part of a broader effort by the Bronson administration to make life difficult for the Assembly’s progressive/moderate core, which included dismissing security and removing plexiglass barriers in a show for the audience.
The attempt to shut down the livestream, however, was particularly egregious as the livestreams serve as an effective way for the general public to track the meetings. The Bronson administration dodged criticism for the move, noting that the stream was never taken down (despite Demboski’s efforts).
While Crabb was unable to participate in the digital ceremony — he’s working the Prince Williams Sound shrimping season — he wrote that he believes in providing the public with a clear and truthful information.
“Maintaining an independent an uncensored free press is, in my mind, one of the most important functions of a democratic society,” he wrote to the Alaska Press Club. “Truth and integrity in the dissemination of information is crucial. World events of the day clearly demonstrate the destructive power of those who would manipulate information for personal or political gain. ”