In August 1963 Michael Carey stepped into his brand new room at Ithaca College. He set down a duffel bag filled with belongings from his home in Fairbanks, Alaska—4,000 miles away—leaned against the single mattress topped with fresh sheets, and asked himself what he had just done. Fifty years later, as he returned to the college to give a speech on history in journalism, Carey reflected positively on the experience.
“There was something else in that room,” he says. “My future. That’s what was in that room.”
He was committed to making the most of his time in a completely new environment. He took a variety of classes, from English to philosophy to history, and settled on a major in history.
The campus was a different place then. Friends Hall had just been built and Dillingham would not be completed until 1968. Carey spent free time during his senior year listening to Jimi Hendrix and driving to New York City for Vietnam War protests.
After graduating in 1967, Carey bounced around for several years, working at a bookstore in Boston and pursuing graduate studies in American history at Duke University. Ten years later he ended up back in Fairbanks where he was invited to join a growing team of reporters at the Anchorage Daily News.
His first job was as an editorial writer, and he spent much of his day writing or editing letters to the editor. In his time on the job he would eventually edit over 75,000 letters. From this first position, the connection to history drew Carey to a career in journalism.
“I was drawn to it because in a way journalism is the short form of history,” Carey says. “I really like the storytelling aspect as well.”
Carey has held nearly every position at the paper, and he’s also worked for Alaska Public Media and hosted the television program Anchorage Weekly. His work has appeared in the New York Times and LA Times and on PBS and NPR to name just a few. He has interviewed Sarah Palin and former vice president Dick Cheney on multiple occasions.
Nowadays, Carey is a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News and remains on the editorial board. Much of his current work is what he calls “informed historical journalism,” stories that delve into Alaska’s past. One of his recent pieces, for example, tells the story of “Alaska’s Titanic,” a ship named the Sophia that sunk in 1918, taking with it 350 people. Such a combination of history, journalism, and storytelling is the aspect of Carey’s work that he finds so rewarding.
“It’s like gold mining,” Carey says of the process. “You have to go through a lot of rocks before you find any gold. I’ve always been excited by learning about the past and other places while doing it in a hands-on way—and being able to turn it into a story.”
Although times have changed since his college graduation, Carey says that basic skills and natural curiosity are just as important as they’ve ever been. As he explained his work to a group of students, the same phrases came up time and time again.
“Really dig into your passions,” Carey says. “Be curious. Be nosy. The worst someone can do is say no.”