KHOL’s award-winning newsroom has a new face. Hanna Merzbach, a former freelance journalist from Bend, Oregon, joined KHOL as a reporter and producer in late August. She’s reported on everything from historic housing crises to drought and wildfire for publications like The Atlantic, High Country News and NBC stations across the country.
Merzbach will hold down the newsroom while KHOL hires a news director. Former news director Kyle Mackie recently moved on to a job at NPR, but before she departed, she chatted with Merzbach about what drew KHOL’s new hire to the Tetons and what kind of stories she’s excited to report on. The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KYLE MACKIE: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the kind of journalism you’ve been doing based in Oregon?
HANNA MERZBACH: I’ve been working as a freelance journalist for the last couple of years. I’ve been writing everything from magazine features to breaking news for local publications, but also some national ones. My reporting has largely been [on] housing and environmental issues and a lot of state and local politics. Also, in 2020, I did a fellowship through Oregon Public Broadcasting and the NPR Next Generation Radio Workshop, so that really got me excited about doing more audio.
MACKIE: That’s a great fellowship program. Also, housing, environment, local politics—you are a natural fit for this reporting position here in Jackson. You reported a big piece for High Country News that was about how Oregon is converting hotels into homes for wildfire survivors and that was republished by The Atlantic and Mother Jones. Can you tell us about your experience reporting that in what was probably such an intense story?
MERZBACH: So, we went into that and we wanted to cover this initiative that Oregon had passed. They were buying up hotels around the state and housing people in them, particularly people experiencing homelessness and wildfire survivors. So it really just started with that. And we wanted to pick a specific hotel, go into it, see what that looks like. So, we went down to one in southern Oregon where there had been huge fires in 2020 and so many people displaced, mostly people that are Latinx because there’s a huge farmworker and immigrant population there. We showed up at the hotel and we found these great families to talk to who had been practically living in their cars. There’s one family who was almost living in the back of a pickup truck. And they finally were having this place that was a little bit closer to home. But that story still just exposed the lack of consistent government relief efforts and the fact that these people still, a year after this fire, the best thing that they had so far was living in a hotel, which is a step, but it really just exposed all the gaps in services that really exist.
MACKIE: So what drew you to Jackson and this reporting position with KHOL?
MERZBACH: Well, for one, I have visited Jackson a couple of times and love all of the outdoor opportunities. I’m a big climber and skier and all that stuff. So, the place is really drawing me in. And I had also been following KHOL for a while. I’d seen that it had been growing as a station, and I really liked the kind of reporting it was doing, and I could just really see myself in that spot. I wanted to take a step away from freelancing. I felt that I couldn’t really get that experience in audio while freelancing. So, I’m really looking to dial in those radio skills through this job.
MACKIE: And what are you most excited to report on here?
MERZBACH: The biggest thing is housing. I’ve already been covering a lot of stuff related to housing, like what the city council is doing with short-term rentals. Other than that, I’m really excited to get out in the field and have assignments with Game and Fish, shadow them on what they’re doing.
MACKIE: Yeah, I definitely love getting out with Game and Fish, too. It’s been some of my favorite reporting in my time here. So you mentioned you’re a big skier and climber. This is the important question for folks moving to Jackson Hole: How are you planning on spending your time outside of work?
MERZBACH: A lot of those things you just mentioned. I’m really excited to get more into backcountry skiing [and] do more alpine climbing. I’m working towards doing that. I also do a lot of trail running and spend a lot of time on the water.
MACKIE: Well, I look forward to hopefully running and climbing together.
MERZBACH: Me too.
MACKIE: All right. That’s Hanna Merzbach, our new reporter and producer at KHOL. You can contact Hanna with story ideas at email@example.com.
Listen above for Kyle’s full conversation with Hanna.