PUBLISHER ASSUMED THEY WERE PARTNERS FOR LIFE
By CRAIG MEDRED
The staid facade to which 67-year-old, millionaire publisher Alice Rogoff has clung through more than a year of off-and-on court appearances in the wake of her bankrupting Alaska’s largest news organization finally cracked on Thursday.
On the stand in Anchorage Superior Court for the second day answering questions related to a $1 million lawsuit filed by former best-friend forever Tony Hopfinger, she looked very frail and human for a brief few minutes.
Some tears appeared in her eyes amid questions about the tight bonds that once bound her to Hopfinger and then-wife Amanda Coyne, the founders of the Alaska Dispatch. Rogoff described Coyne as the “guru” of the long gone, online news start-up, and Hopfinger as the cement that held the business together.
Over the course of a few short years from the end of the 2000s into the 2010s, Rogoff invested enough money, and Hopfinger, Coyne and a small group of reporters invested enough sweat energy in the Dispatch to build it from nothing to a respected and steadily growing news organization. The Columbia Journalism Review labeled the Dispatch a “regional reporting powerhouse” in 2010.
The Dispatch was as much a family as a news organization in those days, and though Rogoff only flitted in and out while others labored 60 to 80 hours per week, she was emotionally attached. She was the visiting grandma to a bunch of young reporters being schooled by Hopfinger, Coyne and a cranky old uncle, who worked in a rundown office in an airport hangar with a cupboard always stuffed with snacks and wine, and a refrigerator guaranteed to contain the makings for a late-night sandwich and, of course, a beer.
Rogoff knew how to take care of her people in those days, and though the pay wasn’t that great and the offices were a little grungy, the Dispatch had a lot of the fabled elements of internet start-ups everywhere: free food and a free bar, freedom to innovate, and esprit de corps.
More than once in those days, Rogoff testified, she told people she, Hopfinger and Coyne were in a “three-way marriage. I used to say that all the time publicly. We just all understood each other.”
“In my mind,” she said,”we would be making money.”
The marriage started to come apart after Coyne fell out of love with Hopfinger and in love with a powerful Alaska lobbyist in 2012. That caused all sort of problems. Hopfinger and some others on the Dispatch staff didn’t think it was a good idea for Coyne to be covering politics while in a romance with someone who tended to end up with his fingers in every big political deal in the state.
“(Hopfinger) thought that a little more than I did,” Rogoff admitted. “He thought he couldn’t trust her reporting.”