Few who read this web site really want to see Anchorage without a daily newspaper.
No, really, you don’t. Great cities deserve great newspapers. And Anchorage has the bone structure of a great city.
But recent reports of the Alaska Dispatch News being slow to pay its bills and now having lawsuits filed over nonpayment issues have many readers wondering: Could it actually happen? It has, after all, been shrinking, and shrinking again.
The promises made by the current owner to expand coverage have been quietly shelved.
“Providing in-depth reporting and diverse public opinion on this topic is one of the main reasons I bought this newspaper a year ago. An honest, informed conversation about our economy is one of the best contributions we can make to Alaska. To that end, we have ramped up our daily coverage of the state fiscal crisis and launched an Economy section that appears on page A-3 every day except Mondays. Look for even more to come,” Rogoff wrote on April 11, 2015.
Now, the Dispatch death watch has captured the fascination of the reading public.
NEWSPAPERS ON THE LAST FRONTIER
The Dispatch was the mouse that ate the lion, the Anchorage Daily News, once upon a time not so very long ago.
The Daily News had eaten, and spit out the Anchorage Times three decades prior, to the dismay of many conservatives who had reveled in the humor of reworking the words on their newspaper delivery tubes to read, “Anchorage Daily Lies.”
It was their mirthful retribution for what they saw as liberal bias.
Since Alice Rogoff became its owner, the newspaper, now known as the Anchorage Dispatch News, has continued its steady march to the left.
The readers? They just stopped getting the paper. Circulation of the Dispatch edition is now in the 23,000 range, which is a quarter of what it was a decade ago. The online presence is still robust, but has also suffered. The paper seems to be in a death spiral of declining readership, ever-leftward coverage, leading to more declining readership.
Now that rumors of bills unpaid have turned into searchable court records, the question is, will the Alaska Dispatch News change hands again?
And if so, what kind of shape is it in? Who would buy it? What is it worth? Not the $34 million that Rogoff paid for it, surely.
Morris Communications is owner of the Juneau Empire, the Kenai Peninsula Clarion, the Alaska Journal of Commerce, and several other printed properties in the state. Morris has been a newspaper owner in Alaska since the late 1960s, winning the prize for newspaper ownership longevity in Alaska. The Georgia-based company could make the best go of it, but the problems with the presses and the ADN’s past-due bills might require more cash than Morris would wish to print.
Wick Communications, owner of the Anchorage Press and Frontiersman, might have a shot, but the Arizona-based company would probably turn the Dispatch into a tabloid-sized newspaper. Wick specializes in smaller-format papers in small communities. Buying the ADN would be a stretch.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner is, since 2015, owned by a foundation named for the wife of former publisher Charles W. Snedden. The deal included the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Could the Dispatch be given away to a charitable foundation to run? Snedden Foundation assets, around $8 million, might not be enough to keep it afloat.
In any case, giving it away is a long shot, because Rogoff and her former business partner, Tony Hopfinger, are in court over what he claims is his share of the newspaper — a roughly $900,000 obligation that Hopfinger says Rogoff still owes him. That court date is July 11 for oral arguments.
Is it possible that Hopfinger will get the entire operation back if he wins in court over his contract with Rogoff, which was written on a bar napkin? (For a picture of the bar napkin, following the “Dispatch founder…” link above)
Earlier this year, Rogoff telegraphed to readers that this would be a year of change for the Dispatch. The paper would soon start charging for access to its online presentation. Soon after she penned that column, the paper stopped its Saturday print edition. Now, it may go to three days a week. At least one newsroom writer has been let go.
Three-day-a-week publication is when it gets rough for a newspaper that has already broken the trust with readers. Once customers lose their addiction to print, they don’t easily return. A newspaper habit is not like a cigarette habit; clearly thousands of Alaskans have decided they can do without daily delivery.
Yet three days a week becomes an afterthought for news consumers, who will search online for the news they want and who have become accustomed to immediacy in this digital age.
Bear maulings? Fishing politics? Iditarod? CraigMedred.news has the mayhem beat down pat.
Looking for a conservative take on political current events? MustReadAlaska.com is fiesty, sassy and unrepentant.
Oil company news? AlaskaJournal.com is killing it.
Alternative lifestyles? Anchorage Press.
There are more. Smaller newspapers are surviving, even where the old-guard large ones are failing.
If the Alaska Dispatch News shrinks to a tabloid size (and there is every indication it’s heading that direction) and prints just three days a week, maybe it can stay afloat like the others, but it seems to require new management. The current management has too much explaining to do to advertisers, creditors and the skeptical public.
And that leaves one very big question: Will David Rubenstein, the husband of Alice Rogoff and reportedly the 123rd richest man in America, bail out the Dispatch before it embarrasses the family name? If so, what will the multi-billionaire Marylander require in return from his runaway wife, who has been living apart from him and mainly in Alaska for the past 16 years?
Likely, a businessman like Rubenstein would have terms, and they might include selling the paper or giving it away to a good home, like a foundation.
Rubenstein is, after all, a philanthropist at heart. But he is also a highly shrewd private equity investor who specializes in distressed properties. He knows a basket case when he sees it.