The former editor of the Anchorage Daily News, who helped shape politics in Alaska through his news coverage for many years, died Thursday in Sacramento, where he retired several years ago. He was 73; the cause of his death was reported as pancreatic cancer.
His former reporters and colleagues wrote glowing accolades about the writer and editor they admired. He was their journalistic hero and he shaped the way journalism is practiced in Alaska.
Maria Downey wrote at KTUU, “An honest, wise, old soul, along with a mentor, coach and outstanding journalist — these are some of the many words shared on Friday by friends and colleagues describing Howard Weaver.”
Weaver helped the paper take home two Pulitzer Prizes and shaped Alaska journalism at a formidable time from the 1970s through 1992, Downey wrote.
The memorials posted by his colleagues on X/Twitter were voluminous on Friday.
“He was a journalist’s journalist. Although he left the state years ago, he always kept a tab on what was happening here and how the news media was covering Alaska,” wrote the University of Alaska Anchorage Journalism and Public Communications Department.
But he was part of the journalism in Alaska that was decidedly anti-conservative, and he was not universally admired by the business community or Republicans.
For conservatives, Weaver was seen as a partisan operator who, after he retired, spent time on Twitter criticizing Republicans and people such as Elon Musk, while reposting content from people like Robert Reich, Labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. He supported the candidacy of Mary Peltola for Congress on social media.
On X/Twitter a year ago, he called Elon Musk, “A liar as well as a malicious narcissist.”
He called for the “social death” of those who would not submit their arms to the Covid-19 vaccination. In writing about public hangings in Medieval Europe not being a deterrent for pickpockets, he made the comparison: “That’s also true of rabid anti-vaxers, the people who refuse to be vaccinated despite the undeniable possibility of death from Covid 19. Meanwhile, they also endanger everybody else by their intransigence, serving as carriers for the virus and incubators for the mutations by which the bug becomes ever-more robust, contagious and deadly.
“The prospect of painful, gasping death doesn’t convince them, even when they’ve seen loved ones and beloved celebrities die from the disease. Incentives don’t work. Badgering them certainly won’t.
“What’s left? A different death penalty: Social Death,” Weaver wrote.
“Want to go to the ballgame? Show a vaccine certificate. Drink at a local bar? Same. Ride an airplane, work for the government or healthcare, attend a concert? Same answer,” he continued.
Of Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in 2020, Weaver wrote, “It is hard not to howl at the moon and cry for blood after four years of Trumpsters attacking America and its best ideals. I understand and share those impulses. But but not every attack on Trump is a victory; not every accommodation is betrayal. I’m prepared to help Joe Biden practice his style of governance by decency and consensus, to work our way up from the Trumpian mudbaths and wait to tackle some of the specific, necessary changes later, after we’ve restored a national sense of purpose and continuity.”
In 1997, Weaver became editorial page editor for the Sacramento Bee, the first McClatchy publication. In 2001, he returned to Sacramento to become as vice president-news for McClatchy.
He wrote his memoirs of the newspaper war between the Anchorage Daily News and the Anchorage Times: Write Hard, Die Free.
Weaver, who continued working in newspapers after moving out of Alaska, launched a newsletter three years ago. That newsletter, Subversive Optimism can be read at Substack. In addition to Substack, he wrote a blog at Medium: “Facts are facts, goddammit, and Matt Drudge and Markos Moulitsas are partisans and amateurs worth little attention and certainly no worry,” he wrote in defense of legacy newspapers in 2013, and against the upstarts online who provided other points of view.
About the sale of the Anchorage Daily News to Alice Rogoff’s Alaska Dispatch, Weaver wrote on his own blog, HowardWeaver.com, (currently defunct) that no one could be more impacted by it than he was.
“The news that McClatchy is selling the Anchorage Daily News to Alice Rogoff’s Alaska Dispatch cannot have arrived with more impact on anybody that it did for me. I spent 45 years in Alaska, 30 years at McClatchy and 28 years at the Daily News. Altogether that’s 103 years, and I feel every one of them this morning.
“How do I feel about it? Most immediately, I’m saddened. I thought of Adlai Stevenson’s response when asked how he felt after losing a second race for the presidency. ‘It hurts too bad to laugh,’ he said, ‘but I’m too big to cry.’
“My affection for both ADN and McClatchy remains deep, and it pains me that they are no longer allied. When the Daily News signed a joint operating agreement with the late Anchorage Times in 1974 it felt like the end of the world. But I’m a big boy myself now and I know where babies come from, so this shock—though still intense—is different.
“That’s partly absence of naivety and partly due to a difference in the players. I saw any dealings with Robert Atwood & Co, as dancing with the devil. (Little did I know how much more intensely I’d feel that when the Times sold to Bill Allen). Now the cast is wholly different; Rogoff and the crew at the Dispatch generally represent a much more honorable and affirmative vision for journalism and Alaska. I will hope for the best and do whatever I can to help them,” Weaver wrote.
“There are many intriguing ways to slice this news. One looks mainly at personalities—a high-profile and sometimes volatile perspective but probably, in the end, not the most important. There’s a superficial business story about the feisty online startup buying an established mainstream leader, although interestingly the newspaper here makes money and the online service (so far as I know) doesn’t. A more substantive angle might involve questioning why rich individuals are deciding to get involved in mainstream news (see also Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, Pierre Omidyar).
“The most meaningful benchmark is to look at values and intentions. Bob Atwood’s values were historically transparent; Bill Allen’s were videotaped by the FBI in a sleazy Juneau hotel suite. McClatchy, love it or hate it, is a 157-year old media company with a clear track record. I’ve been a news guy, and nothing else, my whole adult life.
“Rogoff and the Dispatch, despite a vigorous online presence since about 2009, are more opaque to most of us. The only reasonable response, it seems to me, is to watch carefully and judge them on their performance. They will find that they operate under a far more powerful spotlight running the state’s largest news organization than they did before.
“I have deep and abiding respect for Pat Dougherty and staffers who have labored mightily through the financial bloodbath of the past five years. Where I once managed a newsroom of more than 100 people today’s ADN is produced by considerably less than half that many—and we didn’t even have to produce and serve a website in my day. I don’t know many staffers personally any more (I left in 1995) but people like David Hulen, Rich Mauer, Julia O’Malley and many others have sustained a deserved reputation for professionalism and high standards that any new organization must stretch to reach.
“They did not fail McClatchy or the Daily News. More people read their work today than saw the paper during my heyday, which is a portrait of growth, not decay. Indeed, despite the internet, the crumbling of its traditional business model and years of global recession, ADN remains a profitable business. Corporate revenues and debt financing are a more complex equation, but those are hardly newsroom failings.
“Perhaps they’ll be getting much needed assistance—more staffers, better technology, an invigorated business model. Please, Ms. Rogoff, make it so.”
Rogoff, however, drove the new organization into bankruptcy protection in 2017, and it was subsequently purchased by the Binkley family and returned from the Alaska Dispatch name to the legacy Anchorage Daily News.
Although first and foremost a gifted writer, Weaver was part of the Democrat-run newsroom of the day in Alaska. He did, in fact, leave behind a legacy.