Post McClatchy: The Anchorage Daily News enters a new era

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.

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.

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