Regime shift, building sale; same old alt-weekly
BY MATT TUNSETH
The new boss at the Anchorage Press says readers shouldn’t notice much difference on the pages of the paper despite the looming sale of the alt-weekly’s downtown headquarters and a diminished role for Press founder and publisher Nick Coltman.
“You’re not going to see a lot of changes I think,” said Dennis Anderson, who was named group publisher overseeing three Wick Communications papers in Alaska last month.
Wick owns the Press, the Arctic Warrior and the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. In October, the Arizona-based company announced Anderson would take over operations at all three properties beginning Nov. 1. He replaces Ken Harty, who publishes two of the company’s papers in North Dakota and serves as group publisher overseeing Wick operations in Montana and California.
(Full disclosure: This author has previously worked as editor at both the Press and Frontiersman)
Anderson arrived in Alaska from Colorado this spring to become publisher and ad manager at the Frontiersman. He previously worked as advertising director at Wick’s Montrose (Colo.) Daily Press newspaper.
Press-Warrior jobs combined
In an interview Tuesday, Anderson said he plans to hire a general manager to handle advertising and circulation at the Press and Arctic Warrior, a military themed paper distributed mainly on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson at Anchorage’s doorstep. He said the change will consolidate and focus the company’s business in Alaska.
“I think we can work together as one,” he said, noting that the main changes will be in how the company advertising departments are structured. “Kind of combining the sales forces is the main thing.”
Anderson said Coltman – who founded the paper in 1992 and sold it to Wick in 2006 – is in need of a break from the newspaper grind.
“It’s just a timely thing where Nick is ready to slow down,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he’s hopeful the move will allow staff at the Press and Frontiersman to work more collaboratively. He noted Frontiersman editor Matt Hickman may be called upon to help in areas where the two papers can work together.
“Matt Hickman will be a little more involved in the editorial as well,” Anderson said.
Aside from that collaboration, Anderson promised readers won’t see many changes in the look and feel of the Press, which over the years has tried to cultivate an artsy, irreverent and independent voice that has often skewed left in heavily conservative Alaska.
“The press has its own identity and we want to maintain that,” he said. “I’m not going to go in there and tell ‘em what editorial’s going to look like.”
As for the “Press World Headquarters,” a single-story structure on Fifth Avenue, Anderson said the building belongs to Coltman, who is selling the property in a move that’s unrelated to the management shake-up.
“One has nothing to do with the other,” Anderson said.
Coltman said he’s selling the building to help finance another business idea on which he has been working.
“I have another project that I need to raise capital for,” he said. He was unwilling to offer details.
Coltman currently leases the Fifth Avenue building to the Press, and said the new owners could continue that arrangement or opt to find a new tenant. If the latter were the case, the Press would need to find a new space.
As for his role at the paper, Coltman said that when he returned to the Press in 2014, he only planned to stay around for a year. Running the day-to-day operations, he said, simply consumes too much of his time.
Lots of energy; little income
“It’s about 20 percent of my income and takes 90 percent of my energy,” he said.
Coltman said he believes having the group publisher in Alaska should be an asset for the Arizona-based Wick.
“(Anderson) will have a better hand on what’s going on in Alaska than someone from the Lower 48,” Coltman said.
Shortly after Anderson arrived at the Frontiersman, he raised some eyebrows by eliminating long-time cartoonist Chuck Legge, whose left-leaning perspective was seen as a bad fit in the conservative Mat-Su Valley. Given that history, Coltman said the impending regime change caused some misgivings among Press employees when the announcement was made last month, but he promised the reshuffling at the top will have little to no impact on the paper’s content.
“That was a big concern from staff, and that was part of the reason I said I’d stay,” Coltman said.
As publisher emeritus, Coltman said he’ll be able to provide oversight at the Press to ensure “editorial content stays true to itself.”
“If it doesn’t, I’ll be here to bitch and moan,” he said.
About the author: Matt Tunseth is from Kenai, Alaska. He has worked as a reporter at the (Kenai) Peninsula Clarion, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Anchorage Daily News, Chugiak-Eagle River Star, Alaska Dispatch News and as managing editor at the Star, Frontiersman and Anchorage Press. He is currently a freelance writer living in Anchorage.