Local news help is on its way to Alaska.
The Poynter Institute – “a global leader in journalism” – Thursday announced it had picked “21 local news organizations that will participate in the Poynter Local News Innovation Project, receiving guidance from the Institute to help them transform their newsrooms into digital-first enterprises.”
Topping the list was the Alaska Dispatch News.
The Dispatch News began life as a scrappy “digital-only” enterprise at a time when newspapers were only beginning to talk about becoming “digital-first enterprises.”
The Columbia Journalism Review in 2010 described the digital-only Dispatch as a “regional reporting powerhouse.”
Dispatch.com was a national, digital leader early in the decade.
“Unlike most of its counterparts, nonprofits that rely on foundation support, the Dispatch is attempting to become a self-sustaining, moneymaking enterprise through revenue generated from online advertising,” David Saleh Raif reported for the American Journalism Review in 2011. “It’s a business model that has yet to prove successful in today’s ever-evolving journalism landscape,” but Dispatch owner Alice Rogoff was at that time optimistic.
“We’re right on our projected path,” she told Raif. “I don’t enjoy subsidizing something that doesn’t need a subsidy in a perfect world. Our target is profitability.”
Dispatch co-founder Amanda Coyne left the business a couple years later. Fellow co-founder Tony Hopfinger stayed on as the Dispatch editor and inspirational leader.
In 2014, Rogoff bought the Anchorage Daily News for $34 million, renamed it the Alaska Dispatch News to maintain the former’s web address at ADN.com, and named Hopfinger to head the newly merged news operations.
In 2016, Hopfinger and Rogoff parted ways in less then friendly circumstances. They are now engaged in a legal battle headed for court in Anchorage in August.
Dispatch struggled toward profitability before the Daily News purchase. The Dispatch News struggled toward profitability after the costly purchase. As a privately owned company, there is no way of knowing its financial status at the moment.
(Editor’s note: The author is a former member of the Alaska Dispatch and ADN.com staff and was once good friends with Rogoff, Hopfinger and others at the two businesses. He had access to some inside knowledge as to the financial struggles of both from 2011 through 2015.)
Poynter.com reporter Benjamin Mullin said he was aware of the Dispatch history, but believes the company might have discovered difficulties in trying to merge digital and print.
“Although the Alaska Dispatch started as a digital-only news organization, they bought a print newspaper along the way, a fact you’re probably familiar with,” he emailed. “They applied to our program, I assume, because they’re looking to integrate their two products — print and the web — better.”
Poynter reported it is going to try to help ADN.com and the 20 other newspapers with “in-person conferences, online seminars and personalized coaching for each of the 21 news organizations. To ensure collaboration between newsrooms and their colleagues on the money-making side, the program will include senior representatives from both the news and business teams.”
The latter collaboration was a fundamental part of the old Alaska Dispatch where reporters often found colleagues on the business side of the operation among the best sources of news tips.
Poynter, in a news release, indicated it is also stressing the importance of news organizations connecting to their communities:
“Local communities need responsive, credible news sources more than they ever have,” said Butch Ward, who is heading Poynter’s part of the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative. “To deliver on that need, news organizations—especially in this very challenging business environment—must dramatically expand their capacity to compete digitally. This program can help them do that.”