Media

More ADN trouble

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The hoped for new home of the Alaska Dispatch News in better days/Craig Medred photo

Just when you think things can’t get much worse for Alaska’s largest newspaper in these tough times for the news business, things get worse.

 

Rumors circulating around Anchorage that the Alaska Dispatch News was no longer paying its bill have been given credence by a lawsuit filed by the newspaper’s newsprint provider.

Catalyst Paper went into an Anchorage court on June 22 asking for an order forcing Dispatch, which also does business as ADN.com, to pay its March and April paper bills.

Based in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, Catalyst is the largest producer of newsprint on the West Coast. 

Its suit against the ADN follows another filed against Arctic Partners, Inc., the Tacoma, Wash., company which owns a building on Arctic Boulevard that Dispatch was renovating  as its new print plant and Alaska news headquarters.

Only last fall, the building was emblazoned with a banner proclaiming “Alaska Dispatch News – COMING SOON.” The banner is gone now, and Dispatch appears to have been locked out of the building housing its new press after running up a bill of approximately $1 million with M&M Wiring, an Anchorage electric contractor.

Dispatch paid about half the bill, and then stopped making payments. M&M sued the building’s owners for the rest of the payment and slapped a lien on the old, oil-field-services warehouse to secure the debt. An attorney for Arctic refused to comment on the case, but it appears the company’s response to the suit has been to lock Dispatch out of the building that houses its press.

Former clients of the Anchorage Daily News’ commercial printing operation – a sideline to newspaper production the Dispatch continued – say that might not matter much, however, because the new press apparently was installed on an inadequate foundation, sank inches in one corner, and because of that is inoperable.

The newspaper continues to print at the old Daily New’s Northway Drive location in a building now owned by GCI, Inc., the Alaska telecommunications giant and parent company of KTVA.com, an online competitor of ADN.com

When Rogoff bought the Dispatch for $34 million in April 2014, she sold GCI the building housing the press to help leverage the funds for the newspaper purchase.

She was supposed to be out of the old Daily News building in a couple of years, but failed to meet the deadline. Per the terms of a contract negotiated at the time of the sale, failure to meet the deadline was to incur stiff penalty payments intended to encourage Rogoff to leave.

A GCI spokeswoman said the company isn’t commenting on its current relationship with its highest profile tenant. Large GCI advertisements that regularly run in the Alaska Dispatch News would, however, appear to indicate some or all of the Dispatch rent is being paid in the form of advertising tradeouts.

Neither Rogoff nor Dispatch executive vice-president Margy Johnson could be reached for comment. The latter’s voicemail said her mailbox was full.

Latest problems

Problems have been coming one after another for Dispatch since spring. The newspaper last week began polling readers on suggestions for what content to keep when downsizing.

A least one Dispatch employee has been laid off in recent weeks, and something of a hiring freeze has been imposed. The editorial staff were told last week that empty positions in the newsroom will no longer be filled.

And now comes the Catalyst lawsuit.

According to the court documents, “In March 2017, Catalyst shipped various products with an invoice price of $17,320.87.” The invoice was not paid.

A month later, the lawsuit says, “Catalyst fulfilled two orders made by Anchorage by shipping various products to Anchorage with a combined invoice price of $33,987.69.” The invoice was not paid.

Dispatch, according to the lawsuit, accepted the goods, received the invoices, and offered no objection to the size of the bills. The Alaska company just didn’t pay.

“Anchorage is liable to Catalyst in an amount to be determined at trial but in no event less than $51,307.56 plus interest on the invoices at the rate of 4.25 percent annum,” the lawsuit says.

The suit says Catalyst already sent demand letters to the company, but “no part of said sum has been paid.”

The suit legally names the plaintiff as the “Anchorage Daily News,” which is how the Dispatch is listed in state corporate records. After the News was sold to Rogoff, the wife of billionaire David Rubenstein, she installed her sidekick, Johnson, as the company secretary and named as company director and vice-president, old-friend and confidant Tony Hopfinger, the co-founder of Alaska Dispatch.com along with his former wife, Amanda Coyne.

All of the Daily News stock was turned over to AK Publishing, which was wholly owned by Rogoff, according to state documents. Later in 2014, Rogoff removed Johnson and Hopfinger from the board of directors of the newly reconfigured Daily News and took full control.

A year later, she created another company – Alaska Dispatch News LLC – to take over AK Publishing. The Catalyst lawsuits refers to the existing Anchorage Daily News Inc. as the company that “produces the newspaper Alaska Dispatch News.”

Johnson is still employed there. But Rogoff and Hopfinger, once the best of friends, are locked in a bitter lawsuit headed for an Anchorage court hearing in July. Hopfinger contends Rogoff agreed to pay him $100,000 per year for 10 years to buy out his interest in the Alaska Dispatch internet start-up he and Coyne began.

He has a napkin note to prove the deal, too. The napkin says, “I agree to pay Tony $100K at end of each calendar year (beginning ’14) for 10 years.” It is signed “Alice Rogoff” and dated 4/18/14.

Rogoff has admitted to inking the deal, but claims the napkin is not a legally enforceable contract. To date, Rogoff has made only one payment to Hopfinger. That came in January 2015 just before their working relationship ruptured.

He now lives in Chicago.

Since the Rogoff-Hopfinger split – aside from one bright moment in March 2016 when Rogoff declared she’d found a site for the print plant and new offices “we hope to occupy by fall” – Rogoff’s dreams of becoming the baroness of an Alaska newspaper empire have begun to turn into a nightmare.

(Editor’s note: The author of this story worked for more than 25 years as a reporter and outdoor editor at the Anchorage Daily News, was deeply involved in the start-up of AlaskaDispatch.com, was for a time an employee of the Alaska Dispatch News/new adn.com, was for years a personal friend of Alice Rogoff and Dispatch co-founders TonyHopfinger and his then-wife Amanda Coyne, and was fired from the Dispatch News after catching Alaska Board of Fisheries member Roland Maw allegedly stealing from the Alaska Permanent Fund. Maw is now awaiting trial on multiple felonies. The Dispatch firing, while unpleasant for both parties, was a reasonable business decision based on Rogoff’s stated belief at that time that the key to success in the Anchorage media market was to produce a less controversial news product.)

 

 

 

 

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13 replies »

  1. Let’s Help solve Anchorage garbage problem and have everybody quit purchasing the ADN! We need a totally new newspaper that will not embarrass the people of Alaska…

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    • Cartoons on the opinion pages are supposed to be biased. They express opinions. Disagree with them. Wad up the paper and throw it across the room. I’ve done that plenty of times. But first, drink in the rest of the paper for the information it provides–giving you the information you need to decide that the damned cartoons are biased.

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  2. So Craig, what is your prediction/vision of the Alaskan news media landscape 5 to 10 years from now? Will there be any monolithic news organizations like ADN, News Miner or Empire in AK? Will printed news be a distant memory? If I were to guess: Alaska won’t have the economy of scale, or willingness of its citizens, to support a large and traditional news media organization. So Alaskan news will consist of dozens of specialty news sites (like yours) that feed into a common medium, like Facebook.

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    • Tim,
      Let’s not forget that many of these specialty sites like “Must Read Alaska” are maintained by out-of-state individuals that are blogging on behalf of the mostly illiterate GOP that fund them and that the “bloggers” no longer have a dog in the fight up here since they have “hatched” their pension eggs and have fled the frozen nests for warmer pastures where their 401K’s can keep them safe from the rapidly diminishing return caused by globalizing Alaska’s resources.

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      • actually, Steve, Suzanne Downing, who writes MustRead, lives here, and she’s pretty literate. that said, there are mountains of ignorance on both sides of the vast political divide that seems capable of being used to color almost anyt discussion in the country today. we seem to have been going steadily more tribal since at least the 1980s. it seems like a long, long time since one Sen. Barack Obama observed “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.” now, there’s all of those and more every day. there’s an alt-right America and a gay America, a women’s America and a men’s America, a white-collar America and a blue-collar America, a service America and a served America….

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      • Craig,
        My exact words were “on behalf of the mostly illiterate GOP that funds them.” Obviously, the paid Republican Bloggers are literate to some extent (so are the 40,000 online personalities of the NSA in Washington). With that said, my main and very important point here is that we are losing actual news sites (ones that are unbiased and whom protect their sources and actually do investigative journalism). What we have instead of trained journalists are attorneys, government employees and party propagandists that are posing as news sites. Hitler listed his occupation as free lance writer prior to rising to his position as “the Fuhrer” in Germany. From “Must Read Alaska” right on up to “The Intercept” we have biased laded party gossip packaged as “breaking” news stories. Glenn Greenwald touts a mantra of “see something, leak something”, but then when folks like Reality Winner actually leak documents to the Intercept that show the Russians (high up to the Kremlin) were involved in manipulating our 2017 presidential election, she is turned in to the NSA and sent to prison without a trial yet? Sound like Fascism? It should. Greenwald won’t even do a story about her (or her information) anymore…Omerta’.
        Barrett Brown was a journalist who was sent to prison (four years) and placed in solitary confinement (over 6 months) for what amounted to “linking” to hacked materials that someone else posted online. He was never convicted for any alleged “Anonymous” activities online.
        The Intercept by many accounts is what the CIA calls a “Honey trap” it is funded by an Iranian born billionaire business tycoon …The unknowing leakers submit Intel, then Greenwald and his staff turn them in to the NSA & FBI while Glenn gets to hang out with his boyfriend on the beaches of Brazil and claim that he is defending democracy (in a country that he no longer resides in). This is nothing new; the communist party perfected this system and prosecuted dissidents one by one as their thoughts became know to the party (Dostoyevsky, Kundera, Havel, etc).
        Tim Snyder a Yale Historian states “History can familiarize, and it can warn.” He also states in his latest book “On Tyranny, twenty lessons from the twentieth century”… “University professors, students, intellectuals were turning Nazi, becoming Iron Guards, one after the other. At the beginning, certainly they were not Nazis…He was caught in the mechanism, he accepted everything…towards the end, only three or four of us were still resisting.”
        We must resist the party laded gossip that is spoon fed to us daily through funded online sites…we must re-instate the guiding principles of twentieth century journalism: Anonymous sources that are protected from prosecution, investigative journalism that is interactive with the community, independent (revenue generating) news agencies…reporters need to start following leads once again and developing stories instead of regurgitating government propaganda through prepared media release statements written by government employees.
        Mr. Snyder also reminds us “The Russian oligarchy established after the 1990 elections continues to function, and promotes a foreign policy designed to destroy democracy elsewhere”…we as Americans should take heed and listen to educated voices like Timothy Snyder, Reality Winner and Barrett Brown…these folks are American patriots that are attempting to show us how far the tyranny has advanced around us in the great homeland.
        Vaclav Havel wrote “If the main pillar of the system is living a lie, then it is not surprising that the fundamental threat to it is living in truth.”

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  3. As a former managing editor of the Anchorage Times, back in the years immediately after McClatchy bought the ADN (and we kicked their butts with coverage), I see this as another sad step down for citizens of my beloved home state. In the 1980s, Anchorage readers benefitted from fierce newspaper competition that gave the state two distinct perspectives and a wealth of coverage. Citizens were better for it. The state and its government were better for it. Now? If Alaskans want better from their media, they need to pay for it. If they don’t, they may soon be forced to glean information from propagandists and government press releases offering self-interested perspectives. The state needs much more to chart a course for this century. Robust public debate relies on vigorous reporting, and ignorance leads to ignorant choices.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. One of the best things about the old ADN was the lively banter in the comments. Rogoff stopped that due to commenters countering lies and adding information left out of articles.

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  5. This newspaper buy-out was set up for failure from day 1…libel and deceit rarely generate revenue. The real loss here was the unique approach of the original Dispatch format that was including video and written articles together and actually going out into the community and interviewing BEFORE writing articles about the persons of interest. As we are seeing here with Rogoff, without the motivation and or need to generate revenue, the relationships with management, writers and associates of ADN take a rear seat opposed to political friends and corporate partners who seem to be “driving this bus” right off of the Alaskan cliff.

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  6. No sour grapes here, just good reporting from Craig, as usual. I remember the days when the Anchorage Daily News had Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism. Not any more. Now we just have political agenda-driven opinions and advertising with Alaska Dispatch News.

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  7. Nice summary Craig. What was not listed is the newspaper’s responsibility to its readers and the community, as part of this drama.We all recognize that controversy sells newspapers, isn’t that called going “viral” in Social Media?

    Liked by 1 person

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