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.
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.)