Commentary

Thank you Alice

Commentary

With Alaska’s largest newspaper today bankrupt and frightfully close to the verge of disappearing forever from the scene, there are a lot of people lining up to bash owner and publisher Alice Rogoff.

For some of them, those emotions are understandable. Mark Miller of M&M Wiring has every reason to want to burn the Alaska Dispatch News to the ground. Miller has been screwed out of almost $500,000 by the news company and to any small businessman that is a fortune.

It hurts not just Miller. It devastates the small crew that works not only for him, but with him. Miller is not one of those bosses who sits in an office or arrives at the work site to order people around. He’s a guy who buckles on a workbelt and puts in a day with the crew.

I admit to a lot more respect for the Miller’s of the world than for the Rogoffs of the world, but one cannot dismiss Rogoff as simply some rich lady from the East Coast trying to rip off Alaska because she most definitely was not that.

Rich lady’s from the East Coast don’t roll out their sleeping bag on the floor of someone’s unfinished, unheated, under-construction home in rural Alaska and say, “thank you very much for letting me have a place to sleep.”

The Rogoff picture is a complicated one, and the job of journalists is to stand back, put aside their emotions, and look at the realities of complicated pictures.

Wealth

When Alice and I were friends, we used to talk a fair bit about Alaska and the future of statehood. We talked about the economy. We talked about how the state might create jobs, especially in rural Alaska.

She always seemed to understand the value of work not only in terms of providing people money but in terms of helping them define their own self-worth.

And she clearly understood Alaska has a problem: Almost 60 years on from Statehood, Alaska remains in large part a colony.

On one hand, it is propped up by government money. On the other, it is a place to which people from the home country (or in this case what we in Alaska simply call Outside) go to grab wealth and haul it away.

The commercial fishing industry has taken billions of dollars in wealth out of this state since Statehood despite the fact that part of the drive for Statehood hinged on the desire of Alaskans for fisheries wealth to further the state rather than flow to Seattle.

Fisheries haven’t been the only south-benefiting resources. Miners have taken most of the wealth elsewhere as well. And even the oil industry – despite efforts to get Alaska’s Fair and Equitable Share (thank you for the thinking that way former Gov. Sarah Palin even if your plan was wrongheaded ) has taken a lot of wealth out of Alaska, too.

Imagine how much economically better off Alaska would have been if there had been a petrochemical industry built here so the state could ship south gasoline, petrochemicals and even carbon fiber, which is poised to be the steel of the future.

Yes, we can argue the environmental downside. If you want an industry with a small footprint on the ground and a big economic bang, it’s hard to beat oil development as practiced in the state of Alaska. There is a valid argument to be made that if you are one of those who believe most of Alaska should be turned into “America’s Largest National Park,” oil development as it now exists in the state is the best way forward:

Put a postage-stamp-size development on the North Slope, build a straw to saltwater, pump money, and let the state suck off a big chunk.

And yes, before my environmental friends go crazy, Prudhoe Bay is a development a lot bigger than a postage stamp on the ground, but if you stand back and look at the state of Alaska as a whole, it’s the comparative size of a postage stamp (or smaller) up there in the right-hand corner.

It’s not like we clearcut forever half of Alaska to start an agricultural industry.

Clean wealth

Still, there are environmental costs to oil development even in the benign way it has been done in Alaska. Especially if someone screws up.  We saw the costs in Prince William Sound when the Exxon Valdez hit the rocks, and the state witnessed a temporary, manmade disaster that seemed so much worse than the natural disaster of the Good Friday earthquake of 1964 even though it wasn’t.

Alice Rogoff brought none of the consequences of oil.

Alice Rogoff hauled a big, fat load of cash north from the Lower 48 and dumped it in Alaska. If we could build a pipeline to haul the Alice Rogoffs here from the Eastern seaboard, we would be in business.

In bankruptcy court on Thursday, she revealed she’s provided Alaska $17 million in the form of subsidies to keep the failing Dispatch News printing for the past three years.

That’s money the state’s biggest impulse spender gave Alaska. That’s money that it appears she took out of the pockets of David Rubenstein, her estranged husband and one of the nation’s richest men, and simply dumped into the Alaska economy with no hope of getting it back.

Her newspaper business was failing in 2015, failing more in 2016, and is now in bankruptcy court for failing even worse this year. Some people will be hurt because of the failure. Some, Miller among them, have already been hurt. If you’re out of work or about to be out of work because of Rogoff, it’s easy to be angry at her.

I understand. She fired me for catching a member of the Alaska Board of Fisheries breaking the law. He was later charged with multiple felonies for stealing money from the Alaska Permanent Fund and now faces a trial in Juneau later this month.

In a perfect world, journalists don’t lose their jobs for such things, they win awards. But the world isn’t perfect. For whatever reason, Rogoff didn’t like the attention the Roland Maw story brought to the Dispatch News, so she kicked me off the bus.

I’ve been struggling to make a living ever since, but that’s life.

As Ernest Hemingway observed in a Farewell to Arms, “the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Obviously I am not among the very good, the very gentle or the very brave, and for that I am thankful. It’s good to be alive, and when I look at Alice Rogoff objectively I have to say it’s good to have people like her who bring wealth north instead of hauling it south even if in the end the consequences are difficult.

Over the past three years,  Rogoff essentially donated $17 million to the Alaska economy. Who knows what the multiplier factor as that money circulated, but surely Gunnar Knapp or Scott Goldsmith or someone else at the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research could come up with a number.

Just suffice to say here, it was a lot of money. It helped support a lot of jobs. Yes, some of the directly financed ones are about to disappear, but jobs always come and go. The economy is a river not a mountain.

Journalists aren’t exempt from its flow. It’s only their blinding sense of self-importance that makes them think otherwise. When an intelligent person reads a Dispatch News headline saying “New Alaska Dispatch News publishers reassure staff on future” and a story below suggesting layoffs might be avoided, it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry or simply mutter the old cliche: “Do the math.”

The Dispatch News, if it survives, is going to shrink under the Binkleys or any other new owner because, as has now been well illustrated, the revenue the product brings in cannot support the cost of the product as it exists.

Here is the black and white of the media future: “Despite subscription surges for largest U.S. newspapers, circulation and revenue fall for industry overall.” 

Click the link to go to the PewResearch.org story. You don’t even need to read it. The U-shaped graph at the top showing newspaper and newspaper-online revenues going up, up, up through the 1980s and then along about 1990 starting down, down, down says it all.

You can’t produce a bigger newspaper or online newsite than the economy will allow. You might be able to produce a better one. There is the wild card of human performance and drive. But you can only make the product so big.

The Dispatch News – if it survives and if it sticks with that now somewhat tarnished name – is going to be downsized going forward. There are going to be fewer reporters and inevitably less covered. That’s not necessarily bad. A lot of what is in the newspaper now is better packaged as four lines of information than four takes.

And thanks to technology, there are dozens of options for information gathering today that didn’t exist a decade ago: Nixle, Nextdoor, Facebook, Google and endless government information website. The reader has to be careful in parsing the information out there, but it can be found in an endless stream.

We are in age of information overload. One of the key roles of news entities going forward might be in helping cut through the clutter. More isn’t always better. More sometimes just makes you fat.

And we have now reached the point where this is too fat. It’s time to quit, but there is something worth repeating:

Thank you, Alice Rogoff. Alaska could use many more like you. If you still have friends on the East Coast who would like to come north and donate funds to the Alaska economy, please send them.

God knows that with the state economy in recession we could use them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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20 replies »

  1. “the Dispatch News had problems from the start because Alice paid two or three times what it was worth. but the thing about problems is that they have solutions. Alice didn’t care about finding a solution, which is probably a story in and of itself. there were reasons….”

    Yes, Craig, and many of us would love to know what those reasons were. There are so many complicated layers and nuances to the Alice Rogoff/Alaska Dispatch/ADN story, and you probably understand most or all of them. Now that you are free to write the story, here’s hoping that you will. It’s undoubtedly a fascinating story that many would appreciate reading.

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  2. She may have brought in some money, but she’s stiffed so many, large and small. I don’t know the total amount, but it sounds like it’s the same amount or more she owes than what she brought in. So where’s the good in that? A fool and their money are soon parted and she sounds like a polite fool, carpetbagger, and quasi ponzi scammer. It’s astonishing to think this Harvard MBA, former CFO of a large news organization wouldn’t realize that you can’t keep pouring money into a money-losing venture without cutting costs. I don’t know her or know more than what’s been reported, but it sounds like she made so many obvious mistakes, including firing you! She is like so many others that have come and gone in Alaska. On the surface it seems like they contributed, but in reality they just used and abused the state and its people, and left it worse than they found it. She drove the paper right into the ground. The paper reportedly made $13M last year. That means it was viable, but not with 200+ person staff. I hope she goes back to where she came from. She’s hurt many people by her actions.

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  3. Craig,though you didn’t write it, can you explain the comment that Rogoff somehow gave Walker $34 million? I’ve heard that but…source?

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    • since we know she didn’t actually give Walker $34 million, i can only surmise it’s a reference to her allegiance with Walker and the way that influenced what appeared (or more specifically what didn’t) in the ADN.

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  4. “Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects… totalitarian propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have by the most eloquent denunciations.”

    — Aldous Huxley

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  5. Alice paid 34 million to get Walker into the Govs mansion. Her sacrifice is likely well thought of by the Gov. Long live the Kingmakers.

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    • 34 million in expenses to grab 666 million as Walker eviscerated Alaska’s Permanent Fund and placed it in the hand’s of the Carlyle Group (her husband’s company) to manage was a “good deal” by modern business standards…she is not losing anything by her time acting as global propaganda chief in Alaska.

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      • Steve: i just have to say this, i think you can sleep easy that she didn’t do anything she truly believed would benefit her husband or her husband’s company. she basically thinks he’s the devil. a good bit of her subsidy of the ADN appears to have been rooted in the idea that she was losing the devil’s money on what she believed to be a good cause. the losses don’t look so bad if you think that way.

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  6. I totally agree. Ms. Rogoff had great intentions and she was beyond generous. She kept the paper going when it was on the brink of death and had very few pages and reporters. She built back up the paper and the staff. However, I think that many factors were beyond her control. The entire newspaper industry is dying. This is not her fault.
    The printing press fiasco may have been the nail in the coffin for the ADN. I think GCI is gauging her on the extra high rent. She continued to pay them the base rent until very recently, which was plenty. I also think that Tony Hopfinger needs to drop his ridiculous lawsuit. It is extortion. He was no longer working at the ADN and the paper was losing a lot of money and yet, he expects Ms. Rogoff to give him a million dollars?? For what? He is greedy – pure and simple. At this point, I think the ADN needs to go digital only except for a Sunday printed paper only (mostly to hold all the flyers/ads.)

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    • Nancy, it is is her fault. it is totally her fault. GCI was patient well beyond the date she promised – promised – to be out of its building. GCI didn’t buy the building to shelter her press. GCI bought the bulding for its use, which is why a contract was written to boost the base rate after a certain period to encourage her to leave. she vetoed two contracts Tony Hopfinger negotiated with two different companies to get the paper printed elsewhere. i have not seen either in detail, but they sounded reasonable. she is in a lawsuit with Hopfinger now because she offered to buy something he built and still partially owned. she signed a contract to buy out the rest of his interest in the house and then refused to pay, in significant part because she didn’t like him telling her how to run her newspaper. what he was telling her was to cut costs. your last suggestion, in fact – “the ADN needs to go digital only except for a Sunday printed paper only (mostly to hold all the flyers/ads.)” – might be what finally got him thrown under the bus. there were others who made that suggestion, and then had the sense to shut up because they had seen what happened to Hopfinger. the Dispatch News had problems from the start because Alice paid two or three times what it was worth. but the thing about problems is that they have solutions. Alice didn’t care about finding a solution, which is probably a story in and of itself. there were reasons. that is all downside.
      the upside is that she pumped a goodly amount of money into the Alaska economy, and we should all appreciate that. if we could get 1,000 Alice Rogoffs to come here every year and each spend $6M in lower-48 money, we’d be a lot better off.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t agree with your sentiment Craig. Alice bought the ADN to promote her agenda and political views. And now we see these views are irresponsible and bankrupt. Leaving a trail of destruction behind, Alice leaves the little guy picking up the pieces. She needs to pay all the creditors to regain her moral credibility. And fact is she can definitely afford it.

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    • Chris: i’d agree with the second-to-last line. as to the last line, i’m not sure what to think. part of the problem here, judging from the behavior of Northrim Bank, could be that she actually can’t afford it. Northrim (a bank with our family has an account in the interest of full disclosure) is owed $10 million. it has first claim on the Dispatch News, and it appears to be exerting the claim because the bank is uncomfortable that Alice has enough in personal assets to cover the $10 million.
      and i’m admittedly not sure, though i was there, that she “bought the ADN to promote her agenda and political views.” certainly that wasn’t the case at Alaska Dispatch News. granted there was some change after the purchase of the ADN, but i never really saw her push her “agenda and political views” on the newspaper. what happened is far more nuanced. it is more like she fell in with a gang that shared some of her agenda and political views, and she went along with them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Well, maybe the $17 million was a good economic deal for Alaska. Or maybe not. Would Walker have been elected over Parnell if the Dispatch hadn’t rabidly supported him? Would Walker have cut the PFD if there was no lobbying from Rogoff, Rubenstein, et al regarding “broad based” taxes and PFD cuts? If Rogoff and the ADN had no influence on politics leading to the PFD reduction, then yes, 17 million was a good deal. But if indeed Rogoff and the ADN tipped the scales for the PFD reduction, then 17 million is a relatively very bad deal for Alaska… because it cost the state economy 2 years so far of reduced PFD spending. That is in the range of $1.4 billion. That’s Billion, with a “B”, which happens to be much more than $17 million times the money flow multiplier.

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    • Yep, that is the issue. Did Alice Rogoff do more damage with her influence than the benefit of putting, according to her, 17 million dollars into the state.? Looking at the number of creditors who are very likely to end up with little to nothing for their work, materials, services, rents etc, there is the start of an argument that Alice did more harm than good. And when you add to that her incessant attacks on Parnell that most thinkers and readers believe put Walker in office, one must ask whether that was at a cost and thus in the opposite column from the 17 million. How would that be you ask. Well, Walker’s relentless spending of Alaska dollars on promoting a gas line that is litterally a “pipe dream” might have cost the state nearly 100 million, an amount, perhaps, in the opposite column. And as stated, Walker, on his own, confiscated nearly a half billion from Alaskans last year when he took half of every Alaskan’s PFD. Does that go into the other column as well? The list could go on, but you get the idea.
      I don’t think I am ready to thank her, just yet. But I will be happy to hand her her hat, and wish her good luck in whichever state she settles, as long as it is not Alaska. We might not be able to afford another 17 million from Rogoff.

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    • good and valid argument, Tim. i would only suggest it gives more power and influence to newspapers than they deserve in this day and age. Walker’s political victory was in some part Parnell’s fault. and i’m not sure but that Parnell might have done the same thing with the PFD that Walker did.

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  9. Craig, that was excellent.
    In a perfect world, every journalist would be as generous and fair minded. And this in the face of your unhappy history with the ADN and the woman you write about. To show my appreciating I’m donating to the Keep-Craig-Off-The-Street fund today and I encourage other of your readers to do the same.

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    • i generally hate compliments. they just make me uncomfortable (guess it’s that old minnesota upbringing of long, long ago). and it feels so self-serving to click the approve button to post them. and i don’t think i’m generous. probably the opposite really.
      but i do try to be fair-minded, and i do care about the economic future of Alaska, and so i clicked the button. the cold, hard, numbered-reality of economics says we all, as a state, got a lot more out of Alice than she took, and for that we should say thanks. it wasn’t an easy thing to say, but it was the accurate thing to say.

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