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.
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.
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.