Fresh out of bankruptcy, the Alaska Dispatch News appears to be getting ready to distance itself from former and failed publisher Alice Rogoff at the same time she is making a bid to move back to her first love – promoting the Arctic.
Rogoff this week popped up as one of the presenters at the Arctic Circle confab in Reykjavik, Iceland from Oct. 13 to 15. She has been tapped to introduce Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, for an afternoon “dialogue” with advocates for Arctic development. Murkowski is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Now well-removed from the Dispatch, Rogoff is these days billing herself as the publisher of Arctic Now, an online publication that was once part of the Dispatch News. The Binkley family from Fairbanks is in control of most the latter.
They earlier this month bought the Dispatch News/ADN.com for $1 million in the federal Bankruptcy Court. And two weeks ago, the Binkley Company LLC (limited liability company) filed for a new corporate license with the state of Alaska as the “Anchorage Daily News LLC.”
The Binkleys were the only bidder for a newspaper and website for which Rogoff paid $34 million in April 2014. After the bankruptcy-court purchase, Ryan Binkley, the company manager, said the Binkleys planned to change the name of the paper.
His name now appears as the manager for the new Anchorage Daily News owned 66.6 percent by the Binkley Company and 33.30 percent by Alaska Media LLC. Alaska Media is in turn owned by Jason Evans and his wife Kiana Peacock of Anchorage.
The company was established in 2011 to acquire a handful of struggling rural newspapers. It now publishes the Kotzebue-based Arctic Sounder, the Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman in Southwest Alaska,and the Homer Tribune on the Kenai Peninsula.
An Alaska Native born and reared in Nome, Evans has been publicly associated with the purchase of the Alaska Dispatch News since the full extent of its troubles were fully revealed in August . He shared an ADN.com byline with Ryan Binkley on Aug. 13 above a story that announced “A message from the new publishers of Alaska Dispatch News”.
The story below explained their hopes of saving the state’s largest news organization.
But the corporate filing on Sept. 14 was the first indication Evans has a financial stake in an adventure clearly being bankrolled by the Binkleys, owners of a small tourism empire in the Central Alaska city of Fairbanks.
Evans had no comment when contacted Friday. An announcement on the newspaper’s name change is, however, expected soon.
The financier of the internet start-up AlaskaDispatch.com, Rogoff changed the name of the Daily News to the Alaska Dispatch News shortly after the 2014 sale.
“For decades,” she wrote in an ADN commentary that July, “the Anchorage Daily News has been a leading source of news across Alaska, its reporting crafting beautiful features about the people and places in our state, uncovering corruption and winning awards and praise for their hard work. They have helped shape the debate and kept Alaskans informed through some of the state’s most turbulent times.
“Yet the paper’s name never fully conveyed the ambition of serving as a statewide news organization. That’s why we have adopted the name Alaska Dispatch News. It makes clear what we are about: news, features and voices by and for and about Alaskans.”
Conveniently, the Alaska Dispatch News kept intact the acronym ADN by which the newspaper’s website – ADN.com – had been known since the 1990s. That site was and remains by far the biggest news site in the state.
But the smaller, Rogoff-financed, online-only AlaskaDispatch.com grabbed a lot of attention in 2010 when it took on Senate candidate Joe Miller, an unknown who’d stunned the state by upsetting Murkowski in the Republican primary.
A former Army tank commander and tough-talking conservative, Miller turned out to be less than he at first appeared. He was found to be collecting federal farm subsidies back in Kansas; discovered to have claimed upon arrival in Alaska from the Yale School of Law that he was so poor that he deserved a special, $5 state hunting and fishing license available to indigent Alaskans; and reported to have hired his wife to work for him while he was a federal magistrate.
As Miller’s history trickled out in drips and drabs, Murkowski – who Miller had bested in the primary – re-entered the Senate race as a long shot, write-in candidate. The length of the shot shrank quickly after security guards working for Miller manhandled and handcuffed Dispatch.com founder and editor Tony Hopfinger when he tried to ask Miller some pointed questions about why he’d left his job as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
That mid-October incident made national news,and Rogoff subsequently bankrolled a full-on legal effort to pry open Miller’s Fairbanks employment records. Just days before the election, a state court judge ordered the release of documents that showed that not long before leaving the Fairbanks job, Miller had been suspended for trying to rig a Republican online political poll.
“In March 2008, just days before the Alaska Republican Party’s annual convention, Miller was hosting a poll on his personal website, joemiller.us, that was aimed at ousting party chairman Randy Ruedrich,” then Dispatch.com reporters Patti Epler and Jill Burke wrote. “On March 12, while other employees were at lunch and Miller was alone in the office, he used three of his co-workers’ computers to vote in his own poll. He tried to cover up the deceit by clearing the caches on the computers, the records show.”
Miller subsequently lost a close election to Murkowski, the unprecedented winner of a statewide write-in campaign. How much of a roll Dispatch.com’s reporting played in Miller’s defeat will never be known, but conservative pundit Dan Fagan later accused Rogoff of buying the Senate seat for Murkowski.
“Back in 2010, Ms. Rogoff dedicated her entire all-star staff to the sole task of taking down Joe Miller,” he wrote at The Midnight Sun earlier this month. “And take him down she did in grand fashion. Rogoff is why Lisa Murkowski kept her seat and beat Miller as a write-in candidate.”
The year 2010 might have marked the peak of Rogoff’s political influence in Alaska, but she went on to befriend gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker and helped hook him up with her old friend Byron Mallott to create a “unity ticket” that won the Governor’s Mansion in 2014.
Mallott had been the Democratic candidate for governor prior to that deal being cut.
“Bill Walker, Alaska’s Republican-turned-independent candidate for governor, and Byron Mallott, who won the state’s Democratic primary, were set to take on incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, for the opportunity to run the 49th state. Alone, they couldn’t win. So they decided to throw their lot together in a unity ticket, and now they’re ahead in the polls,” the LA Times reported at the time.
The story did not mention Rogoff, whose admiration for Mallott bordered on worship, but Fagan, about the same time wrote this:
“On Friday during a debate I moderated, I asked Byron Mallott about the Rogoff connection and he clearly knew the question was coming. He proclaimed emotionally “absolutely not!” But then he admitted Rogoff was at the Captain Cook (Hotel) at the same time they were meeting to form the “Unity Ticket” but not in the same room. Mallott said Rogoff passed them a note during the meeting and maybe that’s why some believe she was involved in forming the ticket. That sounded like a “in case someone saw Rogoff there” cover our butt answer. But I may be wrong about that.
“We do know Rogoff was at the unveiling of the ‘Unity Ticket’ press conference.”
Those who were once close to Rogoff (this reporter included) regularly worried about her close associations with Walker and Mallott and what might happen if anyone ever filed a public-information request to dig deep into state emails as happened with former Gov. Sarah Palin, but that never happened.
With the state’s largest news organization under her control, Rogoff managed to keep the political hounds at bay and advise Walker on state fiscal policy even as she led her business over a financial cliff.
In Bankruptcy Court, her lawyer reported her newspaper and website lost $5.8 million in her first full year of ownership. That grew to $6 million the next year. And it was on track to reach $8 million this year when she gave up, walked away, declared bankruptcy and left almost 200 creditors, many of them small businessmen, holding the bag.
The financial losses gave Rogoff plenty of reason to give up, and they have since provided the Binkleys plenty of reason to rebrand the newspaper yet again.
Meanwhile, Rogoff, who somehow managed to escape from bankruptcy with the online publication Arctic Now, appears unbowed and ready to once again pursue her original Alaska passion:
“Rogoff came to my campus last fall to give a speech whose title perfectly married her two interests: ‘The Importance of the Arctic and the Media’s Role in Communicating Its Value.’ She focused more on the Arctic than on the media,” Julia Duin, the 2014-15 Snedden Chair of Journalism at the University of Alaska Fairbanks wrote in July 2015 story for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine.
“‘We are the last ones to the table and we are doing nothing in Alaska,’ she told us. ‘Look at what Russia is planning on doing on the Bering Sea coast. Look at what Scandinavia is doing. Look at what Canada is doing. Look at what Greenland is doing,’ referring to those countries’ oil, gas and mineral explorations. ‘Greenland has 50,000 people, and they will have more Arctic-related development’ than along America’s 2,000 miles of Arctic coastline.
“She voiced hope that Alaska Gov. Bill Walker would support a deepwater port just north of Nome, which she said would give rise to port-related business in every small village along the Bering Sea.’ She also talked up a road that would link western ports across hundreds of miles of bush country to Fairbanks.
“Her if-you-build-it-they-will-come philosophy anticipates a time when the majority of the world’s shipping will be floating by Alaska’s west coast, which she’s calling ‘the next Panama Canal.’ And Alaska, through efforts of people like her, will be stepping up to the plate as an Arctic power.'”
Rogoff has always seen herself as a Far North visionary. She still dreams of a deepwater harbor at Port Clarence just north of Nome. Walker and a gang of the like-minded quickly got on board with that idea.
Among a list of Alaska infrastructure needs Walker sent President Donald Trump in June was a ” Strategic Arctic Port site designation, first phase expected to be in the range of $15 to $30 billion.”
CORRECTION: This story was edited on Sept. 30, 2017 to accurately reflect the names of the newspapers owned by Alaska Media. The original version had the names wrong.