The strange and tangled tale of the Alaska Dispatch News, the 49th state’s largest news organization, just keeps getting stranger.
As the Binkley family of Fairbanks was buying the newspaper and the website ADN.com out of bankruptcy to try to save the business in August, a couple of apparent ADN subsidiaries – ArcticNow.com and ShowMeAlaska.com – somehow departed with former owner Alice Rogoff, the estranged wife of billionaire financier David Rubenstein.
Though the Arctic Now and Show Me Alaska websites were built by ADN-paid employees, hosted on a web server funded by ADN, and originally filled with content provided by ADN-paid employees, a bankruptcy trustee now says it appears the two entities were never part of the ADN.
The two websites, trustee Nacole Jipping emailed Friday, were “not owned by the debtor, Alaska Dispatch News. It’s an asset of Alaska Dispatch Publishing, LLC. So, it’s not associated with this bankruptcy.”
The Alaska Dispatch Publishing limited liability company was where Rogoff’s Alaska media adventure began. The company itself was started by AlaskaDispatch.com founders Amanda Coyne and her husband, Tony Hopfinger, in 2009. Rogoff, a wealthy Washington, D.C.-area transplant to Alaska, bought a 90 percent interest a year later.
Rogoff was at the time shopping for an edge-of-the-Arctic media platform. Since the time of her late father Mortimer Rogoff’s involvement with the development of the electronic chart, the Arctic has fascinated the woman who has described herself as the son Moritmer never had.
The electronic chart, according to a report from a 1982 charting conference, was needed to complement the navigational arsenal that will be needed for safe transportation of oil
and gas from the Arctic islands to the East Coast. One reason that the Arctic poses a special navigation challenge is that due to ice floes, conventional channel markers and buoys cannot be maintained.”
The conference came 13 years after the icebreaking oil-tanker SS Manhattan made the first and to date only passage by an oil tanker through the Northwest Passage off northern Canada. The journey, though successful, proved difficult enough that the major oil companies involved with the discovery of oil at Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay decided it would be cheaper and environmentally safer to build an $8 billion, 800-mile-long pipeline from Alaska’s north slope to the ice-free port of Valdez on Prince William Sound.
Alice Rogoff, however, has kept alive her father’s long interest in Arctic shipping.
As this is written, Rogoff is in Reykjavik, Iceland at the Arctic Circle Assembly, an organization she helped create, where the topic of Arctic shipping is always on the agenda. As the publisher of the Alaska Dispatch News, Rogoff hosted an Arctic Circle summit on shipping in Anchorage in 2015.
The former owner of the Dispatch News is now continuing her Arctic promotions with a billing as publisher of Arctic Now. On the afternoon of Friday the 13th, Rogoff introduced Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to the Iceland gathering of business and political leaders from around the Arctic.
Arctic Now was on hand to provide news coverage. Though Rogoff might have pushed the Dispatch News/ADN into bankruptcy and stiffed about 200 creditors to the tune of some $2 million after herself losing somewhere between $20 million and $30 million over the course of three years, it appears she still has enough money to hire or contract for staff for her new enterprise.
One-time Dispatch News employee Krestia DeGeorge, a New York-state based editor who up until weeks ago ran Arctic Now for the Dispatch News under the guidance of Dispatch News executive editor David Hulen, is now shown as the Arctic Now editor.
Kevin McGwin, the former editor of the Arctic Journal, and Yereth Rosen, a former AlaskaDispatch.com reporter who went to work for the Dispatch News/ADN.com before getting laid off there, have popped up as “Arctic Now” reporters.
The Arctic Journal shut down in June. An online publication began by Sermitsiaq Ag, the national newspaper of Greenland, it had much the same stated purpose as Arctic Now. According to the old Arctic Journal Facebook page, “With the Arctic’s increasing global importance, the need for accurate and timely information about the region’s political and commercial developments is greater than ever.”
The website turned out to be financially unsuccessful. Rogoff, however, told Hopfinger and others that she believes Arctic Now will “make millions.” She has always believed there is money to be made in the Arctic.
Rosen led the Arctic Now webpage Friday night with a story about how federal efforts to establish an Arctic port – Rogoff’s big dream – have faltered, but Alaska communities continue to forge ahead with port plans.
Port Clarence, the big bay on the edge of which sits the village of Teller north of Nome, featured heavily in the story. Rogoff has long held visionary plans for Port Clarence.
“So dream with me for a moment,” she wrote in Alaska Dispatch in 2013. “Here is what Alaska could look like if we start acting decisively about what we want in our future:
“Imagine it is the year 2030. The Arctic Ocean is virtually ice-free, requiring only intermittent icebreaking in the winter. The “center route” for shipping over the North Pole is nearly as well travelled as the Panama Canal. The volume of cargo shipped around and across the Arctic Ocean is equal to the volume in the Port of Singapore, which saw 471 million tons of cargo in 2009.
“There are two ‘twinned’ transshipment ports for transferring goods to ice-enabled hulls for the trans-polar crossing. One is in Dutch Harbor, twice as large as that port is today. The other is on the northern coast of Iceland. A new Bering Strait Arctic port has been built near Nome, with deepwater facilities just a 60-mile drive along the Bob Blodgett Highway at Port Clarence. The waters off Nome have periodic winter ice, but its shipping channel and shallow-draft harbor is kept open by local icebreakers when needed.
“Adjacent to the port, a highway interchange leads to the deepwater Port Clarence harbor, 60 miles to the west. The highway also heads due east, the first major new highway in Alaska, linking Fairbanks and Anchorage with Nome. There is a high-speed adjacent railroad line.
“The old Port Clarence LORAN site — the only natural deepwater in the northern Bering Sea — has been rebuilt into a joint U.S. Navy/Coast Guard facility of immense national security importance. Offshore oil and gas exploration companies house boats of all sizes and drill rigs. Dry docks have been built, making ship repair its own local economy. Ten miles east, along Grantley Harbor, a graphite mine is expanding, and there is a bustling town near the former tiny village of Teller.”
A booming Nome
America’s first Arctic port being built at Port Clarence is Rogoff’s Alaska-size dream for her favorite Alaska community.
Duin’s story detailed how “Rogoff wanted to move to Nome,” but some local residents talked her out of the idea. “She needed a bigger puddle than Nome,” one of them told Duin. “Anchorage was perfect for her.”
What Rogoff considers her first home is unclear. She has a residence on Campbell Lake in Anchorage, another in Bethesda, Md. on the outskirts of the nation’s capital where she spent most of her adult life, a third on Nantucket Island, and several others scattered around the country.
Nantucket appears to be among her favorites. When the Dispatch News/ADN was folding she retreated there to go sailing. She appeared then to be badly down.
The Daily News/ADN.com that she’d bought from The McClatchy Company had cost her a fortune before she led it into bankruptcy. Her plans for Port Clarence had taken a beating when Royal Dutch Shell Oil in 2016 announced it was abandoning attempts at oil development in the Chukchi Sea. As Rosen reported Friday, “what the (Arctic port) site does not have, especially after Shell pulled up stakes, is any current economic reason for port development.”
Rogoff’s courtship of President Barack Obama and expected successor Secretary of State Hilary Clinton went bust when Donald Trump won the 2016 election to become president.
But Rogoff, a woman who survived a potentially deadly airplane crash in Halibut Cove in 2016, seems undeterred by any obstacles.
Some of Rogoff’s creditors, on the other hand, are not happy with how she somehow managed to hang onto Arctic Now as part of Alaska Dispatch Publishing, a company her lawyers once claimed had no assets.
Electrician Mark Miller of M& M wiring, who was left holding about $500,000 in unpaid bills after Rogoff shut down construction on a planned printing press, is chief among them. He can’t understand how Rogoff left the bankruptcy with the her favorite media toy and something she claims to be worth millions of dollars.
Hopfinger, who is now involved in a $1 million lawsuit against Rogoff, would only say no comment.
After he and Coyne joined Rogoff in forming Alaska Dispatch Publishing – the company now apparently in charge of Arctic Now – the husband-wife duo devoted the next three years of their lives to working long, hard hours trying to make the company a success with Rogoff occasionally dropping in to visit.
The effort took its toll. In 2013, Coyne and Hopfinger divorced and Rogoff bought Coyne’s interest in the company for $5,000.
Hopfinger soldiered on at Dispatch.com, and in 2014, he was at the helm when Rogoff bought the Anchorage Daily News for $34 million, supposedly shut down Alaska Dispatch Publishing, and created the Alaska Dispatch News to take advantage of the ADN.com brand on the internet.
Rogoff and Hopfinger were at the time best of friends. That soon ended. They are now locked in a lawsuit that can only be described as bitter. Rogoff in April 2014 signed a napkin-agreement to pay Hopfinger $1 million for Dispatch Publishing over 10 years.
She made a single, $100,000 payment, and then said she wouldn’t pay anymore.
She and Hopfinger had increasingly grown apart after the McClatchy buy-out with ADN financially floundering. Hopfinger preached the need to cuts costs to match revenues. Rogoff pushed back both privately and publicly. In a 2016 op-ed in the ADN, she proclaimed the company wasn’t really losing money, it was “To Quote Jeff Bezos…in ‘investment mode.'”
Bezos is the multi-billionaire publisher of The Washington Post and the founder of Amazon.com. He is even richer than Rubentsein, the billionaire husband who supports Rogoff in Alaska with $5 million per year payments tied to what she publicly called a “spousal agreement.” In talking about “investment mode,” a footnote at the bottom of the Rogoff op-ed explained, “(Bezos) was distinguishing between operating at a financial loss versus making a planned choice to invest in future growth.”
By the time Rogoff made that statement, with the ADN then losing millions of dollars per year, Hopfinger was living in Chicago. He left the Dispatch News/ADN in April 2015 with the newspaper announcing he would remain the company president and commute between the Windy City and Anchorage. Hopfinger’s mother was dying of terminal cancer in Chicago, and Hopfinger’s soon-to-be new wife was considering a job opportunity in that city.
One of the things Hopfinger ended up working on while in Chicago was Rogoff’s newest business idea – Arctic Now. She told him it would “make millions.” The website launched as an ADN project in early 2016.
At its official launch in October of that year, Alaska Dispatch Publishing – a company which moved all of its assets out of a hangar at Merrill Field and into the Anchorage Daily News building on Northway Drive after the Daily News purchase – was a non-entity.
“Initiated by Alaska Dispatch News owner Alice Rogoff, the (Arctic Now) newspaper is made in partnership with media organizations from around the circumpolar north,” reported the Barents Observer.
High North News described “Alice Rogoff, publisher of Alaska Dispatch News” as “the ‘godmother’ of this unique cooperation.” DeGeorge, an ADN editor, and Hulen, the ADN’s executive editor, led the charge for Arctic Now. They were until just days ago identified as the people running the Arctic Now website.
Hulen is now gone from the Arctic Now masthead, and DeGeorge has left the Binkley-owned Dispatch News. DeGeorge is now identified only as the Arctic Now editor.
The Binkley-owned Dispatch News is gone as an Arctic Now “partner,” as well, but a map of the Arctic on the Arctic Now home page still contains a red dot showing Anchorage. When clicked, the dot opens an Alaska Dispatch News page.
The newest story there dates to June 20, which is about the time Rogoff started thinking about taking the Dispatch News into bankruptcy.
When and how the ownership of Arctic Now moved to Alaska Dispatch Publishing from Alaska Dispatch News, the company that created Arctic Now, is an unknown.