As the Alaska Dispatch News – Alaska’s largest news organization – was collapsing into bankruptcy in August, owner Alice Rogoff left with her favorite plaything, a website she told friends would “make millions.”
Arctic Now appears to be among various assets that left the ADN just before or during the proceedings that shifted ownership of the state’s largest newspaper and website to the Fairbanks-based Binkley Company.
And a bankruptcy trustee says she now thinks those transfers should be investigated.
“I require the assistance of counsel to represent me with respect to analyzing and
potentially pursuing a number of avoidance and related claims (each, a “Transfer Claim”) against parties benefiting from certain transfers of the assets of Alaska Dispatch, LLC,” trustee Nacole M. Jipping said in a Friday filing with the court.
The filing offers no details, but says that Jipping has convinced Seattle’s Bush Kornfeld LLP to take the case on a contingency basis. U.S. News & World Report this year put Bush Kornfeld on its list of “Best Law Firms” in the U.S., ranking it a top-tier regional firm in bankruptcy and creditor rights, and bankruptcy litigation.
When a law firm accepts a case on contingency, it means the firm thinks it has a good chance of filing a winning lawsuit, and it can make a profit on its share of the settlement.
“For centuries, tort lawyers have charged a standard contingency fee of one-third of a case’s winnings,” according to the Law Dictionary. “In other words, a typical personal injury lawyer takes $10,000 off the top of a $30,000 award and leaves $20,000 for their client. However, many lawyers charge small extra fees and may request certain additional reimbursements.”
The Arctic has long been a Rogoff fascination. She had staff at the Alaska Dispatch News begin building the Arctic Now website and organizing staff to fill it with content not long after purchasing the Anchorage Daily News/ADN.com from The McClatchy Company for $34 million in 2014.
She promptly changed the named to the Alaska Dispatch News/ADN.com and put the business on the fast track to bankruptcy. In the first years, she testified in bankruptcy court, she was losing money because she didn’t intend to make money.
In March of 2016, she described this as “investment mode.” Within a year, however, she would stop paying the newspaper’s bills and send it spinning toward bankruptcy while she shopped around for a buyer. She told some she wanted to sell the newspaper, Alaska Dispatch News, but hang onto the website, ADN.com.
Rogoff had maneuvered into position to buy the Daily News by purchasing a majority interest in Alaska Dispatch Publishing LLC, a company founded by Tony Hopfinger and Amanda Coyne, his then wife, to oversee the news website AlaskaDispatch.com
Hopfinger and Coyne – aided by a small core of reporters (the author was one) – built Dispatch into a recognizable Alaska brand.
“We weren’t looking to sell the Daily News, but after Alaska Dispatch Publishing approached us, we saw advantages to local ownership in this case and opportunities for consolidation that would strengthen both news organizations,” a press release from the McClatchy Company said at the time of the sale.
“Since its inception in 2008, Alaska Dispatch, the state’s sole online-only news organization, has been on the forefront of reporting on climate change, issues facing rural Alaska, politics and the oil industry, and its staff has won numerous awards for doing so. Alaska Dispatch has a team of veteran reporters that are committed to taking an unflinching look at the state, from its massive riches to its abject poverty, and telling these stories to Alaskans and to the world.”
Rogoff had high hopes for growing the ADN into a media powerhouse. Like her other big ideas – the Alaska Native Arts Foundation, which lost millions of dollars in state money, and Alaska House in New York, which she closed when the state refused to fund it – the ADN functioned better in imagination than in reality.
Bleeding money by the millions at the newspaper by 2017, Rogoff tried to get out of the print business and return to the good, old days of online journalism only in a bigger, better ADN.com version. She wanted to sell the newspaer and keep the website.
She didn’t quite get what she wanted in that regard, but Arctic Now appears to have come in a good second best.
Rogoff peeled off editor Krestia DeGeorge, who’d earlier been running the Arctic Now website for the Dispatch News; hired former Reuters and then Dispatch.com reporter Yereth Rosen who’d been laid off by the downsizing ADN.com; hooked up with Kevin McGwin, the former editor of the new defunct Arctic Journal to help with the reporting; and she was off and running.
When Arctic Now first powered up with fresh Alaska content – Rosen has been a workhorse producing a story every couple of days – Jipping was asked about its connection to the bankruptcy and emailed that Arctic Now and another website Rogoff took, ShowMeAlaska .com are “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.”
But it would appear now she has decided it might not be quite that simple.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing and Alaska Dispatch News were deeply intertwined. The ArcticNow.com domain name was registered by Mary Steiert to Alaska Dispatch Publishing on Sept. 22, 2106.
Steiret was at the time an employee of the Alaska Dispatch News, although she provided an email address at “alaskadispatch.com.” All Alaska Dispatch News employees had similar email addresses.
Steiret never worked for Dispatch Publishing. She was an employee of the Daily News. According to state corporate records, Alaska Dispatch News LLC took over the Anchorage Daily News, Inc. in May 2014. At that time, Steiret went from being an employee of the Daily News/ADN to being an employee of Dispatch News/ADN.
Why she filed for a domain name in the name of a company for which she never worked is unclear, but Dispatch Publishing was the 100 percent shareholder in the Dispatch News.
Rogoff bought out Hopfinger, the sole surviving founder of AlaskaDispatch.com, in an April 2014 deal which was sealed on a now infamous napkin that is the subject of a lawsuit. Rogoff was supposed to pay Hopfinger $1 million over 10 years. She paid $100,000, and then reneged on the deal.
After the deal with Hopfinger, Dispatch Publishing was rolled into the Dispatch News, the operating company for the ADN, and Dispatch Publishing became a shell company or a part of ADN, whichever way one wants to look at it.
GCI, the Anchorage telecom company and Rogoff’s former landlord, is in court now arguing that Rogoff’s gaggle of LLCs (limited liability companies) are really just a front for what might be considered Alice Rogoff Inc.
It might now be getting some help from the bankruptcy court in trying to untangle that hairball.