Pity poor Alice Rogoff, the one-time owner of the Anchorage Daily News cum Alaska Dispatch News cum Anchorage Daily News all over again after she bankrupt her dream of being an Alaska-influencing publisher.
If only the now 68-year-old, would-be media mogul had listened to her friends and waited to pull the trigger on that $34 million purchase of the The McClatchy Company owned Anchorage newspaper in April only five years ago.
The whole company’s market cap on Friday was down to $27 million – $7 million less than Rogoff paid for but one of its then approximately 30 newspapers. Market cap, formally known as market capitalization is, as the financial website The Motley Fool observes, “the total market value of a company’s outstanding shares of stock.”
Theoretically, one could at this moment buy up all of the McClatchy stock for that price, although the market itself makes that difficult. A run on the stock by a buyer would surely drive up the stock price and boost the cost.
Still, you might be able to sweep it up for less than the $34 million Rogoff paid for the ADN, a tiny piece of what was then a McClatchy publishing empire, and you could almost surely get it for the $34 million plus the $23 million Rogoff lost in less than three years at the ADN, not to mention the undisclosed millions she’s now spent in Bankruptcy Court, fighting with creditors who accused her of fraud, and battling with former Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger over the $1 million she promised him but then refused to pay.
Nobody knows exactly how much money the once and now former wife of David Rubenstein, one of the country’s richest men, burned through in Alaska, but it is quite possibly twice as much as McClatchy is today worth on paper.
It’s amazing how the earth has shifted under journalism in just five years.
Don’t do it
Some saw the disaster coming, or at least some variant of it.
“Don’t do it,” friends and financial advisers told the then-AlaskaDispatch.com owner and former Washington, D.C. socialite thirsting to buy the ADN. “All you have to do is be patient. Alaska Dispatch traffic is steadily increasing. ADN is stagnant. The company is in trouble all across the country. McClatchy is stuck with a losing hand.”
But Rogoff couldn’t wait. Her appetite was bigger than she could control, and so the owner of the news website that once proudly proclaimed “We Don’t Do Dead Trees” bought a fading newspaper.
Possibly only two people in the state thought it made any sense. Rogoff and soon to be terminated ADN editor Pat Dougherty who’d overseen the downsizing and the downsizing and the downsizing of the Daily News.
“A newsroom that once employed the equivalent of 104 staffers, with an annual budget of $5 million, had shrunk to 34 staffers and $2 million budget,” Dougherty wrote in the Anchorage Press a year after the deal with Rogoff’s newly purchased Dispatch News already bleeding like a gut-shot moose. “Still, by mid-2013, it appeared the worst of the storm might have passed.”
Not by a long shot.
The ADN had endured a near gale. The hurricane was still coming.
As soon as Rogoff bought the ADN, she lost the newspaper’s share of McClatchy’s national advertising revenues and the efficiency of the McClatchy-run home- and car-sales sections in the newspaper, and then she added the cost of 18 editorial employees from the staff of the Dispatch to the ADN payroll.
The water wings that had been keeping the ADN float couldn’t handle both the loss of air and the additional weight. The ADN was sinking from the start. Rogoff’s bizarre response was to add even more employees, print more news and try to make the newspaper so big and influential people would have to buy it.
Crazy as that behavior might sound now it was rooted in a question Dougherty asked just after the purchase when he was still a shell-shocked editor caught wholly off guard (information gathering was never his strong suit) by the sale of the newspaper he’d been running.
“By virtue of what the Dispatch paid for the Daily News, the Daily is the most valuable newspaper of its size in the United States. Now does that sound like an unsuccessful business?” he asked during a lengthy interview with Alaska Public Media. “If it was an unsuccessful business, why would the Dispatch buy it?”
Clearly, as was to become obvious, because Rogoff wanted to be somebody. Journalism is full of people who want to be somebody. Rogoff was a leader of the pack in that regard. She was never personally interested in doing journalism, which is often unpleasant work.
You sometimes have to ask people questions that you don’t want to ask. If you want to do it right, you have to devote countless hours to research. And if you do the job well and right, you’re not likely to make many friends.
“If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you,” the journalist and author, Don Marquis once observed. “But if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.”
Rogoff didn’t want that. She wanted to be loved, and she wanted to be loved for being the financial heart of journalism.
Most of all, most of everything, she wanted to be the queen of Arctic journalism, which she never understood is sort of like being the queen of nothing because interest in the Arctic is in these times low.
Some of the people are interested in the disappearing ice much of the time, and all of the people are interested in the animals threatened by climate change some of the time, but none of the people are interested in those topics much of the time.
And, in general, they just don’t give a hoot about the Arctic.
For most Americans, the Arctic is cold, far away, devoid of shopping centers, dark for half the year and, worst of all, home to no real celebrities although wilderness weirdos living on the edge of the Arctic have carved out a niche in so-called “reality TV” where oddities thrive.
Alaska should probably do more to cultivate reality TV than it does. Imagine the national sensation the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race could be next year if it pitted Vanderpump, any of the stars of Little People, and a couple of the Real Housewives of Atlanta against each other in The Last Great Race.
That sort of hook up would attract plenty of attention and nicely define where we are in the crazy, mixed-up world of entertainment, information, infotainment and journaltainment – that new form of “reporting” wherein a journalist introduces the topic of discussion and then constructs a story from the most outrageous Tweets people have made about the topic.
Given what has happened in the last five years, Rogoff was lucky to catch the very tail end of newspapers as still somewhat meaningful businesses. And for a brief, shining few moments she was somebody.
Then-President Barak Obama dined at her house and stuck his head inside her Cessna 206 float plane for a look before she so infamously mangled it in a crash. Gov. Bill Walker opened his arms to embrace her and provided an always friendly ear in which she could whisper. Foreign business leaders who thought her Alaska connections might prove useful cultivated her.
She was on top of the world in her home near the top of the world until it all came crashing down in the federal Bankruptcy Court. Dougherty took a break from fishing to appear at the hearings there and chortle about how he always knew it was going to happen.
Of course it was going to happen. Most of the old media has been on a train ride to disaster for the past five years. The McClatchy market cap at that time Rogoff bought ADN was about $552 million – 20 times what it is today.
By the time Dougherty wrote his April 2015 story with a look into the rearview mirror of the “worst of the storm being over”, the cap was down to $146.75 – less than half of what it had been a year earlier. If Rogoff had waited even a year, there is a little doubt she could have bought the ADN for a fraction of what she paid.
And if she’d just stuck with Alaska Dispatch – a news organization operating out of dirt cheap offices with an editorial staff of 18 doing the work of 34 at the Daily News (in fairness to all those then at the ADN, putting out a newspaper is way more labor intensive than producing a website) – she could have published for the rest of her life – even if steadily improving online ad sales never improved – for the $24 million she told the Bankruptcy Court she lost in her three years of ADN ownership.
Had she not made an offer for the Daily News and kept plugging away at Alaska Dispatch, it’s probable McClatchy would have come to her by now to ask what she’d be willing to give them for the newspaper, although it’s equally possible the company might have simply sold its building to GCI, the cable-TV and telecom company that bought the building from Rogoff, and abandoned its lone newspaper battling a committed competitor in far off Alaska.
McClatchy has been struggling even in markets where the company faces little competition. It earlier this year jettisoned another 450 employees at its 29 newspapers in a continuing effort to survive.
The company is still hanging on but its future looks anything but clear. It lost $27.5 million in the last quarter of 2018.
Media reporter Rick Edmonds at the Poynter Institute didn’t sound all that optimistic writing that “McClatchy is pursuing aggressive price increases to its print subscribers, essentially treating print as a luxury item. Predictably volume was down (by 8.6 percent daily and 7.6 percent Sunday). But revenues declined too — apparently plenty are opting not to pay the higher price, and the company likely has cut marketing of new subscriptions as well.
“Strong growth in the number of digital-only subscriptions (up 51 percent to 155,000) at McClatchy’s 30 properties didn’t translate to much of a revenue gain, suggesting the average price of all those new subscriptions is very low.”
Noting the latest job cuts, he added that “if McClatchy stays intact and tips deeper to digital it will become a much smaller company….(the CEO) declined to be drawn into speculation, when questioned, about when McClatchy might stop print editions altogether.”
Can you say, “we don’t do dead trees?”
McClatchy sort of defines the sorry state of the old media today. The company has to be thanking its lucky stars that with Rogoff’s help it got out of Anchorage with pockets full of cash before the Earthquake of 2018 make a wreck of its California-designed monument to print journalism.
Sadly the new media isn’t doing much better. The ADN is back to being a shadow of its one-time greatness, as it was for much of the time Dougherty was in control, and the few reporters there, along with the few reporters left working in the 49th state in general, are so busy chasing “news,” they don’t have time to think in a world where thinking is more important than ever.