Howard Weaver, editor who led Anchorage Daily News through transformative years, dies at 73

Weaver led the Daily News through a period of remarkable growth and transformation for Anchorage and Alaska, and later became an executive with McClatchy newspapers.

Howard Weaver, a working-class boy from Muldoon who became the preeminent Alaska journalist of his generation, leading the Anchorage Daily News to national prominence with Pulitzer Prizes and victory in one of America’s last great newspaper wars, died Thursday evening at his home in Sacramento, California.

The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, first diagnosed a year ago. He was 73.

Following the arrival of the oil industry in the 1970s, Weaver led the Daily News through a period of remarkable growth and transformation for Anchorage and Alaska. The paper came back from near-death to become the dominant news medium in the state, getting under the skin of Democrats and Republicans alike by heeding Weaver’s directive to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Anchorage born and raised, Weaver started work as a reporter at the struggling paper right out of college in 1972. He played a central role in reporting a series on pipeline-era corruption and the Teamsters Union, which earned the Daily News its first Pulitzer for public service in 1976.

He left soon after to start a statewide weekly newspaper, the Alaska Advocate. In 1979, he returned to the Daily News after it was purchased by the McClatchy newspaper chain, based in Sacramento. He became the paper’s top editor, helping to build a robust newsroom under McClatchy to wage a 13-year battle with Alaska’s prosperous but stodgy establishment newspaper, the Anchorage Times.

Somehow, the upstart paper won. After the Anchorage Times folded in 1992, Weaver moved to California for a series of McClatchy jobs culminating in the corporate position of vice president for news, overseeing the editorial operation of 31 newspapers around the country. He retired in 2008 and continued to live in California.

In 1999, Weaver was named in a statewide poll one of the 40 Alaskans who most influenced the state in its first 40 years.

As Daily News editor for 15 years, Weaver instilled a generation of young reporters, photographers and others with a missionary sense of journalism as public service. Exhorting his staff to hold institutions and politicians accountable, he deployed a ready store of inspirational anecdotes and aphorisms, including “No permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent principles,” and a war cry held over from his days at the Alaska Advocate: “Sacred cows make the best hamburger.”


His longtime city editor, managing editor and friend, Pat Dougherty, recalled Weaver during the long battle with the Times, “striding the newsroom urging on the staff with martial wisdom from Sun Tzu and Admiral Lord Nelson.”

In his own 2012 memoir about his newspaper years, “Write Hard, Die Free,” Weaver recounted all the things that made him take up a crusader’s banner: “my parents’ naive idealism; the romance and history that made Alaska special; proof that poor boys could make good; and most of all, an enduring belief that telling the truth would change things — that people would make good choices if only they understood.”

Always a two-finger typist, Weaver wrote hundreds of columns in a personal voice that evoked the rolled-up shirtsleeves of columnists like Jimmy Breslin and Mike Royko, transposing their urban brio onto a northern landscape. He said his experiences picking fish on a Cook Inlet driftboat and building a cabin in Kachemak Bay remained an important part of his coming of age.

Yet Alaska eventually broke his heart, he wrote after moving south in 1995. Oil money turned too many Alaskans cold and selfish, he said — “The pioneers who settled Alaska became colonists. The homesteaders became company men.” Urban Alaska demanded the unconditional surrender of rural Native subsistence. Paychecks became paramount.

“I don’t blame the big oil companies for acting like big oil companies,” he wrote in 2001. “They sometimes make me mad, but I expect no better of them. My aching disappointment came from watching Alaska’s character change so profoundly.”

As Daily News editor, he had fought for causes that he thought would resist that transformation. He stepped up coverage of rural Alaska, urban homelessness and political corruption in Juneau. His management style was to give his staff unusual latitude and encourage creativity.

But Weaver was also an agile writer able to provide his reporters with sage story-editing advice, including how to write about difficult emotions by keeping your prose cool, or what to do when a narrative starts to wobble and lose momentum. Cut to the chronology, he would say.

• • •

Howard Cecil Weaver was born Oct. 15, 1950, in the old Providence hospital in Anchorage. His parents, Howard and Eloise Weaver, had moved north a few years earlier from the dry cotton country of West Texas. His father was a union carpenter, his mother a bookkeeper at a lumber yard. They were both Dust Bowl Democrats, he once recalled, his father “somewhere to the left of Franklin Roosevelt.” The house in which he grew up was a piece of surplused military hospital that his father had dragged to high ground in a Muldoon muskeg.

At East Anchorage High, Weaver played on the football team’s defensive line, served as senior class president and sang tenor in a barbershop quartet alongside two buddies from Creekside Elementary, Craig Goodrich and Joe Acton, who remained close friends through the rest of his life. He won a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, arriving in 1968 in a new suit from Sears and mixing uneasily at first with the East Coast preppies. He said he spent most of his four years there working on the campus newspaper.

His interest in journalism had been piqued the summer before his last year of high school, during a Boy Scout relief mission to help with the 1967 flood in Fairbanks. He talked to the reporter covering the disaster for the Anchorage Daily News, and soon he was writing about high school sports for the newspaper.

In 1972, Weaver returned home with his college degree and found a job at the Daily News. (He had once applied for a summer job at the conservative Anchorage Times, but when he showed off his campus clips, Weaver said, the editor exploded angrily at his description of a “mostly peaceful” anti-war rally. Weaver said he gathered his clips off the still-shouting editor’s desk and departed.)

The Daily News, the thin and scrappy morning paper then owned by Kay Fanning, was largely known in those days for its crime coverage, while the competition across town, Weaver recalled, presented boomtown Anchorage as a “pristine and constipated place,” screening out topics like prostitution and drug abuse.


As police reporter, one of his early assignments was to cover a murder trial in Kodiak. The future head of digital media for McClatchy filed daily dispatches by telegraph.

With an admitted streak of self-righteousness, the young reporter shifted into investigative reporting. A New York Times reporter advised him in 1973 that “a good investigative reporter needs a low threshold of moral indignation.”

In 1976, working with reporters Bob Porterfield and Jim Babb, Weaver delivered a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, for a series examining the power of the Teamsters Union in Alaska.

There were no big raises for the star reporters that year. The Daily News was wasting away under a 1974 joint operating agreement in which the prosperous Times handled its business side, including all advertising sales.

Only months after picking up his prize, Weaver quit to start a statewide “alternative” weekly paper. Inspired by the Watergate investigations and the creative “New Journalists” of the 1970s, Weaver and a handful of friends chose a name, the Alaska Advocate, to make plain their crusading intention.

The state’s powerful media voice at the Times pushed oil development and attacked environmentalists in headlines and stories as well as in editorials. The Advocate associated itself with the left-wing progressivism still coursing through Alaska politics in the 1970s. The founders were preparing to take the place of the Daily News, which had just laid off half its small newsroom and appeared to be circling the drain of bankruptcy.


But the small weekly was its own business disaster. The founders reached into their savings and took donations from friends to cover operating losses. Most writers and editors received no pay.

Weaver got by on the salary of his wife, Barbara Hodgin, who worked for a nonprofit helping runaway kids. They had met in 1975 and married in 1978. Weaver’s first marriage, after college, to high school sweetheart Alice Gauchay, had lasted only a few years as his dedication to long newspaper hours clashed with her desires for a home life. Finally one night, he wrote in his newsroom memoir, she accused him of loving that damned newsroom more than he loved her. “I must have waited a split-second too long before denying it.”

The Advocate folded quickly after McClatchy bought the Anchorage Daily News in 1979. Weaver returned as an editor, with a real salary, and several others from the Advocate joined him. Leaving behind the dingy room where they typed their stories on the backs of press releases, they now worked in a newsroom with scores of employees and unlimited barrels of ink. As Anchorage boomed after Prudhoe Bay, McClatchy poured millions into the newspaper.

In his book, Weaver told his David-beats-Goliath version of the newspaper war that followed. A big factor was the complacency of the Times, he said, which was slow to recognize the changing demographics and expectations of the community. It also turned out that his questioning, risk-taking morning paper was simply more interesting to read. Readers and advertisers responded. By 1987 the Daily News had passed the Times in circulation. Now both papers were losing money.

The ADN built a sprawling new office and printing plant in East Anchorage in 1986, producing fat papers bulging with news and ads. The news staff continued to grow, and it wasn’t just hard news: sports, features, community news, a Sunday magazine.

In 1989, the Daily News was awarded a second Pulitzer for public service, this one for its People in Peril series documenting problems of alcohol and despair in rural Alaska.


When the Daily News won a third Pulitzer, in 2020, editor David Hulen, one of the last holdovers from Weaver’s years as editor, credited in part the institutional DNA from those earlier days. “One of the lessons from those years, to me, was you don’t have to live in a big urban center to expect extraordinary things from your local newsroom,” he recalled this week.

The Anchorage Times closed in 1992. The war was over. Weaver took a year off in England to get a master’s degree in polar studies at Cambridge University, then returned to the Anchorage newsroom. In 1995, McClatchy moved him to Sacramento.

It was time for new horizons, he wrote in an apology-tinged farewell column — “the roads out of Anchorage are as familiar to me as my kitchen.” Even so, he said, he found it difficult to unclench his snow shovels at the obligatory garage sale.

Weaver started as an adviser for the Sacramento Bee in the new field of digital media. He would go on to serve as editorial page editor for the Bee and, beginning in 2001, as corporate vice president for news through a period of ambitious expansion.

This month, in a tribute video assembled by former colleagues, McClatchy’s CEO from that time, Gary Pruitt, said the new recruit from Alaska was quickly recognized as “whip smart” and a natural charismatic leader. Editors of newspapers from around the country described him as the conscience of the company.

Weaver retired in 2008 at age 58, and settled into a quiet life in Sacramento and on a small ranch in the Sierra foothills. He completed his memoir of the newspaper war, adapting its title from an old biker slogan. More ambitious writing projects never materialized. He did some blogging, posted his political thoughts on Facebook and took up welding art objects. He told friends he was chopping wood and carrying water.

They were years of good health, marked by vegetarianism, hiking, and a proud and outspoken sobriety. Both of Weaver’s parents had died of alcoholism when he was in his early 20s, he wrote in his book. For the first part of his career, he was headed down the same road as a life-of-the-party storyteller in Anchorage bars like the Club China Doll and the 5:15 Club. Weaver stopped drinking on Sept. 13, 1985, and was active thereafter in Alcoholics Anonymous.

“He saved his life, his marriage, and his career,” Hodgin said. She said his work with sobriety opened up a new spiritual world for her husband.


The later years of Weaver’s post-Alaska life were darkened by disappointment about some of the things he had believed in most strongly: the political idealism of Alaska’s first few decades as a state; the democratic promise of the new digital internet age; and the continued vitality of the newspaper profession. By the time he retired, McClatchy was imposing major cutbacks to deal with its heavy debt and an industry-wide plunge in revenues.

“I spent my career building newspapers. I don’t want to end it by taking them apart,” he told friends at the time.

McClatchy sold the Anchorage Daily News in 2014 and the ADN has been locally owned since. In 2020, the McClatchy newspaper chain declared bankruptcy and is now owned by a hedge fund.

Weaver’s pancreatic cancer was discovered in December 2022, after sudden unexplained weight loss. He underwent a difficult six months of chemotherapy and enjoyed only a brief remission. When the cancer returned this fall, his health failed quickly.

He was preceded in death by his only sibling, his younger brother Mark, who died in 2007. He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Barbara Hodgin, his niece, Cheaney Weaver of Anchorage, and his grandniece, Julie Bea Weaver.

Tom Kizzia wrote several stories from Homer for the Alaska Advocate, and was hired by Howard Weaver in 1982 to write for the Anchorage Daily News, where he worked for 25 years.

Tom Kizzia

Homer writer Tom Kizzia was a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He is author of the books "Pilgrim's Wilderness" and "The Wake of the Unseen Object." His latest book is "Cold Mountain Path," published in 2021. Reach him at