Monday marked a sad transition for me. The ownership of this great newspaper is now in the hands of the Binkley family, as Alaska Dispatch News emerged from bankruptcy.
But it was a grateful day, too, as the paper has a new lease on life with devoted Alaskans at the helm.
I wanted to say a few words in reflecting on my three years of stewardship. Most of all, I want to apologize for having failed at my own mission. When I bought the Anchorage Daily News in 2014, Alaska was full of promise, as I was. Oil was at $120, our state's budgets were growing and prosperity was in the air. Fresh from having grown the digital-only Alaska Dispatch from a seedling, I thought our mission of providing more journalism and expanding the paper to a statewide focus would transform it into something bigger and better than before.
In many ways, it did just that.
And, given that I had no political agenda (despite some naysayers' conviction to the contrary), we were able to present many voices and opinions on all subjects, along with our journalists' best takes on the news. That expansion has been a source of real pride, and I will forever value the great staff that rose to the challenge in producing it all.
We adhered to the "old school" newspaper values of keeping the news and business functions strictly separate. No hint of the publisher's or sales priorities ever crossed over into the news process.
Story assignments and selection were, and still are, managed within the newsroom without exception. The publisher had no knowledge of stories in progress or the timetable for their publication.
Even opinion pieces were selected by our editors, without pressure from me. In this era of suspicion about "fake news," this strict adherence to process was our code of conduct.
That integrity matters more than ever now.
What didn't work well was our business. As our digital readership grew and print subscriber numbers shrank, so too did our print advertising pages. I might have been able to sustain the operating losses for longer had that been our only challenge. But what turned out to be our fatal challenge was the need to build a new printing plant at an affordable price. Having sold the former plant to GCI at the moment I bought the newspaper in 2014, the need for a printing solution had dogged us from the first day. Confronted with everything from high warehouse occupancy rates in those first months to zoning and space challenges, it took two years to find a suitable site. And then the retrofitting of the building for the printing presses ran into one setback after another, one cost overrun too many and the accompanying, long list of permitting challenges.
A series of misjudgments on my part caused the construction to grind to a halt in the spring.
And thus began our unwinding. That chain of events is what led us to bankruptcy court last month. It was a move of last resort, and seemingly the only way to avoid closing the newspaper forever.
We are fortunate that this legal process exists, giving a company like ours protection from creditors while reaching for a solution to the most urgent challenges. Of course, I am deeply sorry there are vendors whose bills will go unpaid. And I dread the prospect of layoffs at the paper that will be necessary for it to survive under its able new owners. These are the hard realities of business gone bad.
Sadly, this is the common chorus at newspapers all across our country, of every size and stripe. We turned out to be just as susceptible to these pressures as any.
But the dedicated staff that remains will continue to do what they do so well — report and edit the news and help frame the issues that matter to Alaska. In so doing, they will help keep our community strong and engaged. As the dust settles, I am deeply proud that we were able to keep that tradition alive. Yes, the print paper that lands on our doorsteps may have to look different and even shrink in size. But knowing and respecting the staff as I do, I know the value of the information we get will be just as valuable. I am grateful for that, and for the very fact that we kept this newspaper alive.