With every new turn in the story of the Alaska Dispatch News’ new ownership, the financial picture of the state’s largest newspaper is getting more and more grim. The latest revelation published in the ADN’s account of the first day with new publishers is the paper has lost a whopping $4 million in the first six months of this year.
In the last week the paper became the target for eviction, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced a new slate of (mostly green) publishers who’re the children of a potential Republican gubernatorial candidate. It’s been quite the week and the news keeps on coming.
Stop the bleeding
The latest story from the ADN details the first meeting between a “nervous staff” and new publishers Ryan Binkley—who’s the head of a group of John Binkley’s children investing in the paper—and Alaska Media LLC owner Jason Evans.
The story sheds a lot of new light on the situation at the state’s largest paper. In addition to the paper’s now well-publicized legal and financial problems with GCI and other contractors, it was revealed the paper lost $4 million in the first six months of this year. (For those keeping track, GCI claims the ADN owes it about $1.4 million in rent and other fees).
The Anchorage Daily News was also profitable up until the purchase by Alice Rogoff and the merger with the Alaska Dispatch, according to a KTVA interview with former publisher Pat Dougherty.
Everything together makes the paper’s Saturday bankruptcy filing seem like the only plausible move. The move allows the paper great flexibility in restructuring its debt, contracts and staffing. It’s also not entirely certain that the new publishers will retain control of the paper at the end of the bankruptcy process because a key part of bankruptcy proceedings is the need to satisfy the owed debts of the paper. A higher bidder could come in and buy up the restructured paper.
The shape and scope of whatever will emerge from the bankruptcy proceedings is unclear, but there are some hints offered by Binkley and Evans. A print product will continue, and it appears the paper will likely focus its reporting efforts in on being an Anchorage paper first, a change of course from Rogoff’s desire to run a dominant statewide paper.
The owners have been quiet about plans to restructure the paper, but have been clear that their plan is to return the paper to profitability. Ryan Binkley told the newsroom he intends to balance expenses and revenues and “the only way to get to break even is to increase the one side and decrease the other.”
The ADN has long been accused of trending liberal in its reporting, leading many conservatives so Saturday’s news that the conservative Binkley family would be taking the helm was lauded by conservatives. Must Read Alaska hailed the move, writing “Anchorage may get a daily newspaper that doesn’t slant hard to the left.”
For their part, the Ryan Binkley and Evans have kept a lid on their editorial plans, and have denied any tie between the purchase and John Binkley’s rumored preparations to run for governor. John Binkley is not named as one of the investors.
“One thing doesn’t have to do with the other,” Ryan told KTUU. “We’ve been looking at this business and this industry for quite a while. It happened to be a timing coincidence, I suppose.”
Evans, the co-owner with actual publishing experience, said it’s something that should be upfront.
“It’s a legitimate concern, and if John does run for governor then the community needs to hold us and the Binkley family accountable,” Jason Evans, the co-owner with publishing experience, told KTUU. “Those are the kind of things that should be concerns and should be out in the open and discussed if it does happen.”
Meanwhile, there have been plenty of people openly worried about the move. A picture of Kai Binkley Sims posted to the Anchorage Republican Women Facebook group has circulated on Twitter. In the background is far-right Anchorage assemblywoman Amy Demboski.
— Sarra Khlifi (@skleefy) August 14, 2017
Though the new ownership of the ADN isn’t likely to make an overt change in the editorial direction of the paper anytime soon, it’ll be critical to watch how the restructuring of the paper plays out. Their priorities will become clear in those decisions.
Of all the potential buyers that owner Rogoff hoped to court in the last few months, it appears that the Binkley family was her last choice.
“(Ryan Binkley) also said there was a national search for buyers, and that as of Friday the Binkleys and Alaska Media were the only ones left standing,” the ADN story reports.
Over the last few months, many potential names emerged as buyers for the beleaguered paper including Morris Communications and an unspecified Alaska Native corporation. Morris ultimately pulled out with its own financial pressures forcing the paper to sell off its Alaska newspapers, and there were similar questions about other investors’ ability to take on the ADN’s debt.
Not only would the political ties likely make a potential buyer nervous about their intentions, but so too would their inexperience in running a newspaper. Evans brings his experience with the small rural papers and the groups is bringing in an experienced hand in former Anchorage Daily News publisher Jerry Grilly, but the Binkleys are new to the business.
There were similar concerns voiced in the News-Miner newsroom, which I was a part of, in the run up to that paper’s ultimate sale to a nonprofit foundation created by the former publisher’s family. Though the Binkley interest in the paper was rumored (mostly based off an educated guess of who’d have enough money to buy a newspaper) at the time, it was confirmed in reporting this week.
Still, many of us at the News-Miner chose to reserve judgment about the Binkleys as we considered them becoming our new owners.