What’s next for the Alaska Dispatch News

Alaska’s largest newspaper has a new owner.

A federal bankruptcy judge approved the sale on Monday of the Alaska Dispatch News to the Fairbanks-based Binkley group that’s headed by Ryan Binkley, capping off the month-long Chapter 11 bankruptcy process for the paper.

No other bidders materialized on Monday despite reports that other groups were exploring bidding on the troubled newspaper operation. Without a competitor, the Binkley group bought the newspaper for the $1 million that was proposed in the initial bankruptcy deal announced in September. The deal is expected to close this week.

The Alaska Dispatch News through the bankruptcy revealed massive operating losses throughout its ownership under Alice Rogoff. Those losses were covered with Rogoff’s personal wealth, but began to mount along with legal trouble related to the paper’s printing presses. At the time of sale, court filings showed the paper owed more than $20 million including the $10 million remaining on the loan Rogoff used to buy the paper.

Facing the potential of an immediate shutdown, the Binkley group swooped in with a $1 million loan to keep the paper afloat during the bankruptcy process. That loan also got to jump to the front of the line in terms of debt repayment so the proceeds from the $1 million sale price will go to pay off the $1 million loan made by the Binkleys.

There are a handful of agreements regarding some of the paper’s bigger debts, but there’s about $2 million owed to more than 100 individuals and companies that will likely never be repaid.

In a letter to readers, Ryan Binkley sought to look ahead.

“As the new owners we’ve taken on an obligation to the employees, advertisers and readers that we don’t take lightly. The sale paves the way for a new era at the ADN as we chart our own course.

The ADN is not going away. As owners we vow to do whatever it takes to set Alaska’s paper of record onto a strong foundation that will last for generations. There has been much talk in the last month about the liabilities of the ADN, but not much talk about its greatest asset: the trust and faith of this community.”

That trust and faith is worth about $8 million according to one filing.

Employees

There’s no guarantee for pretty much every employee in the Alaska Dispatch News’ operations according to the sale terms the Binkley group presented to the court on Monday. The contract allows the Binkley group to keep the employees it chooses. It doesn’t mean that everyone is out of a job as soon as the deal closes because the contract requires the Binkley group to continue paying the payroll and health benefits of the ADN employees until the reorganization is complete. If an employee declines a new job or isn’t offered one, they’ll get whatever severance was included in his or her contract with the ADN. More than 200 are employed at the ADN.

The restructuring of employees will likely be the first sign of the Binkley group’s direction for the paper. They’ve been pretty quiet about any significant plans for the paper, but have had most of of the last month to begin making plans. Expect things to happen quickly. A pullback of reporters and resources from the statewide-ish expansion under Rogoff could signal a return to a more local paper. Targeting certain reporters could also give a signal for a shift in editorial direction.

New owner, new name?

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Binkley group chooses a new name for the Alaska Dispatch News, bucking the short legacy of the paper under Rogoff. It has some names off the shelf that it could pick from, including the Anchorage Daily News (though it’s no longer daily) and the Anchorage Times.

Printing presses

The fate of the ADN’s printing presses is still undetermined after Monday’s sale.

Under the sale contract, the Binkley group gets to acquire all ADN assets that aren’t located at the GCI-owned Northway building, which houses the ADN’s only functioning printing press, and the Arctic Boulevard location, the failed future headquarters of the paper and home to a non-functioning printing press. Those assets are both covered in separate agreements that essentially give the Binkley group the option to take them or leave them, with Rogoff or an estate responsible for whatever is left over.

The Binkley group has until Sept. 21 to decide if it wants anything at the Arctic Boulevard location. The owners have worried that it’ll cost more to remove the printing press than it’s worth, and the Binkley group has been wary about taking it on.

With all of the ADN’s functioning and non-functioning printing presses tied up in potentially costly locations and legal situations, the Binkley group has been wary about acquiring any printing press. The Binkley group’s attorney said as much on a handful of occasions, and the U.S. Trustee overseeing the bankruptcy case has made the case that the presses and any other assets left over should be sent to liquidation to repay a portion of the millions of dollars owed by the ADN.

The one thing the Binkley group will take for sure from the Northway building is a SLS-1000 inserter, a specialized machine that adds inserts like ads and special sections into already printed newspaper.

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