ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — Alaska Dispatch is a regional reporting powerhouse. A for-profit that fights aggressively for online ad dollars, the Dispatch still manages to be generous with its editorial budget. It sent a reporter all the way to the Gulf Coast to cover the BP spill and the potential fallout for Alaska’s own oil industry. The site was also the first news outlet to file a lawsuit to obtain the release of documents pertaining to Senate hopeful Joe Miller’s background as a government lawyer. (Perhaps not coincidentally, site co-founder and editor Tony Hopfinger earned national attention during the 2010 midterms when he was handcuffed by Miller’s security detail.) Even in the midst of large-scale enterprise reporting, the Dispatch makes sure to keep up the blogs, commentary, and overall Alaska feel that maintain its relationship with readers. Hopfinger believes in the importance of storytelling. To that effect: “We’ve got a reporter working on a good bear attack story right now.”
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As of November 2010, the Dispatch employs an editorial staff of eight full-time and three part-time journalists, along with several contributors and three full-time advertising sales people. Two of those editorial staffers are Pulitzer winners, and the majority are seasoned journalists. The Dispatch’s mission is to be a journalistic product for and about all Alaskans, and it is especially motivated to extend its reach into the vast rural areas of the state that have been subject to large cuts in news coverage by legacy media. Other major coverage areas include Arctic sovereignty, climate change, and the relationship between the oil business and politics. “Our mission is to focus on the bigger stories in the state,” says Hopfinger. “You’re not going to come to us to find out about car wrecks here in Anchorage or the school board or stuff like that.”
Hopfinger, a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, founded the Dispatch with fellow print veteran Amanda Coyne (also his wife) on August 13, 2008, two weeks before John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, thus creating massive demand for Alaskan freelance journalists among outlets in the lower forty-eight. The couple’s venture existed largely off of payments they received for these freelance assignments until, in June of 2009, they found an investor, Alice Rogoff, who helped them to build the site to its current level of staffing and prestige.
Rogoff, a former CFO of U.S. News and World Report, is now the site’s majority owner and publisher. She oversees the business staff and has created an aggressive timeline that calls for the Dispatch to climb to profitability in less than three years. Both Rogoff and Hopfinger are adamant about the need for a for-profit model to sustain journalism. “The for profit culture forces not only the sales and business side to find ways to build revenue but also the journalists to work that much harder,” Hopfinger says. “It motivates us to be that much more agile and nimble, going after stories and making the thing work.”
“We’re not just here to do what we did [in our previous jobs],” he adds. “If we’re going to put the long hours into a startup, we’re going to be ambitious in the best possible way.”
Alaska Dispatch Data
Name: Alaska Dispatch
Principal Staff: Tony Hopfinger, editor; Alice Rogoff, publisher.
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10/18/10: The Editor, the Candidate, and the Cuffs - Joe Miller’s extreme “no comment” - Joel Meares