A bankruptcy court judge today approved the sale of Alaska Dispatch News, the state’s largest newspaper from Alice Rogoff to the Binkley family of Fairbanks. The judge still needs to sign the official paperwork on the deal, which is set to close on Friday. After no other bidders stepped forward today, the Binkleys will get the newspaper for $1 million, an amount they already paid in the form of an emergency loan last month to keep the newspaper running. But the bankruptcy proceedings have had some twists and turns. Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove spoke with Lori Townsend about the proceedings.
TOWNSEND: Today’s hearing was actually scheduled to be an auction, right?
GROVE: That’s right, basically right up until the last second it was set to be an auction between the Binkleys and maybe any other bidders that would come forward. And the point of that is that another bidder might drive the price higher and that would mean that the sale price would be higher, and these businesses might have a better chance of getting paid. Because we’re in bankruptcy court here, and there is no money basically left to pay them.
TOWNSEND: But the only bidder was the Binkleys?
GROVE: Well there was another bidder approaching today’s hearing, and they pulled out at the last second leaving just the Binkleys. So, the auction turned into basically a judge trying to decide if this was the right thing to do.
TOWNSEND: This took hours to sort out. Why did it take so long?
GROVE: Well, once it went from auction to the judge approving a sale to the Binkleys, the judge and a federal trustee had to make sure that Rogoff hadn’t made some kind of shady deal with the Binkleys just to get out from under the law suits for the money that the ADN owes. And that’s for back rent, and wiring at what was supposed to be a new printing facility and other costs. But the judge and this trustee also wanted to know that Rogoff and her associates had done everything they could to sell the paper. There was a lot of talk about the sort of general decline in revenue from newspaper and how pretty much nobody else was willing to take the risk that the Binkleys are taking on now.
TOWNSEND: Did Alice Rogoff testify?
GROVE: She did, and so did a man that she hired to help shop the paper to potential bidders. In the end, as the judges described it, and as Alice and her associate described it, there were some quote, “nibbles,” but the newspaper was not able to get any serious bites or land the proverbial fish, that is, except for the Binkleys.
TOWNSEND: Did Alice Rogoff say anything outside of the courtroom today?
GROVE: Not really, there were some pleasantries exchanged. At one point, several reporters and I walked alongside Rogoff as she was leaving court during a break. You can hear here the court’s metal detector as we went out the door
REPORTER: How’re you dealing with all of this.
ROGOFF: Best as can be.
REPORTER: Do you have any comment as to how things got to this point.
ROGOFF: I have no comment.
REPORTER: Anything to say to the employees…?
ROGOFF: Nothing to say.
REPORTER: What about all the readers of the paper…?
TOWNSEND: Of course, the paper’s operation is a big deal to people, and many are pointing to Alice Rogoff for putting that in jeopardy, but there’s also the issue of the livelihoods of something like 200 employees. We’re still not sure if they’re going to have jobs in the near future. What do you know about that, Casey?
GROVE: Well, Ryan Binkley seems to be running the show for the family in terms of buying, and at least for now, operating the newspaper. He says they have no plans to stop printing the newspaper and getting it to reader’s doorsteps, or newspaper boxes. But as for jobs, Binkley says they have no immediate plans to lay off staff. He didn’t rule it out, though. And he acknowledged that payroll is a large expense for the operation and that fewer staff might mean fewer reporters, and that, in term might mean that ADN’s coverage will suffer. I asked Ryan Binkley if it’s inevitable that staff will get laid off, and this is what he said.
BINKLEY: I don’t know that as I stand here today, but payroll is a big expense. There are a lot of big expenses. Rent is a big expense. There are all sorts of other expenses in this business and each one of them is going to be looked at very carefully. There’s no magic bullets here. There’s revenue on one side and there’s expense on the other, and both need to be affected. We need to turn around the revenue decline and we need to work on lowering expenses.
GROVE: Later, Binkley refused to say whether he thought Rogoff had mismanaged the paper, or if was just sort of these normal market forces that are causing a decline in revenue for papers around the country. He did say he expects some challenges, and he testified in court today that he had been discovering new problems every day pretty much. He did express a sense of optimism. The Binkleys really do seem to want to do the right thing here. They are an Alaskan family, they’re from Fairbanks, and they seem to have placed a high value on a local newspaper here, in Alaska and in general. But you know, keeping the paper in Anchorage, the name might change, but they seem to want that to continue. That includes daily operations, whether the staff size stays the same, that’s still in question, but we’ll know more here in the coming weeks.
TOWNSEND:Alright, thanks so much for tracking that story and going to the courthouse today.