Mostly because I cannot separate the intense loathing I have for David Rubenstein, the husband of Alice Rogoff, from my feelings about Alaska's most important web-based media source. Without Rogoff's financial and behind-the-scenes support, the Dispatch would most likely be going through the same downward spiral experienced two years ago by Dennis Zaki's Alaska Report. I'm trying to set that loathing aside as my appreciation of the growing positive role of the Dispatch in Alaska media deepens.
Two articles came out late Thursday and early Friday that help illustrate the growing importance of the Dispatch. Late yesterday, Jill Burke posted a detailed article about continuing legal ramifications Fairbanks divorce attorney Joe Miller may have to endure as a result of scrutiny directed toward the Fairbanks North Star Borough during Miller's 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. If it weren't for the Dispatch, that scrutiny might not be occurring now.
Early Friday, the American Journalism Review published their on-line version of an article they will print in their upcoming Winter 2010 edition. The AJR article, titled Dispatches from the Last Frontier, is probably the most in-depth look yet by a national professional journal at recent changes in Alaska media.
The last in-depth look at our media by a highly regarded writer was that of Eric Boehlert, in his 2009 book, Bloggers on the Bus, which devoted chapter 13 to Alaska bloggers' coverage of the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign. As much ink and electrons as have been spent nationally and internationally on Sarah Palin since late August 2008, little of it has been focused on what kind of a job our Alaska old-school and new-school media are doing.
II. Jill Burke's Dispatch article needs to be compared to Becky Bohrer's Associated Press article, posted this morning, to give one a solid idea of how important the role of the Dispatch is becoming in coverage of developing stories here. Bohrer's article is less than 500 words. Burke's is 1,994 words. Bohrer's article, coming out about a half day after Burke's lacks information that would have made the former's piece better, had she been able to follow through on some of the information already revelaed in Burke's article. Bohrer's article gave Palin-Miller attorney Thomas van Flein far more credibility on this issue than he deserves:
When it comes to the state's bloggers, "on any given day they'll rake us through the coals," Hopfinger says. For example: Conservative radio show host Dan Fagan recently blasted the Dispatch on his blog, TheAlaskaStandard.com, calling its staff a group of "well-funded left wing activists." And it's not just those on the right taking shots at the Dispatch.Rauf's article, though estimable, is close to fluff, especially in the way it praises Craig Medred's BP Gulf of Mexico coverage, without actually looking into those articles:
"They're getting kudos from the left and the right, and they're getting damned from the left and the right," says Philip Munger, a composer and editor of the Progressive Alaska blog.
As the Deepwater Horizon rig began gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico in late April, an online reporting outfit in Anchorage started pumping out stories.They didn't get their money's worth. Medred's articles will not stand the test of time. I've written about them here. He can't seem to grow beyond limiting emotional baggage he takes from media job to media job against commercial fishers and their advocates, especially Cordovans. The Dispatch, through Medred's writings (and one article last winter by Maia Nolan), seemed to have recently retired University of Alaska professor Rick Steiner in the crosshairs more than BP:
The Alaska Dispatch initially published a three-part series that explored what the spill could mean for future offshore drilling in Alaska. But the Web site's next set of stories was a testament to its dedication to chasing down major news affecting the Last Frontier.
Intent on continuing to localize the disaster in the gulf, the Dispatch did what none of Alaska's newspapers had the will to do: It put boots on the ground, sending a reporter about 3,400 miles to cover the story firsthand.
No corporate OK needed. No layers of bosses and bureaucracy to slice through. The final decision was made over beer and wine at the editor's house. Call it the elegance of a small news startup.
"We were like, 'Screw it, let's whip out the credit card and send someone,' " says Tony Hopfinger, the Dispatch's 36-year-old cofounder and editor.
Medred followed that opening statement with a mishmash of stuff about hydro dams, PCBs and the limited wisdom of commercial fishers, here and elsewhere. Part of his summation of this article he could have just as easily written from his home office as from the Gulf was this:
My old buddy Rick Steiner is having a field day down in the Gulf. His name and that of Riki Ott, the biologist from Cordova, pop up everywhere. They are among the chief purveyors of the message that crude in the water is as almost as dangerous as lead, PCBs or other persistent organic pollutants. This sounds good, but it isn't quite true. Steiner and Ott regularly overstate things, but that's OK because they're the good guys.Or at least I think of them as the good guys. Still, just because they're the good guys doesn't mean a reporter shouldn't try to put their statements in context.
And it's why we -- at the moment -- hate BP. Because it's as easy to be mad at BP as it is easy to drive. BP is responsible for an environmental atrocity. It was BP's screwup, and we've got nothing to do with it. BP is a horrible, profit-sucking, multinational global company and the president ought to have his boot on BP's throat. It's BP's mess, and those BP people are the only ones who need to be responsible.IV. When Rauf called me while researching his article (we talked about an hour) he seemed to think that I was universally critical of the Dispatch. That certainly isn't the case. His quote, though indicative of the overall tenor of what I told him, missed a lot. Since I spoke to Rauf, I've been very forthcoming about some Dispatch articles' effect, especially their important role in helping to define who Joe Miller really is:
Perhaps the most important turning point against Miller's "line in the sand" stance was the lawsuit initiated against the FNSB by The Alaska Dispatch, and later joined by other Alaska media outlets. Miller's reaction against the suit left a very bad taste in the mouth of moderates who had up until then been considering supporting Miller with their vote. He had, after all, declared during the primary that he had already released all revalant information, so what was the fuss?The bizarre arrest of Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger days after the suit was initiated brought the issues of the lawsuit to national attention. Speaking early this week with William Fulton, the man who "arrested" Hopfinger, Fulton told me he thought Hopfinger had set the encounter up. I disagreed, replying that Tony would have had to have been able to predict that Miller was using security protocols that had never been tried before in Alaska in such a campaign. Fulton replied that if he had it to do over again, he wouldn't do it any other way.
Hopefully, I'll have a chance soon to talk to Tony about the Miller campaign and his new media outlet's outstanding coverage of what may be the strangest Alaska political campaign yet.
image - Alice Rogoff and Todd Palin