Anchorage Times Folds After 77 Years of Printing

Alaska's pro-development newspaper, once dominant, ends in red ink

A 77-year-old voice was silenced this week when one of Anchorage's two daily newspapers folded.

Wednesday's edition, headlined with a giant "Farewell," was the last to roll off the Anchorage Times' presses. The Times became the latest daily newspaper to die after its publisher announced that he could no longer afford to fight the costly Alaska newspaper war.

"The way the economics are, in any town, it's real hard for two papers to make it," publisher Bill Allen said. "After I'd been at it for a while, it was evident that there wasn't enough revenue here in town for two newspapers."

Allen, owner of Veco International Inc., Alaska's largest oil-field service company, had pumped enough money, personnel, and editorial expertise into the paper to boost circulation from less than 30,000 to more than 44,000.

He converted the Times to a morning newspaper, funded a makeover, renovated the newsroom, and aggressively promoted his version of the "new" Times.

Still, the Times lagged behind Alaska's largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, which had circulation of 60,873 daily and 82,641 Sunday. The new competition forced both sides to spend and lose money; Veco said earlier in the year the Times was losing $800,000 a month.

On Tuesday afternoon, Allen told Times staff members and the Anchorage community that he was selling most of the newspaper's assets for an undisclosed amount to McClatchy Newspapers Inc. of Sacramento, Calif., owners of the competing Daily News. McClatchy would then close the Times down.

"The difficulty was that both sides were spending an enormous amount of money and losing an enormous amount of money, and ... we knew it couldn't continue forever," McClatchy chairman Erwin Potts said at a joint press conference with Allen.

The Alaska newspaper war was fought for much more than circulation or advertising revenues.

At stake were the hearts and minds of residents of America's "last frontier," a place where nearly all of life can be boiled down to conflicts between pro-development "boomers" and pro-environment "greenies."

Allen bought the Times in late 1989 with the express purpose of saving its pro-development voice from oblivion. The assets of privately-held Veco International, which became cash-rich after serving as the main cleanup contractor on the Exxon Valdez oil spill, fueled one of the nation's fiercest and last crosstown newspaper rivalries.

To the Daily News staffers and fans, the crosstown rival was "The Veco Times." To Alaskans with a different vision for the state, the liberal Daily News was the "Anchorage Daily Worker" or the business-impeding "California Daily News."

The Times-Daily News philosophical battle created an unusual feature in the purchase agreement. For the next 10 years, the agreement stipulates, the Daily News will run a special Op-Ed section - under the Anchorage Times masthead - presenting the conservative, pro-development views of Times editorial writers.

Both sides lamented Anchorage's collapse into a one-newspaper town.

"It clearly is a sad day when any newspaper folds, and it doesn't matter whether it's ours or anybody else's," McClatchy's Potts said at the news conference.

The Times' demise also represents a reversal of fortunes for the newspaper.

For most of its history, the Times had been Alaska's dominant newspaper. Under the leadership of longtime publisher Robert Atwood, it had spearheaded the successful statehood move and the unsuccessful campaign to move the capital from isolated Juneau to Anchorage.

The paper also had championed the oil industry, timber industry, and other developers believed to be vital to Alaska's resource-based economy.

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