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Tundra turnaround: new independent ownership brings positive change to Alaska's largest newspaper.

The sale of the older, established Anchorage Daily News in May to the young, scrappy,

Web-only Alaska Dispatch signaled that big changes were afoot at the 49th state's largest-circulated newspaper. And so far, according to new owner and publisher Alice Rugoff, those big changes have made a big impact in just a few months.

Circulation declines have stopped. The editorial staffs of both publications have merged, without any layoffs. There's been an increase of original reporting. Bureaus around the state have either been opened or re-opened. Advertisers and subscribers who left under the paper's previous McClatchy ownership have begun to return.

"What we've seen so far is simple," Rugoff said. "We've stopped the declines that McClatchy had been experiencing for many years and had budgeted to continue in 2014."

In July, perhaps the most noticeable change occurred when the paper officially switched its name to Alaska Dispatch News, for both print and online editions. Not an easy decision to make in this age of brand hyperawareness.

"The paper was a revered institution," Rugoff said. "So the name change wasn't a decision we made on day one. We took our time with it."

The new moniker signaled a fresh start for the publication on the whole, a cementing of the fact that it was now an independent paper, no longer tethered to McClatchy.

"It was scary," Rugoff said of life under the previous ownership. "Readers and advertisers were not happy with what the paper had become. They cut page counts and staff and readers voted with their feet and started leaving. They filled it up with wire copy, and in this day and age, wire copy is not what you want to publish."

Rugoff has also restored airplane distribution of the paper to remote areas of the state, which had been cut. As one might imagine of a state that's three times as big as Texas, Rugoff said this delivery method "is very expensive and slow regarding the news cycle, but there are people who just have a newspaper habit, and we'll try and find them wherever they are. We want to have direct connections to readers in those communities and have more statewide content. That's been my mission from the beginning."

And on the business side, Rugoff said new special sections and advertising opportunities are also in the works, starting in the fourth quarter of 2014 and ramping up further next year.

"Turning Alaska Dispatch News around will always be ongoing," she said. "This isn't rocket science, but we're moving it from a taking-away mode to an adding-back-in mode."

Caption: The new Alaska Dispatch News launched after the Alaska Dispatch purchased the Anchorage Daily News.

Caption: Alice Rogoff, new owner and publisher of the rechristened Alaska Dispatch News.

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Title Annotation:the A section; Alaska Dispatch; Alice Rugoff
Author:Kane, Rich
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2014
Words:469
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